One of the big challenges for me during the holidays is keeping my pain under control enough to enjoy the time with family. I don't want to burden family and friends with my pain, but I can't not acknowledge it when I feel horrible. So my goal is to create a plan of things to help increase comfort and decrease the pain and suffering. Here are the ideas I've come up with so far. I hope they're helpful to others, but please share any ideas you have in the comments.
Work on it all year long
Whatever aspects of life with pain and the holidays are difficult, try working on them all year long. If family and friends don't understand pain, the holiday season isn't always the best time for the talk on how pain affects life. Look for ways to help them understand all year long. Then it's less of a shock when or if the pain is bad during the holidays. The How to Cope with Pain blog just addressedexplaining pain
and there are some good resources.
I also find that if pain isn't under control for 364 days of the year, there isn't as good of a chance for it to be controled on Christmas or whichever holiday you celebrate. It doesn't mean you can't have a good day, it just means that planning for things to be what they usually are is a good idea.
Managing Trade Offs Through Good Planning
On even the best of days, managing pain can be tricky. There are sometimes trade offs which require us to decide what we're going to do to control the pain, and whether the downsides are worth it. I might choose not to participate in one activity because I'm in pain, but I might decide the side effect of loneliness isn't worth it. Medications might cause constipation, drowsiness or dry mouth and that can get in the way of taking them. That's where the trade offs come in, and where it's good to know how I respond to various techniques. If it's something like relaxation, heat, physical therapy or resting, it might be important to arrange a place to do that.
I'll note that I find this is even more vital as a blind person. I need to know where the microwave, bed, blanket or pillow is. I also need to know how to use these tools to the maximum benefit. I'm embarrassed to admit that proper pain management takes a backseat when I can't find the tools I need because I'm in a situation where I don't know where things are and I'm afraid to ask. It might be helpful in the future to ask the host or hostess or even a friend or family member to help. This can be done in advance, and could even be done in a way to empower someone to feel like they're doing something to make you feel better. Kids might not know why you hurt, and might feel helpless. I've found that it makes them feel good to know they're helping.
It's also good to know how you respond to medications or other treatments before the holiday. It's not fun to respond badly to a certain medication or treatment and not have access to a doctor because no one's available or you're 1000 miles away. Even if it's not a horrible reaction, it's still not fun to miss out because of a bad reaction.
Tools for Comfort
I find it's really helpful to know what tools are available to me. What can I do to make myself more comfortable? Here are some ideas which I've heard of and some of them I've actually used and plan to use.
- Ice: (this isn't good for me... at all)
- Self-Massage or acupressure
- Baths which can incorporate heat, aromatherapy and music
- Guided Imagery (with my RSD, cold is a problem, so picturing a beach is helpful.)
- Deep breathing
- Books, movies, audio books, podcasts and other distractions
- Resting in a quiet room
- Physical therapy or exercising as appropriate
- Propping, bracing and elevating with pillows
- Staying warm with soft, comfy blankets, pants, shirts and slippers
- Changing positions if stiffness is a problem
- Pacing yourself to avoid over doing it (if you couldn't walk a mile on December 24, it's doubtful you can on December 25th)
- Accepting help
- Remembering what's really important
- Taking the supplements and vitamins recommended by your doctors and eating as healthily as possible (I'm horrible at this)
- Sharing the good and difficult things in your life with family members
- Avoiding family drama when possible
- Setting appropriate boundaries "I'm sorry, I can't do this, but I can help with that."
- Bringing something to make you and your loved ones laugh
Please remember that I'm not a doctor, and I'm not a licensed social worker. I am just sharing some ideas, but there are others, and you should always seek help from someone qualified. Sometimes that's you, sometimes it's a doctor and sometimes it's a social worker or psychologist or psychiatrist. Use good judgment.