The Price of Celebrating the Holidays When You Have Chronic Pain

I am often asked why I keep myself to such a strict schedule and seem rather private during the holidays. It’s true. I have a routine I follow daily. I know my body can handle between eight and 10 hours of activity on a good day and even less on a moderate or bad day. I know I can only drive for an hour before my pain starts to escalate and if I miss my medications by more than 30 minutes, I will deeply regret it. But, the holidays bring family and friends to visit and parties for work and personal occasions, holiday shopping and cooking, among other traditions, and every year I have to pace myself. I have to turn down certain things and carefully schedule what activities I attend and how close they are in time to each other. When I try to explain my lack of attendance or limited time during this time of year, common responses include things like:

“Well, they only come around once a year!”

“So and so is only free tonight/in town today.”

“Would you rather be out with [family/friends] or on the couch?!”

or “c’mon, just push through it. It will be fun!”

Albeit true that the holidays only come around once a year, I would love to see so and so, going out to eat is more fun than my couch and I can push myself well past my limits, these responses pose a number of challenges for me, especially being newly engaged and trying to manage blending two families and friend groups together. Which brings me to today. I decided to not listen to my exhausted body on Friday and not only did I not follow my ever-important nightly routine, but I went out to a friend’s house, forgoing my normal, comfy bed for a guest room. I stayed up three hours past my normal bedtime, and while I had fun catching up with my friend, I knew there would be a price to pay when I woke on Saturday. What I wasn’t prepared for was how costly that one night, those three extra hours, would be.

I spent all day Saturday on the couch, rotating ice packs on my head and neck and a heating pad on my abdomen. I slept over 12 hours throughout the course of the day, didn’t eat until nearly 9 p.m. and took every single pain medication in my arsenal. I was beyond relieved when 8:30 came around and I could take my nightly medicines and go to bed, hoping to wake up in better shape the next morning. However, that isn’t always the case. Sadly, I woke up today feeling just as terrible as Saturday and I could not help but lie in bed this morning and think to myself, what if my family and friends could see me today? Would they still ask why I am so scheduled during the holidays? Would they push me to come over, go out and abandon my routine if they saw the pure agony I was in?

You see, the holidays are not just about giving up my routine for parties, celebrations and outings. It is about not being able to function on a basic level due to increased pain and lack of energy. I need to clean my house, do laundry, run errands, be productive at work and do the very basic things like shower or brush my teeth. I need to be a functioning person and I can’t do that if I don’t pace myself, follow my schedule and monitor my activities carefully. The picture below is what my fiancée woke up to this morning. Me, clutching his arm, buried under a pile of blankets, still in my robe because I didn’t even have the energy to change into pajamas last night.

woman lying in bed sick

This is how I spent the past 48 hours. I wish my friends and family could see this. Maybe they would better understand why I say no or limit myself. I wish they could see the cost of one night and maybe realize that not all activities are worth this pain. I’m not being a Grinch. I don’t hate the holidays. I wish I could see everyone and do everything, but I am practicing self-care, not selfishness. Please don’t tell me to just push through it.

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