The festive season is upon us, the end of another year, a period of cheer and celebration. At this part of the year, convention dictates we conjure up images that cannot help but be viewed as comfortable, idyllic. The image that has been created over years and generations has, at least from my experience, been romanticized to the point where the images and expectations we have in our minds in the month preceding Christmas are never lived up to. I am not speaking just for people who are suffering with a head injury; I believe that to be the case for many families around the country.
When we consider Christmas for the first time in the year, when it suddenly dawns on us that it is creeping ever closer, we think of an ideal scenario with images that are out of a Christmas film or story book. The fantasy in our mind shows us exchanging gifts with loved ones beneath a Christmas tree, the smell of pine needles fresh in the air. We create a picture of ourselves wearing Christmas jumpers and Santa hats, eating mince pies and sipping on mulled wine while Wallace and Gromit is on the television. Finally, we see ourselves sat at the dinner table with friends and family, tucking into a sumptuous turkey dinner; we raise a glass as a toast is made wishing each other the best for the year to come as everything for the rest of the day falls into place.
Christmas day and the build up to it is a stressful experience for all (the exception being small children), most of us don’t take on the responsibility of handling and hosting a Christmas day celebration. We go to our mum & dad’s, our grandparents’ or get invited to a friend’s house to celebrate the occasion. I have only ever experienced a family Christmas, hosted by my mum and dad or my brother or sister, aunt and uncle and so on.
These days are filled with humour, laughter and fun but also with inevitable conflict (my dad banning anyone from entering the kitchen in fear of someone ruining his masterpiece turkey, my niece and nephew arguing about who got the better present and so forth). It is going to be stressful, but we somehow manage to get through it. When that turkey is brought out and we sit at the table for dinner, the bickering and petty arguments stop, we tuck in and toast to the chef, the host and wish each other the best for the New Year. It is a good day but certainly not the image we had in our mind in the time leading up to it. That is generally how things go in the regular household.
The Reality For Us
What if that second option, the stressful reality of Christmas were made all the more demanding by a whole other set of stresses and pressures you had to deal with, in the build up and on the day itself? What about us, the people who certainly aren’t that organized, aren’t as together, people who are more susceptible to stress, fatigue and anxiety as a result of our injuries. Where do the problems, the practical issues that surround the festive period, lie for us and how do we overcome them?
The Present Problem
One of the biggest anxieties I face in the build up to the festive period is the worry about gifts and whom I am buying them for. Firstly, due to the issues I have with my memory, remembering all the people I have to buy for is more than a little challenging. This is made all the more taxing by the size of the family I have: parents, a brother, a sister, their partners, nephews a niece, grandparents to name just a few. When you sit down and actually think about it, there are a lot of people to consider, ABI or no ABI.
Not only do I then have to worry about remembering all the people to buy for but I have to ensure I then get them the RIGHT gift, a truly traumatizing experience in our family. When it comes to buying people gifts, there are the people who will tell you, straight down the middle, exactly what they want. Then there are those who are easy to buy for and are happy to receive a gift from you or the people who have very specific interests and are just as easily catered for.
Then there are the problematic people, the people who give you no idea what it is they want or would like. Not even an area they might be interested in. Keeping what they might like shrouded in mystery leaving you at something of a loss.
Who am I buying for: A Gift Wrapped Solution
Now, as I said earlier the anxieties of making sure you have remembered all the people you need to buy for and making sure you get them something they will appreciate can be a huge stress but one that can be solved relatively easily. It is a fairly practical solution that I used this year. With my mother in tow, I sat down at the table with a pencil and paper and, with the help of my mother’s excellent memory and organisational skills that all mums seems to have, we made a list of all the people I needed to buy for. We also wrote down any of the gifts I already knew I was going to buy and for whom. This left me with only a few people not catered for. With my mother’s help we soon found gifts for those who I found difficult to buy for.
I realise this may seem a very simple and not very extravagant solution but having time to sit down and think and talk through idea’s with someone who also knows the people you are buying for, such as another family member can be a simple and effective way to ease that particular pressure.
Trying To Be Social: Take Control of Your Condition
If you are anything like me, as a brain injury patient, you can find social situations, particularly ones with lots of people, noise and no respite difficult; children shouting, adults talking, the TV blaring and a CD of Christmas classics playing in the background. After a certain amount of this sustained stimulation, I know it about myself, I feel as though there is a pressure building inside my head, I am tired, I start to get snappy with people and irritable with them; I know that fatigue is setting in. Again, the solution to this is a simple one. After a period of time living with an ABI you will start to know your limits, recognizing when you need rest, when enough is enough.
When you start to recognize those familiar feelings, start to feel the warning signs, tell the people you are with. There is no reason to be ashamed of the consequences of your injury, simply inform whoever is hosting the Christmas party, tell them you need a lie down, a nap or just a quiet place to sit and relax. There is no reason why that should or could not be afforded to you.
Christmas; A wonderful Time Of Year
Despite all of the stresses that come with it, Christmas is still one of my favourite times of the year. It is one of the few, wonderful times of year where we can all get together and show our appreciation for one another. It should not be forgotten though that despite the idyllic pictures we have developed in our minds over the years it is a very stressful time of the year for everyone.
As well as that it should not be forgotten that for people such as us it is even more stressful. One way to help ease that pressure is to communicate with friends and family members and try to explain to them the type of issues we are dealing with. If we can find simple and practical issues to help solve our problems, alongside that communication and being in an environment with loving, supportive people, we can make Christmas the fun and festive day we all know it has the potential to be.
About the author
My life was changed for ever on the 30th of August 2009 when an attack on a night out left me with sever brain injuries. I was left in an induced coma after suffering fractures to the skull, bleeds on the brain, as well as severe bruising to the frontal lobes. Since the injury I have found it hard to find and keep work, to maintain relationships, and generally stay positive. I have decided to share all of my journey with you, in the hope we can bring brain injury awareness to the level it should be at. Please, follow my own WordPress blog Life After Brain Injury to keep up to date with my brain injury journey! Follow me on Twitter: @ABIBlogger
Tom Massey, ABI Blogger