If You’re Struggling This Holiday Season…

Hey all.

I didn’t think I’d write a post this week, but I was reading something that really resonated with me and wanted to share.

Since the beginning of November, I’ve been dealing with near daily migraines. The pain is not the worst I’ve ever felt, but being in any sort of pain, big or small, for long stretches of time becomes exhausting.

With the pain has come nausea, aches in my neck and shoulder, and fatigue. By the end of the day, I don’t have much energy to do anything aside from read and doom scroll on TikTok.

And I have tried everything in my power (outside of going to the doctor) to get myself out of this migraine cycle, from CBD cream to medication to ice caps and electrode devices (Cefaly, to be exact). It’s all worked, to a degree, but I wake up in the morning back at square one.

I know this has something to do with the time of the year. The holiday season has historically been a chaotic period (as it is for most people), especially as I have never been the best at creating space for rest. But this migraine has made rest, not only essential. Rest is mandatory. My body is forcing me to say no, to take breaks, to lay down.

For anyone dealing with chronic pain, you may have dabbled in the world of TMS and the mind-body connection. For those who don’t know about this, the idea is that our stress and anxiety manifest themselves in many different ways, one of those ways being flare of ups of chronic conditions like IBS, migraine, thyroid issues, etc.

One of the ways to release the stress is to journal about the underlying emotions that are triggering the flare. (Nicole Sachs is a licensed therapist, who hosts a podcast and course about this called Journal Speak. You can find her on Instagram. I’ve found her prompts to be helpful.)

My issue is that, I couldn’t seem to get to the bottom of the well with this one. You know when you have the realization and something in your body pops to life? In all the journaling and meditating, I wasn’t having that moment. And the pain persisted.

Then, I started reading Don’t F*cking Panic by Kelsey Darragh, a podcaster, YouTuber, and self-proclaimed lifelong anxious person. And as I was reading, there was a quote in the book that popped out and made my pain suddenly make sense.

You must forgive yourself for doing whatever it took to survive.

It might sound wild, but migraines are a way that I survived. Counterintuitive, I know. How could pain help you survive? But pain was what my body created when I couldn’t enact boundaries for myself. And the holiday season is full of boundary-less landmines. From an early age my body decided, “If you’re not going to say no to the things you don’t want to do, then I am going to say no for you.”

*Migraine has now entered the chat*

You’d think that I’d feel relieved to have a reason to get out of plans. I’m an introvert after all. But some of those plans, I actually look forward to. And because of my migraine flares, I often times have to disappoint people last minute, which feels absolutely awful.

In realizing this, I’ve had to mourn a version of myself that doesn’t exist anymore because my body won’t allow her to. It means becoming the version of myself who is honest with everyone about how she’s feeling without fear of judgement.

Scary f**king stuff.

But also liberating. My friends and family can trust that what I’m telling them is the truth, instead of saying what everyone wants to hear. It means showing up and being completely present in the moment. Enjoying myself. That’s pretty wonderful, if you ask me. It’s a better version of me.

However, letting go of old, ingrained habits is hard. My body holds onto pain like a shield because it trusts that people understand pain, but it doesn’t trust that people understand the word no. I guess part of this then is that in teaching people to trust me, I have to learn to trust them. I have to learn to trust that just because I enact a boundary, doesn’t mean they are going to be angry with me, or worst of all, decide to never talk to me again.

Recovery is a slow road, and growth is not linear. But it’s worth it if it brings us peace.

This holiday season, I hope you enjoy all the good moments, whoever you decide to spend it with and however you decide to spend your time.

But for those who are struggling, I hope you also give yourself compassion and grace. Just because you didn’t show up to the holiday party at your friend’s house or didn’t jam pack the season with every single holiday activity that would make an elf at the North Pole jealous doesn’t make you boring or terrible.

You deserve to enjoy this time and all the days of your life however you choose without guilt. So, give yourself the gift of letting go of expectations. Rest when you need to. Say no when you want to. Give yourself space. And forgive yourself for doing whatever it took to survive.

Happy holidays, friends. I wish you days filled with happiness and creativity as we roll into the New Year! See you next week.

Published by Robyn Neilsen

I am a writer and educator based out of New Jersey. My creative nonfiction essays and flash fiction stories have been published by Thought Catalog, Vocal Media, and On Mogul. As a lifelong learner, I enjoy honing my craft through writing workshops with LA Writers Group, Gotham Writers, and The Moth. I am currently querying my first novel and am actively working on my second.

2 thoughts on “If You’re Struggling This Holiday Season…

  1. I get migraines due to stress and anxiety and it’s really difficult to function with a migraine. I have a difficult time with boundaries too and is something I am working on in therapy. But I have the same issue where I get scared people with get mad if I set a boundary. Boundaries are complicated but like you said old habits are difficult to break but worth it. Happy Holidays!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that you are a fellow migrainer! It’s amazing how the body and the brain are so interconnected and yet we’ve been taught to treat them as separate. But it’s so great that you’re working with your therapist (I’m doing the same). May the next year be filled with healing! Happy Holidays!

      Liked by 1 person

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