‘Survival is doable’ – holiday tips for ABI survivors

BY: SHIREEN JEEJEEBHOY

When your doctor has a SAD lamp on his desk, you know Canadian winters are grey and dreary. Add in the holiday season when we are all supposed to be festive but in reality are acutely aware that family and friends who surrounded us pre-injury are no longer around or are unrealistically demanding, you have a recipe for a bummer of a Christmas.

doll house figures celebrating christmas
photo credit: – Annetta – via photopin cc

How can we survive this? And not only survive, but maybe even thrive? I’m thinking the latter might be too ambitious a goal for some of us. But survival is doable. Our December Twitter #ABIchat was on this topic (if you’re not familiar with #ABIchat, head on over to my web page:  http://jeejeebhoy.ca/abichat/).

One of the things I found heartening from the #ABIchat is knowing that I’m not alone. Knowing you’re not alone is step one to lifting the weight of this season off our hearts. Knowing many other brain injury survivors find the noise, the numerous activities, the demands of others to be who we were pre-injury overwhelming, is comforting. Knowing that others are also lonely as friends and/or family melted away over the years following the brain injury, makes us feel less of a freak, and less rejected. Knowing that others need to rest up days before and days after parties and the big day, makes resting sound normal. It’s easier to tell those in our lives who resent us resting, ‘Yeah, I need to rest, deal with it, I’m going to go nap now.’

But survival is more than just knowing others are in the same boat as us, we also need to know what to do.

Pacing is key. To pace wisely, we need to plan our holiday activities wisely. Which activities drain you the most? List out your activities, putting the most draining ones at the top. Depending on your standard fatigue level, cut the most draining activities out altogether or down to one. Let’s say, parties exhaust you the most. You could cut your parties down to one or none. If one, decide which one you enjoy the most, and go to that one. Don’t go to the one you feel obligated to go to or would make someone else happy. Choose the one you will have the most fun at, see the people you enjoy the most.

Christmas lights on dollhouse
photo credit: tommaync via photopin cc

After you pare down your activities to the most essential, maybe cut that list in half, then go through your resulting list and figure out how much rest each activity requires. Put into your schedule the rest days before, the recovery days after, and the activities themselves. It’ll quickly become evident if you’ve scheduled too much in, and you may need to cut down the list even more.

Try not to double up rest and recovery days, meaning don’t have the two days of recovery after Party A also be the two days of rest up before Party B. And remember to schedule one or two days in between to be just for you and to do something you enjoy. That’s ideal of course because from Hanukkah to Christmas preparations through to New Year’s is rather a compressed timeline

If you don’t have someone to spend Christmas with, see if you can get together with a few friends between now and January 5 as an antidote to the aloneness of the day itself. But again, space them out so you don’t become exhausted. Exhaustion makes everything worse.

Another important thing I learnt from the #ABIchat is to be honest. Put your health first, be honest about what you can handle. If parties really overwhelm you, be honest and say I can no longer attend parties. Suggest an alternative, like, perhaps a coffee out between Boxing Day and New Year’s with a couple of people you wanted to connect up with at the party. With honesty comes acceptance of your situation as it is now. One person said Christmas was going to be feet up and films. She was good with that. Maybe that’s not what you and I want, but perhaps that’s the reality.

If your emotions work, have a good crying session before putting your feet up, popping the popcorn, and watching the movies you’ve wanted to see in the theatres but never could because of the crowds and sensory overload. Or maybe you don’t like movies. Maybe you want to listen to music or walk in a ravine. Whatever is a treat for you, do it. Go overboard, totally treat it up!

Lastly, remember this season will end. And then we’ll be back to our familiar routines, and these dreary days will be behind us with longer days of sunlight ahead.

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