13 Special Gifts to Soothe Chronic Illnessby Cathy Kramer Patient Advocate
Give others a gift you've tried and love
For significant milestones during the year - birthdays or anniversaries, the winter holidays - I often reflect on simple self-care practices I have learned from almost 15 years of experience with a chronic illness, in my case rheumatoid arthritis. These are little gifts I give myself to soothe my body and help me fully enjoy these delightful, but also stressful, times. They are completely free and entirely worthwhile.
Living with a chronic illness, I’ve learned that if I want a special occasion like a holiday or birthday dinner to run smoothly, I must fight my urge to procrastinate. With flares and fatigue a daily part of life, it is important that I plan ahead.
I always make a list of cleaning projects I need to accomplish, foods I want to prepare, and gifts I plan to purchase for others. By keeping this list handy, I can continuously update and check things off as my body allows or extra help is available.
Choose events wisely
Big holiday months like November and December seem to bring out the extrovert, even in this introverted gal. It is easy to get caught up in the fun and overdo things both mentally and physically. As invitations are accepted or events of my own are planned, I’ve learned to consider a few things:
- The time of day: Some people, like me, feel worse at night than during the day.
- The effort required
- Which outings bring the most overall enjoyment?
- It is okay to say no?
Be prepared if you need to cancel
Once a party is on my calendar and I have mentally prepared for the fun, it can be upsetting when my body doesn’t cooperate, and I need to cancel my plans. After a little pity party, a backup plan helps me to not feel completely left out of the fun. That might mean I:
- Watch a favorite movie
- Freeze a decadent dessert that can be pulled out and defrosted
- Have a little pajama party with just family or a few close friends
If you are anything like me, you are the main coordinator of the holidays. This job is all about doing for others, right? No. That was the old me. The new, chronically ill me takes time for myself. I recognize that it may seem frivolous to plan time for yourself when there is so much to do, but it is one of the nicest things you can do for yourself during this special season. Include ideas like:
- A long bath
- A quiet walk in nature
- A massage or facial
- A 20-minute nap in the middle of the day.
There is nothing better in the world than online shopping. With so much going on, I appreciate that it allows me to shop whenever it's convenient for my body and me. To be honest, I find great enjoyment in waiting for boxes to arrive.
Need something right away? Many stores allow you to choose items online that they gather together, charge your card, and you visit the store, where everything is conveniently ready to pick up. Bonus: No energy spent walking around the store.
Find helpers for extra little tasks
When I was growing up, wrapping gifts was not part of my mom’s skill set. Hurray for us! My five siblings and I still have great memories of wrapping each other’s gifts and keeping secrets safe.
Sore hands, fingers, and wrists often take away from the enjoyment of wrapping gifts, which allows for trying new things:
- Have a wrapping party with friends and offer to oversee the bows.
- Have your kids wrap their siblings’ gifts — the fun they’ll have is worth sacrificing perfectly wrapped packages under the tree.
As a mom, I tend to pick up on the needs and feelings of everyone in the family and assume they will do the same for me. Wrong! After years of assuming my pain could easily be seen and understood, I have gotten smarter.
I have learned to share with my family what I can and cannot do. I don’t enjoy it and it doesn’t come naturally, but it's necessary to be very clear about my pain levels ahead of time. This often keeps me from overdoing things and others having hurt feelings.
Share the burden with your family
My chronic illness has given me the gift of learning to ask for help. My family doesn’t like seeing me in pain. It hurts them to know that I don’t feel well, and they can’t do anything to take it away. By asking them to do things for me, it relieves some of the frustration they feel in not having a magic wand to relieve my discomfort. A few things that help:
- Be specific in what you need help with.
- Once you've delegated, let go of the responsibility.
Create new traditions
I thrive on traditions. But when they drain all my energy reserves, it's time to reassess. Over the years, we have created simpler ones that work better with my health condition. One good change we have made for the December holidays is eating out at a restaurant on Christmas Eve, allowing my body to rest up for the Christmas day meal.
A rule of thumb I attempt to follow is: If the tradition causes exhaustion and tears, it's time to drop it.
Set yourself up for success
Have you ever been out in public and had to text someone to come help you fasten your pants? I have. Don’t make that same mistake. Wear clothes that you can easily button or snap yourself.
Find seating that allows you to get up when you need to and without much hassle. There’s nothing worse than needing to get up from the table while everyone watches you struggle to lift yourself up. Find a seat that's easiest to get out of and will draw the least amount of attention.
Refill medications early
Especially during the November and December holidays, I find satisfaction in marking things off my lists and creating new ones. Generally, I start with the easiest and quickest things first. Refills on medications are at the top of this list. It is the one thing I absolutely need for my body. Plus, I know if I wait, it might not be easy to track down my doctor on a holiday. Why put that extra stress on myself?
Stock up on supplies
I am sure most of us have "pain-free" holidays and celebrations on our wishlists, but sometimes we don’t get what we want. Stock up on everything you may need to help you through a painful day: therapeutic tape, ointments, crutches, a wheelchair — whatever it is that will help you. Also, keep heating pads and icepacks handy so you can easily ask someone to get them for you.
Add self-care gifts to your wishlist
When I asked our community for gift ideas to soothe a chronic illness, many said “a cure.” This one will, of course, be on our forever list, but in the meantime, here are a few other great ideas you might want to ask for:
- Gift cards for massages and facials
- Essential oils
- A house cleaning service
- An assistant to help with day-to-day activities
Make yourself a priority
As you are looking over your gift list, make sure to add your own name. Chronic illnesses take a lot out of us and rarely take a break for holidays or special occasions, so do all you can to make it as soothing and enjoyable as possible. Sprinkle in a few kind gifts to yourself each day. You deserve a little self-love.