Tuesday, December 06, 2016

How to Enjoy the Holidays with Chronic Illness — #ChronicChristmas on CreakyJoints

I used to contribute posts to CreakyJoints and was very happy to be part of the community. Alas, when my workload increased, something had to give. I've missed that community, which is why I was thrilled when they asked me to write a guest post about the holidays and chronic illness (and perhaps mention Chronic Christmas)

Each guest post I write has a different approach to enjoying the holidays. This one shares tips about how to manage multiple holiday social events:

"The holiday season is full of joy. Singing along with the carols playing everywhere, giggling to yourself as you wrap the perfect present for that special someone, and eating all the cookies that somehow broke in the transition from oven to cookie tin. 

But let’s face it — the season is also very stressful. And when you live with chronic illness, reducing stress can be an important aspect of managing the symptoms and pain associated with your condition. So how do you balance celebrating the holidays and being kind to yourself?"

Read the rest of my CreakyJoints Chronic Christmas guest post.

How Hygge Can Help You Cope with the Stress of Chronic Illness

Living with a chronic illness adds a significant pile of stress to your life as you deal with pain and other “interesting” symptoms, the unpredictability of the condition, and endless doctor’s appointments. On top of that, there’s coping with people who don’t understand, and adjusting emotionally to the reality of chronic illness.

Hygge can help.

Explaining hygge
Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is a unique part of Danish culture. There’s no exact translation in English, but coziness and togetherness get part of the way there. And it was shortlisted by Oxford Dictionaries for word of the year!

Hygge often involves food with people you like. Taking a bit of extra care with the meal is fairly common, but not necessary. It can be as simple as some pasta with tomato sauce, a salad and some crusty bread. If you dim the electric lights and put some candles on the table, hygge is almost guaranteed.

Candles are big part of creating an atmosphere of hygge. So is taking your time. For instance, lingering over dinner, rather than rushing through the meal and bolting away the minute you have swallowed the last bite.

Slow down. Pause between bites, look at the people around the table and talk to each other. When you’re finished, nibble away at some bread or leftover vegetables while you have another glass of wine (or milk or water) and continue chatting.

The point is to take your time and connect with the people around you. And it doesn’t just happen when you eat, although food is very important to the Danes. If someone we know has been to an event, the first question is never “did you have a good time?” or” who was there?” It is always, without fail, “what kind of food did you have?”

You can hygge — because it is both a noun and a verb — over playing a game with your kids, taking a walk, even over homework. The key is the positive, loving connection that happens only when you spend some time paying attention to each other.

Hygge and chronic illness
It could be argued that hygge is an expression of mindfulness. In the audio program Mindfulness for Beginners, John Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “"paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.” I get the impression that the nonjudgmentally means that you should be kind of neutral, but although hygge meets all the other requirements, it’s far from neutral. It is loving, supportive, positive, trusting — all those wonderful emotions that make you feel so good.

And that’s a stress-buster right there. That kind of atmosphere makes you breathe deeply from your diaphragm, relax, and sink into the moment. You forget about the stress, and are maybe even able to ignore the pain. When the moment is over, you walk away feeling centered, at peace, and supported.

When you and your loved ones spend time together, you all experience that sense of connection. The feeling that these people have your back, that they accept you for who you are, so you don’t have to pretend. Just being yourself is a big part of hygge and that is one of the most healing things in the world.

Hygge on your own
But what if you live alone or isn’t up for company, is it possible to hygge alone? You bet! When Lucy the Cat is purring on my lap, it is hyggeligt (the adverb version of the word). When I am listening to Christmas music while wrapping presents, there is a lot of hygge in the air. When I take a bit of extra care with my dinner, instead of just slapping something together because it is just me, it sends a message to myself that I am worth the effort. And when I eat that meal with lovely music in the background and perhaps a glass of wine, it is all hygge. And then when I light my Advent candle — or any other candle — it creates julehygge, the very special Christmas version.

So embrace your inner Dane this holiday season and beyond. Let the hygge start! 

To help you and your family hygge this season, take a look at The Danish Way of Parenting’s hygge oath.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Tips on How to Afford Alternative Therapies

Have you ever thought of trying alternative therapies for chronic illness and pain? And if post for HealthCentral, I looked into ways of making them affordable:

"Managing the symptoms of chronic illness involves a battery of techniques and many of us include alternative therapies in our treatment regimen. This can include acupuncture, chiropractic care, naturopathy, massage, and others. Unfortunately, they tend to be expensive. This post offers information on creative ways to access alternative therapies.

Insurance coverage

Do you have insurance? Your policy may cover certain alternative therapies. There are two ways of accessing an alternative form of treatment under your insurance. Some are covered outright and you can go ahead and make the appointment yourself. Others may require a doctor’s referral in order to be covered."

Read the rest of the post on how to afford alternative therapies on HealthCentral.


Saturday, December 03, 2016

Chronic Christmas Giveaway on A Rheumful of Tips

Marianna a.k.a. the genius behind A Rheumful of Tips has kindly written a review of Chronic Christmas: Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic Illness:

"Chronic Christmas: Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic Illness by Lene Andersen is an advent calendar-style book that is brimming with common-sense and humour, and is also infused with personal stories (and family recipes), that make for enchanting reading.

On each day leading up to Christmas, Lene covers a topic that can not only help those who live with chronic illness survive this season of merry-making, but also thrive. She takes each day further by suggesting how family and friends can assist someone with a chronic illness. If you struggle with what to do to help your friend, family member, or neighbour, this section is for you."

As part of the post, Marianna is also hosting a giveaway for a signed paperback copy of Chronic Christmas. Hop on over to A Rheumful of Tips to read the rest of the review and enter the giveaway by Thursday, December 8, 2016.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Pink Tree Maze

At the Toronto Christmas Market in the Distillery District, there is a maze made of pink Christmas trees. I'm not sure if it's festive or excessive. Perhaps both?

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Thoughts on Advent Calendars, Chronic Illness, and Holiday Stress

And so it begins.

When I was a child, we would start every day in December by lighting an Advent candle. It cast a warm glow over the breakfast table, contrasting with the blackness outside the windows. In Denmark, so much of December is so very dark.

Burning down the space allotted to each day — about a centimetre — lasted about as long as it took me to eat breakfast. I seem to remember that we all slowed down a little, not wanting to leave the table until it was time to blow out the candle for another day. It started the day with hygge, that unique Danish concept of warmth and cozy togetherness. It set the tone for the whole month, giving impatient children something to look forward to every day, while at the same time building anticipation.

And that is why I used the Advent calendar format for Chronic Christmas: Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic Illness.

Living with a chronic illness is incredibly stressful. And the holiday season piles more on top of the already existing intensity. So many of us end up crashing on the actual big day, unable to participate as much as we want because we exhausted ourselves getting there. And it leaves us very little room to enjoy the season or the celebration.

And that was my goal with this book. For us to slow down, to create hygge and anticipation. As I was writing it, I imagined you gathering with the people you love as the month of December wore on, focusing on each other instead of the rush and the consumerism glaring at us from everywhere. And from a larger view, I imagine all of us gathering around a virtual table, diving into the special Christmas atmosphere called julehygge.

One of the ways we can do that is to show each other what we are doing (and not doing) to celebrate the season. Why not share the stories of your holidays on social media using the hashtag #ChronicChristmas? Show me and each other what your holidays look like. Let’s help each other focus on what’s really important to us, instead of all the other stuff.

I plan to do that, but I’m not going to inundate the blog with it. It will be part of what I talk about in this space this month, but not all of it. Because let’s face it, that would be boring. Take a look at the other spaces where I hang out to see what I’m up to. There’ll be #ChronicChristmas posts on my Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, And the tradition of the book and this holiday, there might be a couple of surprises.

And sure, I do hope that as many people as possible buy my book, but I’m not obsessive about it. #ChronicChristmas is about doing something together, not whether or not you have read the book. You also don’t have to celebrate Christmas — this is my favourite holiday, but I am decidedly secular about it. If you celebrate Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Festivus, the solstice, or anything else (or nothing at all), share what you do using #ChronicChristmas.

That first chapter in Chronic Christmas the book suggests that instead of using your energy going to the mall, you shop online. And that brings me to one last thing for today. 

It started on Giving Tuesday and ends tonight. Until midnight, 50% of the proceeds from the sale of any of my books or the products in The Shop will be donated to MSF/Doctors without Borders. Because at its core, the holidays are about being kind to others and especially those in hard situations.