Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Project: Holidays

I'm still trying to find my groove with the holidays. I've gone through it thrice now, with migraines, and I'm still intimidated. It makes me feel whiny, how it all used to be so easy and how everything I want is so hard now and life is unfair and WAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH.

Enough of that. That attitude never gets me anywhere, so I need a new one. I need to think of this as a challenge. I know my obstacles. I can't control everything, but I can prepare for anything.

1. People. They are loud, inquisitive, smelly and grabby. I will need to talk, deal with loud noises, perfumes and a lot of touching. Earplugs are standard, but are only so effective. From quietest to loudest, it goes: lion roaring, car backfiring, brass band, rocket launch, christmas at my uncle's house. I can try to tough it out with my strongest earplugs in, but this option can require some heavy medicating.

The perfume issue is even trickier, because there is no sticking it out. There is no medication I have found yet that makes it possible for me to be near perfumes and be okay. But I was thinking that a light scarf dabbed with some menthol-type scent might help.

Of course, another option would be to send out an email ahead of time, asking everyone to go light on the perfumes and that music be kept off while I'm there. But that makes me feel a little anxious. See, if I write that email, I'm asking for special treatment, and I was once made to feel bad for that and I really haven't gotten over it. I feel like I should suck it up for the good of the peace. Just because my life has been turned totally upside-down doesn't mean I should ask anyone to alter their family christmas ambience. Writing this out, it seems obvious, I should address the issue head on. Be nice about it, but air my concerns and ask for help. But my chest is in an anxious vice just considering it and I am not even sure what I am afraid of. That I'll be disinvited? Not likely. But maybe that there will be some form of rejection, a reply that suggests I'm difficult, or worse... if we get to christmas and my requests are all ignored.

That just sent me into tears, so I guess that that's the problem? I'm worried that I'll ask for help, open myself, share my pain and that I will be disregarded as invalid and ignored. Because I know that my family and friends would never actively reject me, but they might passively? I need to give them more credit than that. PLUS, last year I got scented lotion and bath wash as a secret santa gift and it was AWKWARD. So, maybe I should send an email. Suggestions?

2. Food. This one shouldn't be too hard, as long as I plan ahead. There's usually a veggie platter wherever I go, and as long as I eat regular healthy food (read: at home) and only have polite bites of whatever holiday dish I probably don't care for anyway, I should be okay.

3. Events. The problem with christmas is that it won't be rescheduled. If I'm down, I miss it all. So, on christmas eve, if I can walk and smile, I'll be at dinner. There is an upside to everything being planned out: it's easier to plan my recuperation. If I have three days of festivities, I need to know when they are over. I can rarely do "one more quick visit", or "let's just pop over for a while". I can't shift gears very quickly and a change of plans can drastically alter how I need to be budgeting my spoons. Like a car in traffic, is it easier to be behind a vehicle smaller than yours? Or a huge tractor trailer semi wide load? Of course, you'd choose the smaller vehicle, because without as much visibility you are more likely to slam on your brakes or encounter an unexpected hazard, which can result in some kind of migraine car crash meltdown head explosion. Visibility is key.

So, I'll be trying very hard to figure out my schedule ahead of time. But there's always something. And for that something, I'll prepare by knowing there's always something. I might groan and roll my eyes and have to medicate myself to numbness and may end up seriously incapacitated the next day. But at least I know that ahead of time, right? I can make sure I have everything I need for a speedy(ish) recuperation. I can warn my boyfriend that I will need extra help so the dishes don't start piling too high. And if a miracle occurs, and there is no something that comes up, well then, I'll just have extra spoons for hot cocoa on the couch or a late night christmas walk with the dog.

4. Presents. We've been too poor to do real presents for all fifty (plus or minus) friends and family since long before the migraines, so I've been making gifts for several years now. One year it was a set of canning jars, one filled with a bean soup mix and the other layered prettily with the dry ingredients for brownies. Another year I made a hundred thousand cookies and muffins. Another it was a $5 gift card for blockbuster, a bag of popcorn and some hot cocoa mix for a "family movie night".

I really enjoy giving these types of gifts. I try to make it inexpensive, but useful and different. It removes a lot of the baggage that can come with gift giving. One or two gift-givers I know can't restrain themselves from bragging about how much their gifts cost. I get to happily brag back about the hours I spent carefully filling jars just so, or how the whole kitchen was covered in flour! Haha! I win!

But the best part of making inexpensive, bulk gifts, is always having a few extras. Inevitably, someone unexpected will show up to a gift-exchanging gathering and will sit by awkwardly. They may be smiling at everyone opening their gifts from each other, but they noticeably having nothing in their own hands. I like to fill those sad, empty hands with baked goods. And even if I end up with leftovers, there are always neighbors, postal employees, homeless people and teenagers who will gladly take anything food-based off my hands. Or I can stash them away in my own freezer or cupboard. I'm no fool, I don't make a thing that I wouldn't eat myself.

Now, I really love making gifts for 50 people, but I don't love how exhausted it makes me. The last few years have been really hard, balancing the prep of christmas with the mandatory activities and VIPs being in town. I would collapse in pain for weeks when it was all over and when my birthday rolled around, on 1/12, I'd resent having to hurt myself all over again, being barely healed from the last onslaught. So this year, I've planned even further ahead. I've been gathering materials and making things since spring, and I am almost positive that I'll be able to do everything so far ahead of time that I will be well rested by the time christmas comes.

5. Staying well. I get sick nearly every winter. Usually it's just a cold but being knocked down with the flu when I already have chronic migraines... I can't describe the misery. So, I do my very best to take care of myself and minimize my exposure. Hand-washing is essential, as is never touching my face, nor allowing others to. (I have a few mouth-kissing relatives that I have to refuse regularly. Everyone laughs awkwardly and we hug instead.) I use my neti pot whenever my sinuses feel dry, or if I know I'll be in a germy situation and I frequently add supplements to my diet if I feel sick, or even at risk of getting sick. Echinacea, vitamin c and zinc, hot tea with lemon and honey and the spiciest soup I can stand with tons of chilis, ginger, garlic and onions are reputedly good for immunity. I am very careful about staying warm, and am funny about layers. My sort-of uniform is loose jeans (with tights underneath if it's cold enough) a light tank top, covered with a light sweater, which is then covered with a heavier coat, if the weather dips below 65. Plus, I always have my arm warmers, a scarf and maybe a hat in my bag. Staying warm is not only important to keep my body well, it's important to keep my head from exploding. Cold air in my sinuses, temperature changes from inside to out and again, and the involuntary muscle clenching that comes with shivering are all significant triggers for me. But as long as I have my layers, and add or remove clothing promptly, I've mostly got this one under control. I certainly prefer winter to summer, now. I can always add layers, but I can only go so naked.

So, that's the plan so far. There are definitely holes. Like, will the menthol scarf work? Will I end up sending that email? Will I get sick? Will I manage to do it all?

We'll see.


Migrainista said...

Holidays can be tricky but it sounds like you have a good plan. I hope it will all be smooth for you and that you will get to enjoy some holiday cheer as a result.

steph said...


WinnyNinny PooPoo said...

When I first starting getting Migranes (during the stone age) I didn't realize that my sense of smell became hightened during a migraine. I just thought people were terribly awfully stinky and smelled like laundry soap.

My only trick was to take Vicks inhaler sticks with me, and smell the overpowering vapors to try to avoid other nauseating headache causing odors..

steph said...

A vicks stick? That sounds nice and portable... I'll have to look into that, thanks!

Jessica said...

Just remember..in times of desperation...drugs are your friend!

Also...I need some homemade gift ideas!

P.S....I hate to cook!

steph said...


Seriously. :)

Can you craft at all? Knitting and crochet are handy for making quick gifts. I'd considered making photo frames or a calendar with all of our family's pictures, or giving everyone a baby spider plant, from the ones constantly propagating in my window. Maybe next year.

Otherwise, I highly recommend google for ideas. Good luck!

Jessica said...

Hey Steph...I started knitting a blanket last year...and can't remember how to finish it! Haha!

Sue said...

My biggest challenge comes under the category of "events" - mostly planned and executed by a sister who just doesn't get it. When I say no, my family mostly just thinks I'm being a b*tch.

Thankfully, my husband's family totally understands so all I need to do is let go of worrying about what my family of origins thinks. If I need to pace myself through the season, it is largely due to the unbelievably busy nature of the season at work - it has nothing to do with them. If they can't understand that - their problem, not mine.

And to think, it's only taken me five years to figure that out!

Wishing you the best navigation through the season....

steph said...

Hi Sue!

I'm impressed by your confidence. I definitely worry too much. Though, I like to call it "being prepared".

I just discovered that I may end up having to say no to at least one event, and it's been stressing me out. But I'm going to try to take a cue from you and let it go. :)

Thanks, Sue! Your comment was perfectly timed!

Anonymous said...

I'm cracking up over here at the thought of you piling on the layers if it gets under 65. That's practically bikini weather in wintertime New England.

I say go for it with the email. You can do it! They won't passively reject you -- or at least you won't have to go through the scented secret santa game again.

steph said...

Lol. Yeah, in my area, if we get a frost, we all freak out. How did ice get outside? It belongs in the freezer! Or in a glass! Crazy! I can see my breath! Will I die????" And then we all drive like maniacs and blame the weather.

I'm still trying to work up the courage for that email. :/ I'll get there.

Sue said...

Glad to help out Steph!

On the gift front.... hubby and I are also the least able to do the gift thing in a big way. I have three sisters, all of whom make *considerably* more money than I ever will.

Years ago (ten maybe - long before headache country) I suggested that instead of all of us buying gifts for each other that none of us needed (pointing out how fortunate "we" all are for being so privileged), why not give in another way? So I suggested that each family give the same amount they would have spent on gifts for family to a charity that they are passionate about. At Christmas time we share with each other where our donation went and why.

Ten years later and no one has yet to complain about not receiving a gazillion presents. So, the four sisters buy stuff for our own hubbys and kids and for our Dad. Otherwise - charity donation. It's worked really well.

Long comment - sorry, just thought I would share that....

steph said...

This is a really nice idea. I would really love to get my family off the secret santa kick, so I'm going to bring this up and see if I can get anybody to bite.

Love it! Thanks again Sue!

Anonymous said...

I love that you can plan ahead like you do. I haven't even been thinking about it much, I love your crafty presents but I can't craft...I have tried.

The Vicks inhaler is a great idea. My son is a firefighter and they smear Vicks under their noses for calls that are "smelly"

My sister is very sensitive to smells, and always has peppermint oil with her. She puts in on a kleenex and takes a good whiff when she needs it.

Hope everything works out for you! And send that email!

steph said...

I have been thinking on that email, and it's definitely going to go out. I'm still working on being comfortable advocating for myself. It just takes practice, probably. :)

Thanks Mo!

Never That Easy said...

I can definitely vouch for the Vicks (inhaler or rub on a tissue in your pocket): It's saved me many times. (There's even a baby version of vicks which is a little less intense for days when you can't handle the full strength).

I'm so with you on the e-mail thing: It something I know I should do, but the actual doing part is hard. (Mostly for the reason you described here - If I ask for help and don't get it, how bad will that feel?)

Other than that, I think this is a fabulous plan! Enjoy your holidays.

steph said...

Thanks NTE, you too! :)

Felicia Fibro said...

Love this quote! "I know my obstacles. I can't control everything, but I can prepare for anything." I'm going to add it to my inspirational quotes page!

steph said...

Awesome! Thanks so much, Felicia!