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Chronic pain and holidays, or oil and water?

Ever since I was little, I've loved the holiday season. I love the lights, I love the colors, I love seeing my family, I'm a gift-giver at heart, I love the festivities, and most of all, I love the boundless joy of it all. I still had a great holiday, but with chronic pain, I'm paying a price.

Having post-concussion syndrome and migraines doesn't mix well with bright lights, crowds, lots of noise from multiple conversations, loud music, general sensory overload- you can think of it like oil and water, it doesn't mix. I had a lovely Christmas Eve, have been thrilled to see my extended family, but by the evening of Christmas, I was absolute toast. Our dinner had lots of people, having lots of conversation across several rooms, the TV was on, there was so much to take in...

I had to lay down.

Then I felt guilty about laying down, because I wasn't being a good enough family member.

Then I tried to engage in conversation again, but couldn't find the energy to speak.

My family was, and is, incredibly understanding, and I'm very fortunate and grateful to be surrounded by relatives who have asked questions about my health, symptoms, and treatment in a respectful and receptive way. They didn't blame me.

But I blamed me.

I've spent the last two days mostly resting. Going for walks is one of the best things for me, so I've done that. I've had worse headaches than I've had in months. I've been tired no matter how much or how deeply I sleep. I feel the strain on my eyes, on my neck, on my back. I know my vision therapy next week is going to be brutal, only because with the holidays, I haven't had a session in over a week and I haven't done any individual practice (sorry!).

Something I've realized in 2019 is that it's okay to not be okay. It's okay to feel sad, it's okay to feel angry, it's okay to make mistakes, and it's okay to take a step back. What's important is what you do as a response to those things- I've been doing my best to acknowledge what is happening and figure out how to make the situation better going forward. If I make a mistake, I'll own it. If I don't think doing something or going somewhere is a good idea, I'm no longer afraid to say no. It's also interesting reflecting on how those things intersect with the holiday season- you're supposed to be happy and energetic, but chronic illness and pain doesn't take time off like schools or companies do, and a lot of times, that pain is made worse because you want to push yourself to be around the people you love.

It's a tough situation, but it makes us value that time and memory even more. Oil and water may not mix on their own, but if you add some other ingredients, you can make a holiday treat, and in this weird analogy, that's loved ones and laughter to have a wonderful holiday- but the dish the treat was cooked in needs to be rinsed and washed, and that's us chronic illness warriors, taking a break from the rush and prepping for a new year.

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Dr. Bhagat
Dr. Bhagat
Dec 28, 2019

Wonderful insight on how to embrace the holidays and oneself.

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