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How do we Celebrate and Still take Care of Ourselves?

December 14th, 2009

For a number of years, my husband and I hosted a big post-Christmas holiday gathering for my extended family. This gathering had gone on at my parents’ house for many years prior. Each of the smaller nuclear families (mine, my siblings’, aunt & uncle & cousins’) would have their own Christmas Day at home, and then sometime afterwards everyone would get together for a big collective meal and gift-giving. Since we all live several hours apart, this would generally turn into a weekend-long extravaganza, with many people sleeping over for several nights. The part where we were all together generally involved 14 – 22 people.

My family gets along well, and while some readers may roll their eyes at the thought of so many relatives gathered, it has been a largely joyous occasion. When my parents sold their big house and moved on to an apartment and then a retirement community, my sister took on hosting Thanksgiving and we took Christmas. We cut the expense, noise, tumult and confusion of the gift giving by drawing lots for gifts to adults, and cut the cooking difficulties by doing some degree of pot-luck.

But… I went on hosting these events some years beyond when some family and friends were questioning my ability to do it. I have been living now for about 14 years with chronic illness, and when hosting big events, there have been predictable outcomes. I would wear myself out, either with clean-up and preparation, or with running around taking care of the guests in my home, or with cooking, or with trying to keep up with the mess generated by my husband’s enthusiastic (delicious) and whirlwind cooking.

My challenged immune system would hand me an illness or infection a majority of the time. Or my sensitive nervous system would react to the added stress and noise and confusion by hitting me with a major Migraine. Or both. I would try to compensate by planning better, systematizing everything. This would both create more work for me and make my husband crazy due to my micro-managing. And then there were the crowds themselves for gift-giving or major meals, where I never do well. My head would be spinning in no time, my anxiety level would hit the roof with the noise and over-stimulation, and I would become cranky and short with people. I would spend some part of the celebration closed up in a room by myself in pain, and inevitably the guests would have to pick up a lot of the work it took to get through the weekend.

We moved four years ago to our current home, which is about 35% smaller than our last home. We did a huge renovation on this house and part of our planning was around how to accommodate a big crowd for Christmas. The time we have been in this house, however, has been the same time period as the worst of my chronic Migraines. We hosted one Christmas two months after moving in, with many things still in boxes and the construction not quite complete. We hosted  one other year. When we put many tables together to sit down for a meal, you could not leave your place at the table without 2 or 3 other people getting up as well.  When we tried to open presents in the front room with the Christmas tree, some people had to stand in the next room and look on. Another year we tried doing an abbreviated gathering when some family members were away, only inviting a few others. I had mixed feelings and was not clear with everyone about this, and hurt the feelings of those left out.

Last year, with tears and soul searching, we bowed out of hosting. We went to my sister’s for two big holiday gatherings, and we’ll be doing it again this year. My home will stay quiet; our Christmas day will be simple and relaxed; we will be with family in a less stressful space. But… I miss having my family here. I miss sharing my life, my things, my space with the people I love. In answer to the title of this post, this is what we are doing to celebrate and still have me take care of myself. But… I’m running  2 weeks at a time without a Migraine these days, and have more energy, and I have to admit I am thinking about how to take the whole thing on again – maybe next year. We’ll see.

How do you celebrate and still take care of yourself?

- Megan

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Posted in Communicating, Managing, Musings | Comments (1)

Holidays don’t have to Hurt your Head

December 1st, 2008

How was your Thanksgiving? We just got back from a very relaxed five day trip to my sister’s house, where the extended family descends for an annual Thanksgiving extravaganza. There are a lot of reasons to love it. My sister and brother-in-law and nephews are warm and welcoming and they pull out all the stops to accommodate everyone. Danny and I bake pies and cook some side dishes and load them in the car with ourselves, our kids and our luggage, maybe some fruit and wine, and off we go. We don’t have to clean the house (not that it couldn’t use it). We get a mini-vacation from the worries of our daily life. Their house is set up so that even with a crowd, the upstairs rooms are pretty sound-proof, so if a Migraineur needs a quiet retreat, there is one.

I am very thankful at Thanksgiving time, for the loving and accepting, funny, intelligent and interesting family I have, the fun times and wonderful food we share. I have many blessings to count. I have never managed to travel to this particular fest, however, without at least a little pang of wishing it were different. I wish I could host an event like this at my house. I wish that I could host any event of more than a handful of people for more than a few hours, without getting a Migraine. I wish that my home was orderly, organized and clean to the point that preparing for overnight guests wasn’t such a huge task.

The internet and the newspapers right now are full of articles on how to have happy holidays on a shoe-string, or how to enjoy the holidays without the stress, and I don’t need to re-invent the wheel. Over at My Migraine Connection you can read Teri Robert’s interview with Marcia Cross on Holiday Parties with Migraines. Coming up on December 8, the December Headache & Migraine Blog Carnival will be posted at Somebody Heal Me on the topic of “Maximizing Your Enjoyment of the Holiday Season,” and there will be lots of good reading on the topic, I’m sure! (If you’d like to submit a post for the carnival, the deadline is the midnight Friday, December 5th, and you can submit your post at this link at Somebody Heal Me.)

What I’m here to say is – the holidays don’t have to hurt your head. Like me, you may find there are things you have to give up. I conceded Thanksgiving to my sister years ago, since she loves doing it so much, but for most of the past 6 years we have hosted a big holiday weekend at our house around New Year’s. We won’t be doing that this year. Having that many people in my house, and that much noise, for an extended period of time, is a whole series of Migraine triggers for me. I end up missing a chunk of the celebration, I’m not much of a hostess, my family feels bad for me, and I’m in pain that often lasts days after everyone leaves.

I was surprised to find myself in tears when I told everyone we would not be hosting this year. It’s not like it was unexpected! The truth is that it is hard to give up on something we want to do. What we can do is to look below the thing itself, and see what is important to us, and how else we can express that.

When you look at your holiday season, think about what is important to you, and how you can express that without hurting your head. One holiday party may be much better than five. You may not have to wear yourself out to cook huge meals – choose one or two things that are important to you or your loved ones. The quantity of toys will mean less to your kids than the time you take to stop and play with them.

I gave up trying to be Martha Stewart years ago, but as my Migraines became more frequent I have had to give up more. So where we used to make six kinds of Christmas cookies, maybe we will make two. Where we used to have 18 people for a holiday weekend with a big dinner, we will ask a smaller group to join us for just dinner on Christmas day. Where we used to climb on the roof and hang lights, we light a few windows. In our family we have always celebrated Hannukah and Christmas, since we have a mixed background, but several years ago we became clear that our kids didn’t need gifts every night of Hannukah and under the tree and in their stockings!  We buy less, and light the candles to remember our heritage and hope in the darkness, rather than as a reason for eight more gifts.

Festivity is great fun, but it can also be addicting. Advertising tells us to do more, buy more. Many people find that however much they spend and do, they still fall short of the “perfect” holiday they imagine in their mind’s eye. As Migraineurs, we need to go easy on ourselves. Whether or not you’re hurting financially this season, you don’t need the added stress of worrying about whether you have bought or done enough. A little can go a long way. What is most important to you about the holidays? Is it time with loved ones? An expression of peace and hope? Find ways to express what is important to you, that don’t hurt your head. Remember to get regular sleep, eat regularly, avoid your Migraine triggers, and enjoy the joys of the season!

Peace!

- Megan

Sliced turkey image coutesy of Roland Tanglao; advent candles image courtesy of Per Ola Wiberg; menorah image courtesy of Andrew Ratto.

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Posted in Managing, Musings, Tips & Techniques, Weblogs | Comments (3)

Stress is not a Migraine Trigger

April 22nd, 2008

At least, that’s the latest thinking – last year the International Headache Society moved stress from its list of Migraine triggers to a list of exacerbating factors.  In other words, stress makes us more vulnerable to the things that trigger our Migraines.  In other words, pains in the … do not trigger the pain in our heads – directly.

So here’s a list of things that do not trigger my Migraines:

And so, I am trying a mantra: “stress is not a migraine trigger, stress is not a migraine trigger, God grant me the serenity, stress is not a migraine trigger.”  I’m not entirely sure this is working.  My head hurts!

Actually since striking a note of hope is clearly needed here – I have better mantras.  Some deep breathing – in Hummm – out Saaa… I’m going to go try that.  And please pray to the computer gods for me.  And maybe tomorrow I can write a better, more useful post.  With pretty pictures. 

- Megan Oltman

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Posted in Rant | Comments (4)

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