THE HOLIDAYS NEED NOT BE A PAIN
by Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
For many people who have fibromyalgia (FM) the conventional greeting at this time of year, "Happy Holidays," has an ironic ring to it. Thanksgiving Day, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day can provide bitter reminders of all the things that are expected of us, and all the things we cannot do. House guests arrive, party invitations come in the mail, gifts must be purchased and delivered. There are cookies to bake, cards to sign and address, decorations to put up, and a host of other commitments to be met.
It all seems so impossible that it's no wonder the winter holiday season is often more stressful than pleasurable. Even people who don't have FM feel the pressure, but for those who do have it, the need for strategies to get through the holidays is particularly essential. Here are some suggestions to make your holidays as pleasant and stress-free as possible.
If house guests are inevitable, help them to be self-sufficient. Show them where towels, dishes, and other necessities are kept and encourage them to help themselves. Before introducing them to the refrigerator, mark clearly those food items that are off limits because you have special plans for them, then encourage them to help themselves to everything else.
Don't try to prepare three meals a day. If you normally have dinner at 6, tell your guests so and suggest that they plan to take care of themselves for breakfast and lunch. They will probably feel more at home if they are encouraged to fend for themselves some of the time.
Keeping to your normal sleep schedule is the most important thing you can do for yourself. You can't sit up chatting all night and expect to function the next day. Tell your guests that you have this need, and excuse yourself without apology or regret at your normal bedtime. Don't give up your bed to a guest. That's what sofa beds and guest rooms are made for.
Food and Cooking:
Cook ahead and freeze as much as you can. Do as much food preparation sitting down as you can; there's no law that says you have to stand at the kitchen counter to cut up vegetables for the salad. Instead of grating cheese, freeze it and it will crumble when it thaws. There is no virtue in doing things the hard way. Look at every task with a critical eye, and figure out the easiest way to do it. Cut corners wherever you can.
If it's your year to host Thanksgiving dinner, consider having at least some of it catered, or making the dinner a pot-luck event. Your guests would rather have a host who enjoys having them come to dinner than one who makes them feel guilty by being too tired from cooking to be able to enjoy the meal and their company.
Watch your nutrition. You are what you eat at this time of the year as much as at any other. Don't skip meals and make up for it in snacks.
If you've got your sugar intake under control (as you should, if you want to feel your best) summon all the self-control you can when goodies are within reach. If you are going to a party where guests contribute food items, bring something sugar-free to be sure you have something to eat.
IAlcohol interferes with slow wave, deep sleep--the kind with which people with FM have so much difficulty. Before you lift that glass, think about whether it is worth the price. Make decisions that affect your health; don't let yourself get swept along with the tide.
Discover mail order catalogues, if you haven't already done so. Many companies accept telephone orders for Christmas delivery up to about Dec. 22. Many catalogues offer as broad a range of qualities and styles as the stores in the mall do. You don't have to settle for what little information the catalogue gives, either. Good mail/telephone order companies provide order takers with information that can help you to make your choices. For example, if you want to order a pair of slacks and the catalogue doesn't list the inseam, call and ask. Many companies will provide swatches on request. And any reputable mail order company will accept returns after the holidays, as long as you have kept the receipt.
Don't fall prey to that common fear of giving a gift that the recipient will not like. Do the best you can and let it go at that.
Be selective. Accept only those invitations that really appeal to you, and where you know the host will consider your needs and comfort. Think hard about attending evening events two nights in a row, or more than one event per evening.
Avoid situations that are raucous and overstimulating. Leave the party while you're still having a good time. Give yourself time to unwind before you try to sleep.
If you choose not to accept any invitations, or don't get any that are appropriate for your needs, consider having a party yourself. Make it a pot-luck brunch afternoon or early-evening event. Playing soothing background or ambient music will give your guests the clue that boisterousness is not appropriate.
Many people, not only those with fibromyalgia, experience feelings of loss or disappointment at holiday time. If the holiday blues get to you, write about it, or talk it out with your favorite good listener. Accept your feelings as normal, and move on.
You are not here to live up to other people's expectations. Be clear about your limitations and needs -- with yourself as well as with others. Avoid people who are toxic to you, surround yourself with those who are good to and for you, and enjoy yourself. Put your own needs first this year. Some times it is more blessed to receive than to give.
Miryam Williamson, a contributing editor to SelfhelpMagazine, is a technical journalist and author of "Fibromyalgia: A Comprehensive Approach What You Can Do About Chronic Pain and Fatigue," published by Walker and Company, New York, 1996, ISBN 0-8027-7484-9. At bookstores in early June, or from the publisher at 800-289-2553.
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