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The Decisions I Have to Make on Christmas Day With Chronic Pain

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It’s Christmas Day! For most people this stirs excitement for the upcoming events of the day. Family time, the scents of the tree, carefully chosen gifts, fresh baked treats and our favorite dishes for the big meal of the day.

For me, I think first about how dressed up I will get. Will I spend the extra effort to curl my hair and dress up my make-up? Fancy festive clothes or comfortable clothes? Do I push the envelope and try to wear some heels even though I know I shouldn’t? They would look better than flats with my cute outfit though. (My first anxiety episode usually kicks in right about now.) I give up and go with the more comfortable clothes because if I’m going to be in pain most of the day, why add to it by wearing uncomfortable clothes.

Running late, due to all the “rest breaks” I had to take while getting ready, we hurry to load the car with all the gifts and food and drive 30 minutes or more, depending on traffic, to our first destination. Do I take a pain pill now or do I wait until later in the day? If I wait till later, I can at least enjoy part of the day without being in a hazy fog. Although, if I wait too long, then my pain will rule the day and I won’t enjoy anything. I try, I really do, to enjoy the festivities. All the while, I’m trying to hide how bad I’m hurting or going outside in the cold air to try and soothe another anxiety attack without anyone noticing or commenting.

Now, how many houses do we visit? Do we focus on one side of the family today and try (knowing someone will get their feelings hurt) to move the other half of the family to Christmas Eve or the day after Christmas? Or do I push myself to go to both places in one day? Fight through the pain and anxiety attacks, knowing I will get no sleep that night? How long do we stay? Can we move things along without looking like that’s what we are trying to do? Not because I don’t want to spend time with everyone but because the less time I’m there the sooner I will be in the comfort of my own home. Then I can start dealing with the physical/mental aftermath of the day’s events. Tomorrow will be filled with pain meds, guilt, more depression and laying around while the acute pain runs its course.

Meanwhile, the frustration of my family shows on their faces or in their comments. The questions of “Why don’t you just have surgery?” or “Have you tried doing _____?”(cue filling in the blank with just about any suggestion you can imagine). Or, my favorite, “Hope you feel better soon.” I grit my teeth every time I hear that one! Even though I have explained to them numerous times that I won’t ever get better. I will always have pain. The degree of pain may be “better” on some days, but I will never see “before back pain” comfort levels ever again. I get their frustrations – believe me, I do! Yet no one is more frustrated about it all as much as I am. Dealing with chronic pain every day is more than frustrating; it’s debilitating. Physically and mentally.

All of that being said, last year my husband and I spent Christmas Day at our house, just the two of us. We split our time up between each side of the family. Doing the day before with one side and the day after with the other side. We asked them to please understand. Even though I am close with my family, I must say it was one of my favorite Christmas Days ever! We took our time waking up, had a nice breakfast, turned the fireplace on and relaxed all day. We enjoyed each other with no stress. We reflected on our past year and looked forward to the years to come with hope. Christmas music on in the background, we fixed an easy Christmas dinner for two. Then we opened our gifts and drank some wine in the dark with nothing but the Christmas tree and the fireplace adding a soft glow. It was wonderful and romantic.

Can we with get away with making this our Christmas tradition from now on without upsetting the family? I don’t know. Understandably, I can already picture the looks of disappointment and the sad tones in their voices. It is wonderful to be loved so much! Besides the fact that it kept me from pushing myself past my “comfortable point,” it was a more meaningful Christmas Day for my me and my husband. I finally enjoyed Christmas for the first time in forever because there was no stress, no toes being stepped on and no big mess to clean up! This also made the days leading up to Christmas more enjoyable because I knew exactly what the events of the day would be. For the first time in years I looked forward to Christmas Day with excitement instead a cloud of dread and depression.

I guess those of us struggling with limitations should try to make Christmas the best it can be for ourselves. We can try to include the old traditions, but we won’t always be able to make everyone happy and we need to be aware of our limits. So, while I stress over what I am going to wear on Christmas Day and where we will spend it this year, I wish you all a holiday season filled with comfort, peace and happiness!

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: December 20, 2016
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