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.


My first cane

My orthopedist handed me a scrip and said, “Get a cane. It will help. Do you know how to walk with one?” And my cane adventures began.

I’m 48, which is too young to be running around with a cane all the time. But, my knee hurt (arthritis), and the doctor showed me how to use a cane and that really took the stress off and relieved a lot of pain. I converted to the group of the cane people.

My husband sometimes uses a cane – just for show and affectation. He has an Irish blackthorn cane which doubles as a shillelagh. He has a tall, twisted Gandalf staff. Those were far to heavy for me to use for long. He has some speed-walking double sticks. I turned myself into a pretzel trying to use those.

Next, we headed down to the pharmacy – I had a prescription after all. In the assisted-living section with the big raised toilet seats sat the canes. These were lighter and maneuverable. Some even collapsed for small storage. But, to a one, they were ugly. Metal, black, the prettiest one was blue. I knew if I chose one of those canes, I would just look sad.

So, I went onto the internet – source of all things wild and interesting. And and boy did they. I was swept away into a world of dragon canes with crystals mounted along them. Canes that hid knives or flasks. Canes that transformed into a stool for sitting. But all those weigh too much.

I searched collapsible metal canes and that brought up more of what I wanted. They had hot pink canes, canes with playing cards printed on them, blue canes with yellow racing stripes, and one cane with gorgeous peacock feathers printed down in. And that one was marked half-off. I figured if I am going to have a cane – it should be bold and pretty – just like me.

Here it is, isn’t it pretty!

My cane – leaning on a sweet gum tree

It’s a complement getter, especially from other people with canes. I wonder what Freud would say about cane envy? (Oh, yeah, first guess is probably right.)


It’s for the birds (and me)

The back side of the Sugar Grove Nature Center – this is the protection around the bird feeding area. You can see one side of the corner of windows in particular.

I have always enjoyed watching the birds. The come and go, quarrel with each other, and sometimes even watch me back through the window. I have a feeder set up so I can see them from my nest – the seat on the sofa surrounded by all my things. We get tons of cardinals who nest in our yard as well as a large variety of sparrows.

I used to go to the Sugar Grove Nature Center in Funk’s Grove, Illinois (great name, huh) to watch the birds and hike. Of course, I was feeling better then. I used to love winding out around the trails in woods and prairie. Today I cannot hike, but am working to get that back.

Sugar Grove had a room where people could watch the birds (and chipmunks) through a floor-to-ceiling glass window. This is of the utmost importance – because it let everyone have a nature experience no matter their mobility. Anyone could walk, hobble, or roll into the room and take a comfy seat surrounded by windows covered with one-way glass. You could pick up a bird book, look around the room for pictures of common seasonal birds, or just relax and enjoy the show.

They set out specialized food to bring diversity. Sunflower seeds are the perennial favorite, but they had a finch sock, fruit or jelly for orioles, hummingbird sugar-water, suet for woodpeckers, and several other specialty foods. The variety of foods attracted a number of birds who normally don’t feed together.

Chipmunks were everyone’s favorites. (Yes, I know, not birds). These critters would dart around the area, munching on peanuts and playing in the running water. I bet they thought they hit the lottery by finding the feeding area.

Chipping sparrow – small but mighty. Image from Cornell Lab’s “All about birds”.

Watching birds is therapeutic. I have always loved being outdoors. My favorite thing used to be removing turf for a garden – it’s quite a workout. I cannot get out in nature as much as I used to. I can bring some to me, feeding the birds.


Flying while disabled

This summer I flew to Maine. I carefully packed my carry-on with all my medical stuff. CPAP for sleep apnea*, a large bag of pills, some comfort items. I packed snacks because I am supposed to eat several small meals daily. I brought along my folding cane, so it could help me into the airplane but still fit in a seat-back. My laptop had to go in the carry-on as well. No problem. I brought a small purse and made sure I could manage hauling everything I had.

My first two flights went exactly as planned, and I was starting to feel good about traveling. My third flight (of three) is where things went downhill.

I boarded early (my cane gave me that privilege). I stepped out of the boarding area and saw a plane in front of me with a huge metal ramp leading up to it. That was not going to be easy, but I steeled myself and started painfully pulling my carry-on up the ramp.

Not my airplane, but this is what the boarding ramp looked like.

About halfway up, a flight attendant called out to me, saying I had to put my bag on the cart at the bottom of the ramp. I told her that my bag was full of a CPAP, medicine, and things that had to be carried on. She said my carry-on would not fit in the overheads. I would have to take everything out of it that had to go on the plane.

I made it (painfully) back down the ramp and started to unpack my bag. The flight attendant re-appeared with a plastic bag that she said I could use to put my stuff in. But she stood in the door of the plane. I had to trudge all the way up the ramp – at least without a suitcase this time – take the bag, and go back down to my bag to finish unpacking.

At this point, the regular customers are boarding. They are also upset about having to check their carry-ons and are hauling them onto the cart around me unpacking mine.

I unpacked the CPAP bag and put it over my shoulder with my purse. I took out the pills, computer, and a couple of other things and put them in the plastic bag. I then closed my nearly empty carry-on on the cart.

Now, I have a cane in one hand and a plastic bag in the other. I have two bags around my neck and shoulder and am highly off balance. And I have to go back up the ramp this way. And through a busy cabin, slowing down the boarding process for everyone behind me. And then haul two smaller bags into the overhead bin above my seat.

At this point, the flight attendant approaches me and apologizes, but tells me there is nothing else she could do, as my bag would not fit in the extra-small overhead space.

I laughed. What else could I do? This is flying with a disability. I folded my cane and put it in the seat back, not looking forward to the repeat of this process when the flight was over.

What could she do? She could have found someone to help me with my bags up and down the ramp. She could have run the plastic bag down the ramp herself, it would have saved time. She could have assisted me in carrying my multiple bags (now) into and out of the plane. The gate agents could have explained the situation to me before I boarded, so I had time to resettle my belongings.

  • Yes, I know they are supposed to allow me to fly with the CPAP as a “free” carry-on. But they don’t. I’m not certain what I need to do to get that clearance, but a doctor’s note and a prescription doesn’t cut it.
Living with pain Things that work Uncategorized

On chronic pain

Hi. I’m Heni and I’ve been living with chronic pain for a very long time. And I’ve just about reached the end of my rope more times than I can count. At my last doctor’s visit, and yet another, “We can’t do anything about it except give you more pain pills.” I thought I was going to choke. Then I decided I could write about it – and share everything with you. I have fibromyalgia and arthritis – but I want to be inclusive – looking at all types of chronic pain.

I am on a journey to find out what works, even a little bit. I am going to write about it here. Send in your things that work, even a little bit, and we may build a resource here.

Things that work (even a little bit) so far

  • not moving
  • heating pads
  • pills
  • CBD
  • massage
  • popsicles
  • herbal teas
  • aromatherapy
  • meditation
  • screaming
  • aqua-therapy
  • bio-feedback
  • cats
  • sunshine
  • The Great British Baking Show
  • sock filled with rice
  • humidifier
  • yoga – only sometimes

I’ll talk about these as we move forward. I’ll also talk about my continuing effort to find relief and other issues around living with pain. Send in your stories or suggestions and I can blog on that, too.

Also, I find strength in my animal friend the Virginia Opossum. Expect them to pop up regularly.