You can't help but run into talk of family gatherings, travel, opening presents, eating -- living in the holiday season is vital, active. It's no wonder some of us with chronic illnesses feel left out. After all, we can't eat normally. We are in pain. The New Year doesn't bring us a clean slate. And all we want to do is sleep. We are isolated and alone.
But I don't think it has to be that way. I challenge you to celebrate the holidays in your own ways. Naps are great, and everybody naps on the holidays, so don't feel left out; enjoy a warm winter's nap. Can't go out for the holidays? Bring some cheer in. For me, it's as small and simple as putting Emily's holiday collar on her -- red velvet with rhinestones for the girly cat. It reminds me that it's a special time of year and brightens up my mood immediately. Can't eat the big, fancy meals? Treat yourself to one of your favorites -- a cupcake, a bowl of homemade soup -- whatever feels special to you. There's wonderful holiday music that always cheers me up. I'm Jewish, but I'm a sucker for a good Christmas carol.
And if you really can't find anything to rejoice about, think about how much worse it could be -- think about those who lack a home or a bed or hot food or anybody who cares about them. If you're able, volunteer at a soup kitchen -- that will make you feel very lucky. If you're not able, pick up the phone and call someone you know who's also sick and alone; two of us together is better than two of us apart.
I will look back on 2011 as the year I really learned the value of positive thinking. I've always known that coping strategy is the key to living with chronic illness. The glass half full. All I have rather than all I'm missing. But I never really got it until this year.
My friend Ashley O'Connor always says "it will work out. It always does." This was the year I decided to believe her. I moved Advocacy for Patients into new offices with no clue how I was going to handle our increased expenses. But we've been here for four months and we will still break even on the year. I have no idea how it happened, but it did. It always does.
So when people ask how I am these days, I try to remind myself to say "great," even when that's rarely the case. Strangely, I have found that, by just saying that, it sort of comes true -- I feel happier when I act happier. Laugh. Sing. Smile. You don't need anybody's help to do those things. You don't even need a reason. Just do it and see if it changes how you feel. I bet it does.
Life's tough, for sure. Even if I sit or lie really still, I'm in pain. I'm so tired I could cry -- not sleepy tired, but bone tired. I lost a dear friend this week. I got bad test results. I'm not going to have any time off over the holidays. We can compare lists of things we have to be miserable about.
But I also have a cat who loves me. I have a lovely home that's warm and clean, even if it does need some sprucing up. I have a great office. I have work I love. And I have the great privilege of being able to touch a life here and there. There is no greater reason to celebrate.
So don't wait for good fortune to find you. Make it. Hang a garland. Phone a friend who's alone. Eat a cookie. Write a letter. Smile. You may have to pretend at first, but you'll be surprised at how fast it becomes genuine.
Because in our hearts, we aren't sick. In our hearts, we are alive and free and loving. In our hearts, we can take a holiday from chronic illness. I hope you will give it a try.
Ashley's right. It will work out. It always does. Some how. Believe. Jennifer