Christmas holidays are a special time of the years for all of us. However, when you have to factor in chronic health issues such as brain injury, holidays can be a harsh reminder of your shortfalls too.
Why holidays can be hard with a chronic illness?
It’s pretty hard at times to see others move on with their lives. It’s pretty hard at times to feel like you are losing touch with everyone else’s reality. It’s pretty hard to deal with limitations that others don’t have to continuously factor in. Finally, it’s pretty hard to feel as though you’re being left behind. I believe that it‘s not intentional, but saying that all of the above isn’t true - to any varying degree - would also be a mistake.
I’ve come to learn that life doesn’t stand still when encephalitis and brain injury crossed my path. It can sting for sure to see others move on, but if you keep shifting your focus back onto what’s really important, magic can occur in your world too.
How Holidays with a chronic illness have affected me?
I have rummaged a fair bit about all this over the past few years. Tears have flown time and time again and to be honest, they can still flow at times. However, I’ve sort of decided to process all that anger, sadness and frustration in a more positive way. I truly feared that the way I had been handling this aspect of my life could keep dragging my mental health down and this could no longer be an option. I’ve come too far in so many aspects of my recovery to let this be my own demise.
The question was how do I change my ways?
Well I believe that I am allowed to feel what I feel at any particular point in time…I think that sweeping emotions under the carpet wouldn’t be the way to go either. However, I believed that there was room for improvement when it came to seeing my emotions take over and lingering for a prolonged period of time. It came down to me realising that it’s not about what others may or may not have done as I have no control over their decisions. It’s about making conscious decisions to invest time and energy in what works for me and my own priorities in order to help me realise my short, medium and long term goals.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time figuring out what those goals might be over the past few years and I simply cannot afford letting my emotions cloud my judgment to such an extent anymore.
Strategies to help manage lingering emotions?
Writing and journaling are probably top of my list. They help me process my emotions in a more positive manner, help me get rid of the clutter and shift my focus back onto what really matters.
Time in nature is another one. Observing all the beauty that nature has to offer makes me realise that things aren’t so grim after all. It makes me feel more grounded, it slows the avalanche of thoughts and it helps me appreciate the simple things that are too often taken for granted.
Deep breathing…something so simple, so accessible and - BONUS ALERT - absolutely free of charge. Deep breathing has a way to calm those strong emotions. Once the intensity of those emotions is under control, it becomes easier to focus on what’s truly important in the great scheme of all things and to not stew so much on past events. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system which in turn allows your frontal cortex to re-engage and view things more rationally.
Exercising is another strategy that I use consistently. The intensity or type of exercise does not really matter as it's more about moving my body, oxygenating my blood and doing something that makes me feel good. It's also about making time in my busy schedule for self-care and myself.
There are no doubt many other ways to manage strong emotions, but those are my usual go-tos.
When it's all said and done...
Do I still get angry, sad, frustrated from time to time? ABSOLUTELY. And I think that holidays are unfortunately a period of the year where people with chronic conditions such as brain injuries are the most reminded of things being slightly different for them. But even though it may feel like we are standing still or perhaps even going backwards, life is also continuously happening for us too. Let us find our way back to this little pocket of magic that we all long for.
If you are struggling over the holidays, hang in there and know that you are not alone. Drop me an email and let’s see how we can move forward together.
Best wishes, Vero