Unconditional joviality has never really been my trademark, to be honest. I did an OK job of hiding this fact until I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) and started really being able to identify some of the MS symptoms that were interfering with all-out holiday revelry. Since my diagnosis, I have tried different approaches to the holidays with MS – avoidance, bitterness, and disdain for everything happening between mid-November and January 2nd.
Not only did none of these approaches really work in reducing holiday-related stress, they also left me feeling a little guilty and in definite need of an attitude adjustment (and the necessity to apologize to people that I had inadvertently or purposely offended).
This year, I am going to try something new. I have made a list of potential holiday pitfalls to strategize in advance. I am determined to maintain my inner peace and try to find my own joy this year. I realize, however, that to do that, I should not be striving to keep up with everyone. Instead I need to pick and choose what I will do, contribute, participate in, so that I am at my best. I have written up my list to share with my fellow MSers. I am sure that some of you simply love the holidays and cannot understand what I am talking about when I refer to holiday stress. Others of you might find a point or two that resonates, but have completely different things that you need to watch out for. Still others may see lots of things on this list that have tormented them in the past and be able to use this list to strategize along with me.
All of that said, here are the “holiday hazards” that I am going to try to avoid this year:
Too Many People: One of my worst MS symptoms is cognitive dysfunction. This impacts my life in many ways, but one of the most frustrating is with communication. I truly cannot keep up with a conversation when more than a couple of people are participating, especially if it is a party-type setting with unfamiliar people and widely varying topics. I was never one for small talk anyway. I am going to try to solve this potential problem by avoiding parties where I don’t know many people, or at least finding quiet corners where I can have more intimate conversations.
Too Much Noise: Related to my cognitive dysfunction is my inability to maintain any train of thought if there is too much ambient noise. This includes loud (or annoying) music, a television playing in the background (especially football games) or people cheering during football games, among other things. I will try to avoid these situations by running out of the door when I hear the opening notes of “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.”
Infection Risk: Clearly, we cannot stay locked up in our houses or wear protective masks when we come into contact with people during holiday season, the time of year which happens to coincide with cold and flu season. However, as people with MS, we are at risk for relapses if we happen to get a febrile illness (like the flu) and are at risk for complications from the flu, such as pneumonia, due to respiratory dysfunction and decreased lung function. I have strategized this pitfall by getting vaccinated against both seasonal flu and H1N1. I also ask people in a roundabout way if they are all infection-free before I visit, by saying things like, “Boy, it sure is a miracle that we are all healthy with so much crud going around this time of year, isn’t it?”
Losing Sleep: Everyone gets tired during the holidays. However, for those of us with MS who pretty much live in a constant state of fatigue, the frantic pace of fitting in all the revelry can really affect us in very negative ways. Part of this has to do with sleep loss – we all know the pattern – go to bed a little later here, wake up to hit the sales or put the turkey in the oven the next day, can’t go to bed before Uncle Ted leaves, and so on… We end up with a sleep deficit that exacerbates our fatigue. Be as strict with bedtimes as possible and budget naps into your schedule.
Read more: Sleep and MS
Stress: I try to stay calm and peaceful as much as possible. Most of the time, it works. However, I have learned the hard way that unless I really strategize holiday time, there is no feeling of calm or peace to be found in my world. Stress seems to radiate off of frenzied shoppers and harried hosts. This year, I am going to have all of my shopping done before Thanksgiving, all menus planned far in advance and a very specific schedule of what is going to be happening when, so that I know what to expect. I can’t guarantee that my “plan to plan” will work to eliminate 100% of the potential stress around the holidays, but at least I will feel like I am somewhat in control of the situation.