The chronic illness Christmas card paradox

I received a hand-made Christmas card from a friend I haven’t seen for ages. It gave me such a lift.

Handmade card from Glenys

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Now I find myself hopefully checking the doormat every day during the run up to Christmas.

Being chronically ill means we’re often lonely. We’re feeling separate from the world that we used to move around in. Every day I check the doormat because a card sitting there would be such a wonderful lift and would help me cope with the long symptomatic Groundhog Day stretching ahead of me. The thing is, it’s hard to write cards when you’re chronically ill. Using what little functionality you have to do so means you can’t do other things. Which is the same for everyone of course but when it comes to illness it’s not about losing time it’s about losing functionality to do something really key, like being able to eat dinner. And whereas missing out on basics like eating isn’t the best for healthy folk, it’s much more severely impacting on an already malfunctioning body.

From a healthy person’s perspective, it’s not that they’ve consciously decided not to send us a card any more for Christmas, birthday or whatever the occasion may be. Well, okay, for some people it might be. It’s not an unusual human response to think that they’re not going to send cards to people who don’t send cards to them, but mainly it’s very usual to not understand what it’s like to be chronically ill.

Being absent from friend’s lives makes us fade into the background because they have other friends they see regularly. Whereas for us, well, we don’t generally get to see our friends. Travel is erm, difficult (one heck of an understatement, I know) so we see whoever we actually live with… and medical practitioners. (Sooo many medical practitioners). Oh and walls. And ceilings (those of us with Dysautonomia tend to know some of our ceilings in quite a bit of detail)! We don’t tend to get to see anyone else. So the friends we haven’t seen for years can be just as important to us now as they were back when we were able to see them in 3D. They do not fade into the background because our foreground is mostly illness, they stand out in the bright and colourful areas that we like the most.

Potentially a healthy friend and a chronically ill friend can perhaps feel very differently about each other. And it’s hard to feel ourselves being faded from their main friend space when they are often still our main friends.

We can’t help hoping for indications through the post that maybe they haven’t forgotten us either, that even though we are ever-absent from their lives that they still somehow care meaningfully about us.

There is a paradox when we make that massive effort though… “I’m determined to write cards this year…” knowing full well that we’re going to make ourselves more ill by doing so: the cards that plop onto the doormat are more often a response to the card we sent rather than something that would have been posted otherwise. So then all that effort brings us a bitter-sweet moment. A card that is meaningful to us and yet never would have arrived if we hadn’t managed to send one ourselves. We learn that when we can’t write cards there are very few people who will still remember us regardless, but we push ourselves every year because we want to send people some love. We don’t write cards to receive them, that is most certainly not the point. We try to write them because our friends mean so much to us. It’s human to feel somewhat bereft when it appears that regard between friends has become imbalanced and yes it’s not actually about cards at all, despite how we tie ourselves in knots trying to work out if we can physically afford the impact from writing them. It’s about connecting with friendships at meaningful times. About feeling loved and included. That we’re still of some importance or significance to them. And it’s about feeling a little less alone at a time of year when loneliness can be most difficult.

In the end we have to be kind to ourselves. If it’s going to reduce our functionality to the point of being even more impaired in meeting our most basic needs then we shouldn’t be pushing ourselves to do it. The reality of not receiving any festive cards is an extra sadness in the overall cruddiness that is being really ill all the time, but we really need to manage our health. Fortunately our pals who also happen to be fellow patients totally get it, we support each other and reiterate our friendships online. Thank goodness for the internet! Though we still try, and each year some of us will succeed in writing a few cards and asking someone else to get us stamps and post them for us.

Interestingly, I find that my doormat is more likely to be graced by completely random arrivals that have nothing to do with yearly events. These are perhaps the most beautiful and lifting kind. When someone has thought of you just because they have, not because you’re on a list. The arrivals tend to be from a few astoundingly thoughtful friends who I either rarely see or have never even met in 3D. These are the heartwarmers. The ones who make us smile just by thinking of them. They are most commonly fellow patients who understand in depth what living with chronic illness is like but who send something because of the love in friendship, not because of the illness we might share (even when what they send may in fact be totally related to our illness, and is super thoughtful and aware because of that too). These arrivals are overwhelming because we know how much it has cost them to do this, and they chose to do it anyway. Love is priceless.

metal straws

Like these metal drinking straws sent to my by ‘The Princess in the Tower’ so that I can still get some enjoyment from a cup of tea when I cannot raise my trying-to-faint head.

The other arrivals are from that rare breed of healthy friend who sees the health stuff, does their best to understand it but still sees us in here as well. We’re not just a walking illness to them, we’re a friend they love. And because they love their friends, seeing us so ill pains them terribly. But seeing us in here too, gives them hope and helps them cope with the illness stuff. They have to keep their distance to cope, but they don’t stop caring. I don’t think they know just how rare they are, many patients can count these friends on less than one hand.

Contact from those who still genuinely know us and who handle the illness that comes with us as best they can (effortlessly, in the case of fellow patients) means more than a token reciprocal card. People are insanely busy at Christmas. We get forgotten because they are buried in Stuff and they don’t actually see us in 3D. But those blanket text messages and occasional private social media messages that we receive instead mean the world to us. After all, we do the same. It’s better for our health to do it that way and we know that our sentiments are no less for having sent them out en masse, so we know that receiving friends’ messages like that are just as genuine. We may not be able to hang them up and look at them from wherever we are stuck dealing with symptoms that day, but they warm our hearts nonetheless and that’s way more important than warming our doormats.

The yearly paradox persists though simply because it’s nice to be able to send cards to the people we care about. To show we are thinking of them and give them something they can put up in their home instead of read once on their phone. We’d like to be able to be a bit more present in their lives that way. And we’d like to experience being on the receiving end of that, too. Let’s try to be kind to ourselves and allow us to send the messages to those we love in lieu of writing symptom-amplifying cards, or sending a selection of carefully chosen emojis or a voice message in the case of those patients who experience enormous impact from using their hands. Says the hypocrite sat here surrounded by cards that I hope to write.

Yep.

Every year. <headdesk>

Happy festivities to you all whichever they may be. Be kind to yourself, there are people out here wishing you well and who are dancing the paradox with you.

xx

Friends in my laptop and the festive season, xxx

Ah yes, it’s that time of year again! When there’s more to organise, to buy, to cook, more travelling, more socialising, and all whilst in pain / near-fainting / struggling to process information and more.

Too often we try to do everything ‘like we used to’, just to try to join in or make it special for kids and other loved ones. Even sometimes to avoid too much aggro’ from people who we only really see at this time of year simply because they just don’t understand why we seem to look ‘fine’ to them and yet we keep claiming we’re not fine / taking painkillers / going off to have a lie down etc.

Oh the joys of being ‘invisibly’ ill during special occasions! <wry smile>

Thank goodness I have my friends living here in my laptop!  Contact, understanding, humour – they all help us to keep going, especially through the tough times and all the more needed when it’s a tough time that many non-patients just don’t realise is so detrimental to us.

Some of us international buds have swapped addresses, so there I was in the Post Office earlier this month sending cards abroad to some of my international friends. Who’d have thought it, eh? I’ve gone from little lonely me who has trouble visiting friends nearby… to meeting up with friends in entirely different countries (so far we’ve only met inside my laptop but that totally counts! 😀 ).

Anyway, there I was telling the postlady which country each card was for so that she could price them accordingly (after commenting my approval of her very festive jumper of course). As she looked at one of the cards her eyes suddenly lit up and she started telling me about the trip she and her family took to Iceland last year. Her husband wanted to see the Northern Lights so they and their grown-up kids went for four days and crammed so much in to the time that I wondered how they did it! But it was wonderful to have a conversation with a random someone that wasn’t about the weather or something else mundane. Instead it was about one of the many countries my friends live in, and all these countries seem so much closer these days, more ‘real’ somehow than they ever could have before.

So, as christmas is what I will be celebrating here (with a little ‘c’ because I’m not religious, but christmas is a part of the culture I grew up in) I will be resting my legs with Magic Dude’s family around me (with a blanket and a hot water bottle whilst playing ‘Cluedo’ or ‘Snakes and Ladders’ with the nieces is likely) and at the same time I shall have my friends of near and far in my heart…

Knowing that my Icelandic friend will have her favourite dried fish as a treat, hearing in my mind my Belgian friend as she jokes about Belgian fries and beer, sending love to my friends from the Netherlands, grinning at the thought of one of my Canadian friends swapping beautiful hand-made gifts whilst wishing love to all my other Canadian friends, hoping that my Swedish friend actually has TV and internet by then (it’s just not right if she has to miss the christmas Dr Who!), knowing that my Swiss friend will probably awake on Christmas day covered in happy and warm cats, thinking of my French friend and hoping that she’s having a lovely restful time, crossing my fingers that my Australian friends are getting on okay with the different temperature over there, and thinking of my USA friends spending time with their families and pets.

And though this is an international themed post I of course will mention my wooonderful UK friends who all live in my laptop too. I can be sitting here in pain after very little sleep and way too much socialising for my brain to cope with the processing (as is always the case for me with any social gatherings) and yet I will still be smiling and thinking of you all.

You, my friends, are a lot of shining lights in my life that bring joy and peace to my heart. It is hard to express how much I care about each and every one of you, I value your love, your friendship, your happiness, your individuality, more than I can say.

Research shows that connecting with people online is a good and helpful thing, but it doesn’t tend to explore how real, true and deep friendships can be forged both in person and from afar. I feel that the value of the people who live in our laptops, computers, tablets and phones tend to be underestimated. There are real people in here, real friends, and when festivities push us too far there are always friends nearby ..as close as the nearest internet connection. How wonderful it is to know you all, xx

And just in case you fancy a chuckle.. I have created an alternate ’12 Days of Christmas’ song that we can sing alongside all the ‘normal’ healthy people, tee hee. So that we can sing it loudly without obviously singing something different.. I’ve made it rhyme with the original and tried to avoid too many loud ‘s’ noises whilst they’re singing softer sounds. Do you think too much thought has gone into this? 😉

Here’s the original…

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And here’s my version…

12 Days of christmas

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Or you can go for The Muppets way of doing things, of course! ….

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I will be thinking of you all and wishing you well as I do the christmas gathering in the 3D world. Wishing you love, light and happiness (and as low pain as possible this winter), big hug from me,

x

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Informal International Network of CRPS Bloggers:

Some excellent advice from Lili in Canada here: ‘Weathering the Winter Holidays

and from Jo in the UK (this one was posted last winter): ‘Getting Through Yule: Chronic Illness, Pain and the Festive Season

Isy in the USA discusses how celebrations vary around the world and that we don;t have to get swept along with them, we can create our own way of doing things that works for us: Happy Everything!

Suzy in the USA looks at her own loss of family and shares the way she keeps a journal to help her to deal with it day-to-day: A Christmas Wish