Surviving a party or family get together

The good news is that I survived the holidays just fine. The holiday season is rough for many of us, from the expectations we have for ourselves to the physical reality of getting through gruelingly long days. Here is a list of the little things I do, that hopefully can help anyone make it through a long, stressful day.

Photo by Emre Kuzu on
  1. Stake out a quiet corner, preferably with a comfy chair. You don’t have to stand up and be circulating all the time. If you are brave, take a chair into the middle of the action. Not so brave? Pick a quiet corner and let the party come to you.
  2. Let other people do things for you. They can get you a drink or bring you a napkin. Many of us feel like we are burdens to others – but often that’s just in our heads. People love to help, but they don’t know how. It’s up to you to give them instructions.
  3. Take a minute when you need it. If you are getting overwhelmed, close your eyes and just breathe in and out for a minute. Focus on your breathing and not on anything around you. Sure, folks might think you are odd – but, really, don’t they think that already.
  4. Celery. When people gather there is a pressure to munch on snack food. And, yes, it’s great to try the cookies. But many of us cannot handle too much sugary or fatty food. (They tie to inflammation). My friends know that I always appreciate a bowl of celery, cut short – the size of popcorn. You will certainly find other people who want a break from the sweetness. Cucumbers and (actual) popcorn are also great snacks to keep on hand.
  5. A pashmina scarf is great to have on hand. It’s my temperature regulator. I can take it on and off, tie it around my neck as a scarf, drape it over my shoulders as a shawl, or use it as a lap blanket. They are so soft, it also doubles a my comfort object that I can rub between my fingers when I get anxious.
Here is one nice pashmina. I like solid colors because they go with more outfits, but there are many patterned ones as well. Even guys can wear these if folded in half, long-ways, twice.

6. Lower your expectations of yourself. This time of year I always feel the pressure of doing things perfectly. It took a while for me to look around and see that others did not have that expectation of themselves. You do not need to bring the most gorgeous and tasty cake that ever existed to the party. Go for getting it done (in whatever state its done) or planning it enough in advance that you can pass it off to someone else if you cannot get it done. Or buy the cake if you need too – everyone has done it once in a while.

7. Remember you can run away if you need to. Or decline invitations. Or accept an invitation and not show up. (But send a text if you are able.) Miss Manners wasn’t writing about people with chronic pain. Sometimes you need to be a rebel and live by your own rules.

Living with pain Neck and back Things that work

Weight of the world on my shoulders

The worst of my pain lives in my neck and shoulders. At times, the muscles seize up so badly that I cannot move them. We always joke that it’s the weight of the world on my shoulders, but that has a truth to it.

When this happens, the first thing I do is lift my shoulders up – like I’m asking a question. Or more likely that I am trying to hide from the answer. This move counteracts the weight that I feel and breaks the block on movement. Yes, it hurts, but as I work them up and down a few times, I feel like blood and energy is flowing again.

Next, I push my shoulders back and my chest out and think of Dolly Parton. Yes, this move is easier in a secluded or private place, but pain is pain and I have gotten a pile of strange looks for this. Push your shoulders back and down and hold for 10 – 30 seconds or whatever feels good.

After some stretching, I break out the Thera Cane. A Thera Cane is a long, sturdy plastic stick with a curve on top. It looks a bit like a walking cane, but it’s probably too short to walk with. (Way too short for my 5’6″.) It has a host of knobs sticking off of it from a number of places. It looks, more than anything, like the frame for some plastic toy parts after all the toy parts have been punched out.

Thera Cane in use on the neck.

Find whatever knob allows you to reach the sore part and use the other parts of the cane to apply pressure to the sore part. Yes, this hurts – but it relieves much more pain in the long run. It is like getting a massage (only cheaper and you have to do the work yourself.)

I lift and replace the cane on my neck again and again until all the lumps are worked out. I’ll then use the Thera Cane to get my feet a little bit or any other body part that feels tense or painful.

When this is done, I’m exhausted and ready to flop back into my nest on the sofa and be quiet for a while. At least for a little bit, the weight of the world is no longer on my shoulders. The next trick is to figure out how not to put the weight back on. I’ll report back once I have that down.

P.S. I’ve linked to Amazon in order to cover some of my expenses (hopefully). So I think that the link to the Thera Cane is part of their Affiliate program. If I did it right.

Living with pain Spiritual Things that work

Focused meditation – vacuum cleaner breathing

Pain can hit suddenly – any time or place. Of all the things that work during a pain flare – vacuum cleaner breathing comes in the fastest and the strongest to get me through emergency times.

This is a meditation exercise, but you don’t have to call it meditation for it to work. It is basically a combination of intentional breathing with a very basic mental image. You will want to practice this during times that you are feeling in control – such as a minor pain at home. Once you’ve done it a few times, you can pull it out even under times of stress to dampen the pain.

First, get yourself comfortable. Sitting in a place where people won’t bother me or think I am strange for closing my eyes is a start. It might be easier for you to lie down. It might also be easiest to find a place that has a nice light in front of you.

Next, find a spot upon which to concentrate outside of your body. Most people choose a “third eye” that sits just off your forehead or above the top of your head. Mine is about a foot above my forehead and six inches forwards. Yours might be three feet forward from your heart. Location doesn’t matter, just find a place that you can feel comfortable locating again and again.

Then, close your eyes and breathe regularly. Pay attention to the breath coming in and out of your body. Imagine a loop that starts outside your body and travels in toward your pain, then leaving your body again. You are going to be breathing around this loop.

  1. Start with a spot outside your body that has light or clean air.
  2. Breathe in pulling that light into your third eye.
  3. Keep breathing in (this is a fast set of steps) and pull that light and clean to the part of you that hurts.
  4. Breathe out, grabbing a little bit of the pain (I imagine it as dirt) and pull it away from the pained area.
  5. Pull that pain travels outside your body. I breathe it straight out from the spot. If you prefer a closed-loop, you can follow where it came in and send it out the same way.
  6. Feel the pain leave your body and disperse.
  7. Repeat until the pain is gone or at least reduced to manageable levels. This happens when all the bad stuff around the pain is out of your body and it’s place is taken by good energy that can help you.

I pull out this tool and use it daily. Sometimes this is to bide time until something else happens (e.g. pain meds kick in) and sometimes this is enough pain control in itself. Do not expect to rise out of your chair pain free and a new person. But, this is one of many things I do that work together so I can get through the day.

I learned a version of this in yoga class and adapted it to my needs with chronic pain. If you like this, you might want to look into yoga. Not the twist both legs behind your neck yoga, but gentle, restorative, and therapeutic yoga all work with breathing and the body.

Questions? Ask below. I am eager to fine tune this writing so it is understandable to everyone.