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Birthday gifts for the chronically ill.

I remember being a kid and hating getting stuff I needed wrapped in pretty packaging, trying to be passed off as a birthday or Christmas surprise. A bike helmet Santa? This is the 90’s, us kids don’t have time for helmets. Thanks Grandma… more socks.

I then remember growing up (vaguely….lets face it, the old thinking tank isn’t working so great lately). Now I don’t know if this is female specific, mom or home owner likely or just a weird habit that only I and I’m assuming a very select few have. I can’t wait for birthdays, Christmases, mothers days and anniversaries to knock off some items on the “need to get” list.

Do I seem like the type of person who wants to waste hours of time and energy searching for a blender? No, but mine broke, so guess what its what I asked my Dad to get me last year  (I can always trust on him to come through on practical gifts….I once received school binders for my birthday). It took me months to convince Mr. Mango that a new pot set was just what I needed from him and the kids for Mother’s day. He and the kids are all still in the gimme toys gimme games, FUN gifts phase. I DID end up getting a pot set though, but because it was bright orange (not practical by the way) I guess it also passed for something awesome they knew I would really want, so I won that round.

I get it though, I do. Gifts are supposed to be fun, surprises. Proof you know your loved one well enough to pick them something out that just suits them. It can be so gratifying finding just the right thing base on what you know about them and being able to watch them open up something special and smile. They’re smiling not only because you undoubtedly got them something fucking cool, but because that feeling that your loved ones understand you is pretty priceless.

The thing is, knowing what people want (and need) can sometimes be really hard. Especially when people go through a time of change. After a guy gets hitched, maybe gifting him the new Pirate’s adult film at a dinner party his new wife is throwing is kind of a bad call, I don’t think either of them would be smiling (it’s called Stagnetti’s Revenge and it’s actually quiet fabulous). Once a woman has kids, maybe the brand new string bikini in her favorite colors isn’t going to be appreciated the same way as back in the day, if anything it might make her cry.

The same goes for other life altering changes. Like developing a chronic illness.

I think people struggle a lot with identity crisis when they become suddenly….not themselves anymore, and this new identity sucks. It’s not like getting married and becoming a husband or wife. It’s not like having a kid and becoming a mother or father. It’s not like getting a new career, moving to a new city or learning a new skill. There is no positive on the other side of that kind of change and loss of self . Truth be told, you don’t even really lose yourself, you just lose the ability to BE YOU a lot of the time when pain, fatigue, depression and other symptoms drag you down.

If you loved playing hockey your whole life and developed  chronic knee issues keeping you out of the game, it doesn’t mean your love of hockey has changed, only your ability to actually play it. That kind of change…but not change (change in ability and function but not in personality or passion) can be hard for those around us to understand and to get used to. Gifting someone who can’t get out on the ice anymore a new pair of skates isn’t the right way to go, but they love hockey…. so now what?

Those of us who have lost some of our ability to DO what we love have had our fair share of time learning to deal with it. We’ve mourned or losses, we’ve adapted to lifestyle and routine changes and we’ve learned to find ways to still enjoy our hobbies and passions. A hockey highlights reel of their favorite team might be the perfect gift instead, even better offer to come sit and watch it with them and bring the snacks so they don’t have to be on their feet to make anything. For someone who has a passion for gardening but CFS has made it so they simply can’t get out and tend the plants anymore? What about a beautiful indoor potted foliage mix with a self watering bulb that only hast to be filled once a month? Even better, offer to come over and help tidy up and find room for the new green baby and sit by it with a cuppa tea chatting about life.

At a certain point though, the best things we can receive from our loved ones can’t be put in gift boxes or bags. Heck a lot of them don’t cost a dime either. An afternoon helping us run errands by being our driver, pushing our cart, picking up the heavy shit and making sure we eat and pace ourselves. A surprise visit with a basket of cleaning supplies and a play mix of all our favorite songs to listen to while we can tag team tidying up and do some long overdue dusting. Offering to come with us to our doctors appointments so we can have someone there for support, it could mean the world to us if we get some more bad news or just end up frustrated. Taking the kids on a play date for a couple hours so we could take a much needed nap or bubble bath. There are so many meaningful ways to gift your time and energy to help and we want and need it more than anything that comes with a price tag.

The last couple years as my family and friends have had to adjust to my illnesses progressing it’s been a real learning experience for both them and myself. This past weekend while celebrating my birthday during a particularly rough lupus and mysterious gut condition (crohn’s is still suspected…more on that later) flare up I was genuinely surprised. It’s like a switch flipped and my family really GETS IT.

For 4 days I didn’t touch a dirty dish (unless it was to hand it to one of the kids to take to the counter after a meal or coffee time was over). I didn’t scrub the toiled and I didn’t wipe a toddlers butt. I didn’t switch laundry, I didn’t fold clothes, I didn’t tidy up. I cooked only when I really wanted to and when I felt up for it, and even then I had my 3 little and 1 big helper there to do any of the hard hand stuff.

I got to spend an evening watching a great new movie cuddling with my kids. I did spend a blissful hour getting an amazing massage from my partner. I got to sleep in on the big day and woke up to already made coffee. I enjoyed a dip in the hot tub in the middle of the day without getting splashed once. I was thankfully feeling up for a trip into the city to join the rest of our extended family to celebrate with my dear Omi who is turning 90 in a couple days (we always celebrate together, it’s tradition) and us birthday girls didn’t have to lift a finger. Because all those other bases were covered for the weekend, I really did get to spend my time enjoying the good moments even though I wasn’t feeling well.

My family finally gets it. I am still me, I have the same passions and personality but I am also chronically ill. I got exactly what I wanted and needed for my birthday, a break from many of the daily tasks that add up to be a pain and some wonderful time relaxing with all the people I love.

Oooh and I also got cake…

 

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Funfetti with buttercream, Buddy, Princess and Little Dude each artistically decorated their own layers.
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Exactly what I needed.

Yes… some stuff still came in boxes and bags and I was blown away with how thoughtful each gift was. Some make up and nail polish because feeling a little bit pretty is much better than feeling like I look sick all the time. A pair of lightweight palazzo pants from half way across the world, a great souvenir from my dads trip and definitely the perfect wardrobe for when heat flashes hit without looking like I just fell out of bed. A pair of rockin’ ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ boot slippers because my feet are always cold and my previous pair of booties….well they were not in good shape. A heart shaped plush heating pack so I can feel the love every time I need some warm comfort. Of course skittles…..because taste the rainbow.

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