Living with multiple sclerosis (MS) can be very isolating. This condition often creates feelings of being disconnected from others and the world. Many feel the longing to belong and forge relationships as they could before their diagnosis.
Families seem to be expanding and shrinking simultaneously these days. With second and third marriages, births, in-laws and kids by marriage, the number of people I care about and am related to keeps growing. At the same time, divorce, death, living miles away and conflicting schedules reduce the number of people I spend time with in-person during the holidays.
This year I vacationed over Thanksgiving week, and I enjoyed a lot of time with family and friends while having a lot of fun. Now I’m back at home and while I’ll have plenty of parties to attend this month, I anticipate spending Christmas Day alone. Living far away from my closest family members makes it impossible for me to spend all holidays with them. I enjoy spending time with others, and I enjoy my time alone. Still, there’s something about the holidays that is tricky. If I don’t plan ahead, it can be easy to fall prey to self-pity.
In my life, I’ve experienced a couple decades of small family gatherings and another couple decades of large and wonderfully chaotic extended family holiday events. More recently I’ve experienced celebrating holidays solo, and it’s coerced me to think hard about what will allow me to enjoy the day alone. For me, I feel nurtured if I can include some time connecting with people important to me, some time outside reflecting and appreciating all of the good things in my life, and some time indulging with good food and drink.
If I’m going to be alone on a meaningful day, I try to connect with others in one or more of the following ways:
- Try to set up a time to Facetime or phone people important to you. If schedules are complicated, email or text a holiday greeting.
- Do things to connect with people throughout the month or year, not just on or near the holiday itself.
- See if friends will invite you to join them. You can be somewhat subtle by asking what they’re doing. They’ll ask what you’re doing and often invite you to join them, but make sure before asking that it’s someone with whom you would like to spend the day.
- Ask a neighbor if they’ll be around. You can get together for an hour for coffee, tea or wine. It doesn’t need to be big, just something to break up the day and include some interpersonal connection.
- Volunteer at a local charity. You can help prepare or serve a meal for others. You can also just be a smiling greeter if you’re not able or up to performing tasks. Listen, share, learn and connect.
- Tell people that you’ll be alone and would appreciate a phone call. Often people assume I have it all together and will be busy. They’re happy to connect when they know it’ll be appreciated and not a bother.
- I’ve never found a relationship that does better from no interaction. Give people a chance, and don’t assume the worst. Appropriately credit responsibility for behavior to the person doing it. Feel good about yourself. Make sure you feel good about your behavior regardless of the actions of others.
- Consider people you know that may also be spending the day alone. Make plans to do something together for a portion of the day.
- Post something to Facebook. One Thanksgiving I enjoyed watching the sunrise on the beach while drinking my coffee. I took a video of the sunrise and shared it with friends while expressing my gratitude for them in my life.
Some of the ways I’ll nurture myself include the following:
- Do something special for yourself to commemorate the occasion. Do something indulgent for you, or engage in some activity you love. Sit on the beach, go for a walk, or stop at a coffee shop that’s open. What you love may be totally different than anything I would ever consider.
- Find a restaurant nearby that’s open, and go alone if you want. At the very least you’ll talk to people that have to work instead of spending time with their own family. It’s usually a very friendly time. Plan ahead since a lot of places are closed on holidays.
- Visit and leave flowers at someone’s final resting place. Honor the impact that person had on your life.
- Make and enjoy a meal you love if you enjoy cooking.
- Decorate, even if it’s just a holiday themed bouquet or plant. Differentiate the day and your surroundings from every other season or day of the year.
- Get outside. Even a rainy, cloudy day outside can feel better than staying inside or under cover.
- Think about what you could do so that you’ll feel loved and appreciated even if it’s just you who loves you.
- Make sure you find a way to enjoy the time instead of just trying to get through it.
Connecting with people important to me takes some initiative. Lots of them have a busy day ahead, so it’s good to plan in advance to make sure my emotional needs met. Overall, I’ll be happy if I remember to genuinely look at the bright side, do something I love, connect with everyone I care about either during the month or on the day, and find a way to be generous. And if nothing else works, I’ll distract myself and remember tomorrow is another day.
*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 at the age of 38. Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/