Helping women with chronic illnesses

Mountain Climbing Time!

When I speak of mountain climbing here, I am not referring to the literal climbing of mountains. (Though I must say that it may feel literal to those living with chronic illness!) Instead, “mountain climbing” (as used here in a figurative sense) refers to the various obstacles, challenges, and difficulties that face people living with chronic illness/pain. Following up on what I wrote recently here, this can be an especially challenging time of year for people living with chronic illness(es) and chronic pain.

Ask any person living with chronic illness(es) whether they sometimes feel like they are “climbing a mountain” and I think the odds are good that you’ll get an affirmative response. After all, there are days when simply getting out of bed in the morning feels like climbing a mountain. For others (who are bed-bound due to their illness), getting out of bed each day isn’t even an option at all. So “mountain climbing” (both the mental gymnastics required and the physical concerns that must be dealt with) seems like a good way to sum things up for many chronically ill patients I have gotten to know.

While I know that some people who read this blog don’t celebrate holidays at this time of year, I know that many other readers do. So, I wanted to take a moment to talk about some of the special challenges that this time of year can sometimes hold for those living with chronic illness.

For some, this time of year involves extra activities or changes in routine such as buying/making gifts, baking, sending greeting cards, traveling, operating on less sleep than usual/needed, and attending gatherings where people may be wearing fragrances that trigger symptoms (i.e. for migraine or multiple chemical sensitivity patients).

So, how can a patient best deal with the extra stress that can crop up at this time of year? Well, that obviously depends upon the person. However, there are some general ideas that I have discussed with fellow patients over the years that may be helpful to some. There is nothing particularly profound here. These are just a few general suggestions that some might find helpful as they work to strike the balance necessary to participate in various festivities/traditions without compromising their health in the process. These may also get people thinking of other ideas for reducing stress (at holiday time and beyond).


(Image by Cool Text)

  • Gifts: Consider cutting back where feasible. When traditions (such as gift giving customs) have become outdated, consider making new traditions that are less taxing on you and on your pocketbook. You may discover that the person you’ve been exchanging with is just as interested in cutting back as you are! If you’re making gifts, try not to get caught up in perfectionism or spending far more time on things than is good for your health.

  • Baking: For many, holiday baking is steeped in family traditions. If this is the case and you don’t feel you can eliminate anything, consider cutting back. Perhaps bake one batch of cookies instead of two? If you are getting sicker in the process of preparing food, you’ll also more than likely deal with “paybacks” afterwards. Weighing the predicted paybacks against the idea of cutting back on what you bake may be helpful.

  • Greeting cards: For many, this is an important part of the season that’s not to be missed. Sometimes, greeting card lists grow and grow over the years to large proportions. While it may feel strange to leave anyone out, taking a look at the greeting card list to make sure that it is still appropriate for the current year can reduce the amount of time spent writing cards and can reduce the amount of money spent on postage and the cards themselves. Also, you are not a Scrooge or a Grinch if you conclude that you can’t afford to send cards at all. Being chronically ill is expensive.

  • Traveling: This can be a major challenge for many people living with chronic illness and pain. Obviously the first consideration needs to be whether travel is feasible at all. If a patient decides travel is feasible (however challenging it’s expected to be), try taking whatever measures possible to make it a comfortable trip of a reasonable length and try to make whatever plans suit your needs for making it go as smoothly as possible.

  • Sleep: Obviously, operating on less sleep than needed (or usual) is not optimal. The reality is that some degree of sleep deprivation may be unavoidable at a time of year where travel and/or visitors may throw off schedules. It may be difficult to do much about this but any efforts made to get as much sleep as possible can only help.

  • Fragrances: For many patients (especially those who experience migraines or multiple chemical sensitivity), attending gatherings where people may be wearing fragrances that trigger symptoms is a major problem. While it may be difficult, try to educate people about how such fragrances affect you. If may be awkward to discuss this (i.e. people can get very defensive about their fragrances) but the payoff will be well worth it if it means someone avoids wearing fragrance to such a gathering where you will be present.

    If you are exposed to a fragrance, it makes sense to consider the option of leaving early (as unfortunate as that may be if it happens). Multiple chemical sensitivity patients often avoid entertaining in their homes to prevent fragrances from entering their homes (i.e. their “sacred zones”). For most MCS patients, home is the only place that’s a safe zone.

    I’ve never climbed a mountain in the literal sense. In years past when I was healthier, I did a bit of hiking but certainly nothing that would qualify as mountain climbing. In the figurative sense, though, I’ve been “mountain climbing” every day since I was 13 years old. “Mountain climbing” is tiring. It can be frustrating. It can leave you sore. However, with some planning and organization “mountain climbing” can be easier than it would be otherwise. Don’t forget to rest when you can and ask for help when you need it. Overdoing can cause very undesirable results.

    Just as the spectacular view from a mountain’s summit can be a great reward for the effort expended to get there, so too can it be very rewarding to be able to attend a gathering or maybe even travel to a destination to spend time with loved ones and friends. With some planning (and luck!), holiday-related stress can be reduced and out-of-the-ordinary experiences can work out quite well.

    This post was written by Jeanne at Copyright © Jeanne — All rights reserved.

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    Reading: Mountain Climbing Time!

    1 DarleneNo Gravatar { 12.16.11 at 11:58 pm }

    Jeanne, As always, you have stated it beautifully. Remembering not to overdo at holiday time is key. Everyone with chronic conditions has to take some time to rest. I loved your suggestion of making less cookies. This would probably work well in all areas of entertaining. We need to keep in mind that it is the holiday that is important. Being with friends or loved ones. It is best to inform your host or hostess if you have chemical sensitivities. Not all people will understand, but they do need to know in advance.

    I think you really covered all the aspects of climbing the mountain, Jeanne. I am sorry you have been at this since you were so young.

    Wishing all a Happy Holiday!!

    2 JeanneNo Gravatar { 12.20.11 at 4:09 pm }


    Thank you for your lovely (as always) comment! I have never been so slow on replying to blog comments as I’ve been these last few months. I don’t like getting behind but I’m trying to “practice what I preach” about not overdoing… and sometimes that means slow response on things. Thank you for your patience.

    Yes, rest is so important. Sufficient rest, in my opinion, can help ward off flare-ups for many conditions. I know that seems to be the way it works for my body anyway. Rest is really crucial! Yes, I think “less cookies” can be a helpful mantra. 😉

    It is important to inform the host or hostess about chemical sensitivities in advance. They may not understand it well but as long as they have a general idea, it’s possible to prevent exposures that could be really harmful.

    I’m sorry you have been dealing with chronic illnesses for so many years. I know your empathetic ear, support, and compassion has helped many people who are coming to terms with living with various chronic illnesses.

    Wishing all a happy holiday too! Happy Chanukah, Darlene!


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