Christmas planning post brain injury
It is her 19th attempt at a stress-free Christmas and the word ‘dread’ is already in her head.
Krysalis blogger, Anne Ricketts unwraps the reality of festive planning post-brain injury. Something has to give…
Christmas gives us all a lot to think about but, if you are anything like me, living with the outcomes and symptoms of a brain injury, there is one thing that we should always prioritise giving our time and energy to, our brain health. It must come first.
Managing a brain injury always takes a lot of work and often, because of learning and memory problems, we must be super-focused on being organised.
I can remember many years ago saying to my Neuro OT that I wish I could carry her around with me in my pocket
Of course, the whole idea of having therapy is to teach you to manage life for yourself and to regain independence, but it is not that easy.
Very often we still have to put a lot of conscious effort into handling day to day demands because, even as the years go by and things slowly improve, daily living can always remain cognitively overwhelming, especially when a lot is going on. One small slip in a routine can build disastrous momentum, like an avalanche.
One thing can fall apart followed by another, and on it goes; building conscious and unconscious stress until you feel too poorly to get a grip on anything. So far, this Autumn, I have not grasped this.
To be fair, this will only be the 19th time I have practised all the daily living demands that it takes to have a stress-free lead up to Christmas
I forget one year to the next until I realise that putting some order into place is the only thing that will save me from feeling like I want to run away from everything to have my brain emptied. Only today I caught myself nonchalantly bobbing along from one catastrophe to the next, and now my health is taking the brunt of it.
I had not realised how overwhelmed I had been feeling with so many demands and deadlines to meet. But what have I learned from experience?
If I do not get a plan of action into place right now, I not only risk unintentionally ostracising the people around me, I risk destroying the hopes of a stress-free Christmas for my remaining family.
I need to take on board that when I do not manage the challenges of preparation, my loved ones end up having to take up my slack
I have realised that they too have enough to think and worry about at this time of the year. Just because they have brains that ‘work’ efficiently, does not mean that they do not have extra demands on them too, including wondering how well I will manage this year!
I need to put into play everything that I learned from my Neuro OT.
I have to write down everything that I have on my agenda and break it down. I then must order things into categories and orders of priority. I know going through this exercise will help me to focus on what must be done and what can be put off until the New Year.
I know this will help me to clear space in my brain and, by doing this, that I will deflect the danger of becoming so overwhelmed or poorly that I cannot cope at all.
To anyone living with executive dysfunction, deadlines appear to loom as if ‘the end is nigh’ so the sooner you get things done, the sooner the feelings of dread go away
December always seems like a short month because we only have twenty-four days, a little over three weeks, until Christmas Eve and then everything ‘stops’ for the festivities. Understanding this, and bringing it to my conscious awareness, tells me I must do things now and not put them off, thinking I have plenty of time.
The thing is that, however well prepared we think we are, more demands always come up. We need to allow room for life to happen.
My advice? Do it now!
I have overspent every year, so far, purely because I forgot what I had bought and would then go and replicate the shopping all over again.
This blunder was great for my family on Christmas morning - but very bad for my bank balance!
Here’s how to avoid mistakes and help prepare yourself:
- Make your lists.
- Decide on a firm budget.
- Keep your lists where you will see them.
- Make sure you keep them up to date.
If you are not hosting the Christmas meal this year, are you able to help other people who may perhaps be working and could do with a hand?
If you are working, can you book a few days off so that you can focus on getting things done?
What time do you need to achieve everything on your list?
Do you need to allow time for travel?
If you struggle with lots of people talking at once, filtering noise or bright/twinkling lights, speak to your family beforehand.
Try to see if there is anything that can be honed down for you, and make sure there is a space to escape to if you need it.
We are passionate about occupational therapy and neurological rehabilitation. ‘Talking heads’ is a means of bringing together individuals and professionals interested in brain injury. The blogs, stories, films, current research and news items aim to inform and spark moments of inspiration, reflections and points of discussion. More Talking Heads blogs can be found here and we are privileged to have other insightful and inspiring blogs from Anne here:
More on hosting Christmas and on spending Christmas alone can be found at globalbia.org
Anne Ricketts is the founder of Global Brain Injury Awareness (GBIA); a not-for-profit community interest company she launched after sustaining a traumatic brain injury in July 2000. GBIA aims to inform and support people in need after brain injury.
Opinions and endorsements published by others on Krysalis Consultancy Ltd blogs or publications do not necessarily reflect the views of Krysallis Consultancy Ltd.