Monday, March 27, 2017

Monday Musings

Last week I mentioned having back pain. Well, as luck would have it, I had an already scheduled check-up with my primary care doctor, so I was able to discuss it with him then. After his poking, prodding, and questioning, he diagnosed me with Sacroiliitis. I didn't tell him that, with the help of "Dr. Google", I'd already diagnosed myself. Here's some information on Sacroiliitis. I was prescribed anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxers, and physical therapy. The doctor feels my Sacroiliitis is most likely caused by arthritis. This doesn't surprise me one bit; having EDS puts me at risk for osteoarthritis. Of course, my reading also told me that sometimes Sacroiliitis can be a part of an autoimmune disease, which I'm at risk of developing another as I already have one. Regardless of the cause, I'm happy to know what is wrong and how to treat it.

Yesterday I went to church; I went by myself as Tim had to go to work for a bit. Because I was having so much trouble walking, I used my cane, and I had several people comment on it. Everyone was nice about it, but it got me to thinking about how I deal with using mobility devices. How I really feel about them. Most of the time, if I'm with Tim, I don't use my cane, I just hang on to him. Now if I'm really having difficulty walking, I'll use a wheelchair, but that's very rare. If I'm that bad, I'm usually too sick to go out. I know I worry about what people think and I know one reason for that. It took me years to get diagnosed, and during that time, it was the medical community that treated me the worst. It really made me doubt myself. I was disbelieved, belittled and ignored.To this day, more than five years after my first diagnosis, I still, at times, doubt myself. Am I really that sick? By using a cane am I just trying to draw attention to myself, or do I really need it? Then there's the fact that my symptoms can be so variable. For example, yesterday afternoon, I was able to go for a walk with Tim. It crossed my mind what people who'd seen me that morning might think if they saw me walking around rather easily later in the day. Of course, they don't know that my pain and mobility are generally worse in the morning, nor do they know that I took a rather long nap before we went for a walk. In this particular instance, I hadn't taken any muscle relaxers or pain meds, but many times, that makes a difference as to what I am able or not able to do. Since the rise of social media, it's pretty common to see the memes floating around regarding what wheelchair users should and shouldn't be able to do. Perhaps you've seen the meme of the woman who is standing up out of her wheelchair to get an item off the top shelf at the grocery store. The thought is that she must not really need the wheelchair if she can stand. Of course, that's not necessarily the case. It's as if people think you must be paralyzed if you use a chair. But, the fact is, many chair users can walk. Some of them can walk some days and not others. Some can walk long distances, some not. Many, have to have someone push them in the chair as they aren't able to to that themselves. There're so many scenarios out there that the average, able-bodied person hasn't thought of. It's obvious this whole topic is one that I feel strongly about. I believe it deserves its own blog post. Look for it in the future.

I suppose it's a bit late, but I wanted to mention that March is National Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month. According to the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association (AARDA), approximately 50 million Americans, one in five people, suffer from autoimmune diseases, 75% of them are women. There are over 100 known autoimmune diseases. For more information, visit AARDA.

How do you feel about using mobility aids? Are you self-conscious? If so, has anything happened to make you feel that way? Please feel free to share. I love receiving input on these kinds of topics.
As always, thanks for reading.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Monday Musings

Well, here I am again with not a whole lot to say about any one thing, and a little bit about a lot of things. Here goes nothing...

After a brief cold snap, the Springlike weather has returned, and even though we really didn't have much of a Winter here at all, it's still nice that Spring is officially here. I'm hoping that it will
bring more sunshine and less rain. Even though we didn't get much snow or cold, we had a lot of cloudy, rainy days over the past few months. I've come to realize that a lack of sunlight really does affect my moods. I guess I need to pay closer attention to my theory to see if it holds together.

I spent a few days last week nursing an injured back. I'm not sure what I did, but I suspect I either pulled a muscle or did something to cause one of my herniated discs to flare up. Regardless of the cause, I took muscle relaxers and a few pain pills to get me through the worst. I had to use my cane for several days, too. I was a mess! I will say it got me to thinking about a few things. For one, I really, really need to be aware of my limitations. I was vacuuming, leaning over too far when the injury happened. I know better than that. Also, I have got to get over the whole "being embarrassed while using a cane thing." The funny thing is, I'm more embarrassed to use it when I'm with my husband than when I'm by myself. I'm not sure why. It's not as if he has ever shamed me for using one. Excuse me while I go analyze myself.

I had an eye appointment a few weeks ago. This was for an OCT and Visual Field test. As usual, it lasted well over two hours. I love my eye doc, but I do not like the waiting. Anyway, after the tests were done, the doctor went over them with me. She was concerned about the results of one of them, so she wanted to repeat it. She said it could just be an error or something like that, but the repeat test results were the same. I'd already told her I was going to leave after the test, but I'd really thought it was going to be normal. I haven't heard back from her, she could be waiting for my next appointment to go over the results with me, I'm not sure. I suppose I should call her office, but I'm almost afraid to.

I still haven't received a referral to a Rheumatologist, and I've given up, at least for now. I still have severe dry eyes, increasing spells of dry mouth, dry skin and, rarely, a very dry nose. All of that along with my severe muscle pain. Yes, the muscle pain could be from my Ehler's Danlos Syndrome, or perhaps my thyroid, but with elevated autoimmune levels in the past, it has me concerned. For now, I'll at least make sure my primary care doctor does routine autoimmune blood work. To be honest, I just can't deal with finding out that I have yet another illness. Maybe it's denial, maybe not. Between my eye appointment ordeal and the thought that I may have another autoimmune disease, well it's just too much to think about now. Am I the only one who gets this way? It's hard enough to deal with the illnesses I do have without having to start with another one. That would mean more doctor's appointments, more tests, and possibly more medication. No thank you!

I suppose that's enough of my rambling er musing. I hope everyone out there is doing well. Leave me a comment and let me know what you're thinking. I do love hearing from my readers. A private message is always welcome, too. Until next time, here's a bit of sunshine to enjoy...

Nature's Medicine

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Dealing with a Depression Flare-Up

This winter has been tough for me as far as my depression goes. It's been so cloudy and dreary, and I do think the lack of sun has affected me. I've had to keep fighting to keep myself from sinking too low. I know I've shared my battle with depression in the past, so I want to continue to do that. 

I suppose I'm one of the unlucky ones who has several chronic illnesses along with mental health problems. I have both depression and anxiety. My anxiety is under control with medication; however, my depression, while being treated, is not. Since I've been on medication, my depression is much better than it was when it was untreated. In fact, I can go a very long time and not feel depressed at all. But, I have flare ups of depression, and that is hard to handle. I'm learning what it is I need to help myself on those bad days. Here are a few things that have helped me:

1. Communicating with others- A tendency to isolate oneself is part of depression, so it's a struggle to reach out to others when I'm feeling down. There are certain people I do not call when I'm feeling low. I think we all have or have had friends or family members who are draining. A phone call with a request for help can sometimes turn into an hour-long monolog by said friend. For obvious reasons, this is not helpful. I try to call or text others when I'm doing well as to not "be that person." You know, the one who only calls when they're in crises. Find your person.The one who understands you and will be there for you when you need them. Of course, it goes without saying that you need to be there for them, too.

Spending Time Outdoors

2. Getting out of the house- Being out in the fresh air, and sunshine if you're lucky enough to have some, is healing. Sometimes, just going out to walk the dog will help me feel a little bit better. I might see a neighbor and chat for a bit, or see a few squirrels, which are my very favorite wild animals. It's fun to watch them chase each other around the yard and up the tree. While going shopping isn't always my favorite thing to do, I have found that I sometimes feel better being out and around others. 

3. Reading a good book- I've always loved to read. When I'm depressed, I find it hard to focus, though, so I try to keep my reading rather light at those times. There's something to be said about escaping into a light-hearted fiction book. Along with my book, I might enjoy having a bit of candy or a cookie. I try to eat dark chocolate most of the time. Obviously, the sweets aren't an everyday occurrence, but something that I allow myself to have more often than I should occasionally.

Doing a Little Bit of Baking
4.Having something to work on- I'm not talking about a huge project like painting a room, but something small and more manageable to help me to "get out of my head." If I'm too sick to get out of bed, I might pass the time planning our next family get-together, my future remodeling projects or next years' vacation. If I'm able to be up and about, I may work on organizing family photos or paperwork or spend some time baking. 

5. Surrounding myself with water- A long shower or a soak in the tub are always relaxing to me. In the summer, I'll spend time in our pool. The sound of water has always soothed me, so listening to my sound app that has a variety of water sounds is healing. We are fortunate enough to live in a city on the river, walking along the walkway by the river is an enjoyable way to get exercise while viewing and hearing the water. 

6. Listening to music-There's something so therapeutic about music. I've always been a music lover; as a child, I remember spending most of my allowance on 45's (I'm giving my age away, aren't I?) I enjoy a variety of music, jazz, oldies, country, rock, contemporary Christian, etc. I'm really not too picky. All I know is that immersing myself in the sound of music does more to lift my mood than almost anything else.  

Reading Encouraging Scripture

7. Connecting with God- Prayer, reading scripture, listening to church service, all help me. I'm not the most religious person, but I am a believer, and I do feel there's a place for religion or some kind of spiritual connection when dealing with a chronic illness. For me, having faith and hope, help make the bad days not so bad. 

8.Keeping things in perspective- It's so easy to let yourself ruminate about things, but that isn't very conducive to good mental health. I find that if I'm able to tell myself that I've felt this way before and I made it through to the other side, those "what if" and "why me" thoughts are lessened. Looking through the foggy lenses of a depressed person is difficult, that's why having the ability to remember the ups and downs of life is so helpful. 

These coping strategies may or may not be helpful to you, but it certainly won't hurt to try some of them. It goes without saying that if you are clinically depressed or suicidal, you need to see a professional. Here's to having better days ahead for all of us!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

What I'd Like the Church to Know About Chronic Illness

Last Sunday, my husband and I went to church. We don't attend as often as I'd like, but when we do go, I always feel a little self-conscious. I have several invisible illnesses, which means you can't always tell when I'm not doing well. I started thinking that, perhaps, I can help others to see that they're not alone and maybe I can explain what someone with chronic illness might experience so church and staff members can understand a bit more.

We are those people. We sit in the same place nearly every time we attend church. Our seats are pretty close to an exit; no this isn't so we can make a quick escape.There are times when I have a coughing spell, GI issues or just need to walk around, so I find it easier if we sit near an exit. So, please don't think I'm anal when I make a beeline for "our seats," their locations have been well thought out.

Our church has a great music ministry. We probably sing for about ten to fifteen minutes every
 Sunday (no, I've never actually timed it.) In my past life, BS (before sickness), I really enjoyed this. I still enjoy listening, but I'm not able to participate. I can't stand in one place for more than five minutes, some days even that is too much. If I do, blood starts pooling in my feet and legs, that causes pain, numbness and also causes me to become weak and feel faint due to the blood leaving my brain. So, I usually stand for a few minutes, then I sit. I don't normally take my cane or any other mobility device to church, so most people don't realize I'm chronically ill. I'm sure a few people have wondered why I don't participate as I look relatively youngish and healthy. Besides not being able to stand, I'm unable to sing for very long (family members might say I'm unable to sing period.) I must really look rude! I can't sing because I don't have the energy or breath to do so. We haven't quite figured out what the cause of that is, but it's perhaps a symptom of dysautonomia. So, please understand why I don't participate in this part of worship. It's not because I don't want to, it's because I'm unable to.

I don't always close my eyes and bow my head to pray. Some days I'm prone to spells of vertigo, these can be set off by a change of position in my head (usually looking down) and/or by me closing my eyes. So, I usually close my eyes ever so slightly but don't bow my head during prayer. I know there are probably many people who aren't ill who don't bow their head, but most do in church and, in the past, I always did. So, please don't think I'm rude when I don't appear to pray, nothing could be further from the truth, I can pray in many ways.

I'm not always real social before or after church. In fact, I may come across as being rude. It sometimes takes me a great deal of effort to get ready for church, I may not have slept well the night before, and I may be in a lot of pain. Any number of things can cause me to retreat into myself. I'm normally a pretty social person, but when I'm having a bad day, I tend to steer clear of people. I may not get up and shake hands during greeting time during the service, I may take another exit out of the church to avoid the crowd, and I may spend more time than needed in the restroom waiting for the lobby to clear. So, please understand, it's not you, it's me. It's my way of coping with all of my many symptoms in the way I know best.

My church attendance may be sporadic. This includes both church services and other church-related groups or activities. You may see me out somewhere on a Saturday night, but come Sunday morning, I'm too sick to go to church. My symptoms can change that fast. I am so grateful that we have an option to watch services live online every Sunday. No, it's not the same as being there; but, it does help me to feel as if I'm still a part of my church. I've joined a study group that meets on Friday mornings; I've missed several times because of not feeling well. I feel bad about my poor attendance because I worry that other members of the group will think I'm not taking it seriously enough and that I may be taking the spot of someone who could attend more regularly. So, please know that I do want to be there and that I need to be a part of a group.

The other day, I got a very nice card in the mail from my church women's group. The card really did cheer me up on what was a very difficult day. So often, those of us with chronic illnesses, feel left out. There are meals trains, greeting card and visitation ministries for those who have been hospitalized, had surgery, or had a baby, but those of us in this category of always-being-ill, aren't always remembered. Of course, that's not always the case, but from my reading and conversations with others who are chronically ill, it happens more than it probably should. So, please remember those of us with chronic illnesses, a card, a phone call and/or a meal would be so appreciated.

I hope I have helped some of you to feel understood and gave others of you some understanding. The support and understanding of the church is so important to believers who have a chronic illness. For many of us, it's the one place where heartache meets hope and where those who worship with us can really make a difference in our lives.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Look Back and A Look Forward

The holidays have come and gone, with that comes
 reminiscing about the past, and planning for the
future. 2016 brought us a lot of happiness:  our son moved back to town after being half a country away at grad school for three years, our youngest daughter and her husband bought a home five minutes from us, and our first grandchild was born! Oh, our oldest daughter has been dating a very nice young man who seems to make her very happy. Sadly, we lost my husband's sister to the cancer that she'd fought for so long. Tim, was down (or as down as he could be) with pneumonia the last few months of the year. And, while, he wasn't hospitalized, he was pretty sick. Thankfully, he's mostly recovered now. For me, things have been up and down. I'm pretty stable at the moment, but I have periods where I slowly progress. My shoulders have definitely given me more trouble lately, and I spend quite a bit of time putting pain relieving ointment on and taping them. My autonomic nervous system seems to be more messed up than ever. Also, my fatigue is out of this world. I'm always exhausted, and I never seem to get enough sleep. I slept until 10 o'clock this morning, which is unheard of for me.

Medically, I don't know what 2017 will hold for me. I had started occupational therapy at the end of the year but had to give it up when I discovered the place I'd been going isn't covered under our new insurance. I know I need to get in with another therapist, but, right now, I'm in hibernation mode. It's cold, damp and I just want to stay home. We also have new prescription coverage which requires us to go to a particular pharmacy. We had to get 90-day prescriptions filled for all of our maintenance meds, which is, basically, all that my husband and I take. After several phone calls, I finally got all of our doctors to get the 90-day prescriptions sent to the pharmacy. I think I need an assistant! 

Speaking of assistants, I hired our youngest daughter to come clean for us. They could use the money, and I could use the help. She sweeps, dusts, vacuums, and mops (I'm sure I'll find more for her to do). It's such a help; physically, it was just getting to be too much for me. Plus, I had no energy left for anything else. Just because I'm chronically ill doesn't mean I don't deserve to have a beautiful, full-filling life.  It's a great way to start a new year! Now, I'm writing more (The Mighty recently published two of my blog posts that I'd submitted!) and devoting more time to other things I enjoy and/or need to be doing such as reading, baking, cooking, genealogy and organizing. I've joined a Reading the Bible in a Year Facebook group our church is doing and started attending a weekly women's Bible study fellowship group at our church. These are things I probably wouldn't have even tried to do in the past, but with the help of my daughter, I'm able to accomplish so much more. I've also been better about resting, and not feeling guilty about it, when I need it, knowing the housework is going to get done. I know not everyone can afford to hire help, but if you find yourself in my position, overwhelmed by chores that have to be done, don't hesitate to ask for help from family, friends or your church family, if you have one.

I have decided to follow through on getting in to see an autonomic nervous system specialist. From what I've read, this could take a year or two to accomplish.  Since I've had a progression in the dysautonomia this past year, I don't know where I'll be with it in a year or two, but I'm concerned. I have a good idea about who I want to see, but I'll need to do a bit of research to make sure he's definitely the right one for me. I also need to get serious about eating better, taking my vitamins and finding some kind of exercise I can tolerate.

What kind of changes are you planning on making in the new year? Don't forget to take the time to nurture your mind and spirit. It's so important for everyone, but even more important for those of us with a chronic illness. When you're making those resolutions and plans for the new year, make yourself a priority. Remember and repeat to yourself often:  

Monday, January 2, 2017

8 Tips for Keeping Warm this Winter

It doesn't seem that long ago that I wrote tips for keeping cool in the heat, in reality, it's been over six months! For many of us, the winter weather has set in, and we are now dealing with the cold. Those of us who are chronically ill often have a difficult time regulating our body temperature. Because of that, it's important that we learn how our bodies react to the heat and the cold. Figuring out what works, can make a big difference in our comfort, and at times, our health. 

1. Keep a pair of socks near you at all times. Better yet, keep some in every room. Because I have a hard time regulating my body temperature (thanks, dysautonomia!), I tend to get extremely cold feet. But, in a matter of minutes, my feet will get hot, so off come the socks. I repeat this "exercise" several times a day. As you might guess, this is a recipe for missing socks. So, I solved the problem by keeping socks in the end table drawer in the family room, in my nightstand and in the bathroom. Fuzzy socks are the best, except when their not. Because my feet get so hot, I always have some regular footies available, too. I know, I'm so high maintenance. 

Sock I found when changing my sheets! 

2. Use a heated mattress pad or blanket. It's no secret to my close friends and family that I'm in love with our heated mattress pad. We had one for our queen sized bed, and when we recently purchased a king, I bought one for it, that's how much I love it. There's nothing like climbing into a warm, preheated bed.Those who have muscle and joint pain with their chronic illness, usually find heat therapeutic. We've had an electric blanket in the past, but I much prefer the heated mattress pad; everyone is different, though, and many people prefer one over the other. Regardless of your preference, do some research before you buy. Both types usually come with dual controls for larger beds, some have a preheat setting and/or an automatic shutoff after so many hours. While I'm mostly happy with our new heated mattress pad, it's not as good of quality as our previous one.The pad doesn't want to stay on the bed (the elastic isn't that good) and the controls seem to be cheaply made. Lesson learned I will research a bit more before I buy another one. 

3. Use throw blankets. Throws are a must for keeping warm in the winter. We have one each on our sofa and love seat; plus, I have a basket full nearby. Besides providing warmth, they also add some color and texture to the decor of your room. Throws are useful in the bedroom, too. At times, I love to wrap mine up around my shoulders and neck.They're also good to cover up with if you just want to relax on your bed and not get under the blankets. You may also like to have an electric throw. Mine quit working, and I haven't replaced it, but I love them so much that I really like to give them as gifts. For Christmas, I gave one to our oldest daughter and one to my cousin. 

4. Dress for the outdoors. Depending on where you live, that could include gloves, a hat and scarf and boots.I have to admit something, I haven't always been very good about wearing gloves. I know the importance of them, and I did teach my children to wear them, but, until recently, I just went without them most of the time. What changed? Raynaud's, that's what changed! If you aren't familiar with Raynaud's, here's a definition from Mayo Clinic:

 Raynaud's (ray-NOHZ) disease causes some areas of your body — such as your fingers and toes — to feel numb and cold in response to cold temperatures or stress. In Raynaud's disease, smaller arteries that supply blood to your skin narrow, limiting blood circulation to affected areas (vasospasm). 

A mild attack of Raynaud's

Raynaud's can be very painful. It's important to protect your skin from the cold, not just outside, but when reaching into a freezer or coming in contact with cold temperatures in other ways.I no longer go without gloves. I have several pairs in my car, my purse, and in the house. In addition to your hands, protect your head. It turns out mom was right, wearing a hat is important. A lot of body heat escapes through your head, so covering it up can help keep your whole body warm. Sometimes the hood from your coat isn't very good, so buying a well-fitting, warm hat, is necessary. A good scarf can keep your neck and face warm and can be a good protector from the wind. Invest in a good pair of boots. Raynaud's affects my feet too, so I have some well-insulated, waterproof, comfortable winter boots. Of course, I have several pairs of stylish boots to wear out on the town, but they aren't nearly as warm and comfortable as my winter boots.

5. Dress in layers. Layering your clothing really does keep you warmer, both indoors and out. If you are going to be outdoors for an extended period of time, you may want to research the ins and outs of layering. A simplistic explanation is to make sure your outer layer is waterproof, and your inner layers wick moisture away from your body. Layering for indoors is really a matter of what's comfortable for you. I usually wear a t-shirt with a button down flannel shirt. If I get overheated, it's easy to roll up the sleeves on the flannel shirt or just take it off. I have long underwear that I have worn indoors on occasion, but generally, save it for those rare times I will be outdoors for a while. 

6. Keep your home warm. No one wants to pay an exorbitant amount of money to heat their home, especially those of us who need their homes to be warmer for health reasons, so it's important that you do everything you can to weatherize your house. Many utility companies will come to your home and do a free energy audit. This will show you areas that are losing heat. Sometimes, a solution to energy leaks is easy, other times, it's a bit more complicated and expensive and may include insulation and replacing a heating unit. Simple things you can do include, purchasing insulated drapes, weather stripping, and caulking around windows. A programmable thermostat is a good way to save money on your heating as you can set it to a lower temperature when you're away or at night. A half hour or so before you get home or wake up, it can be set to go up a few degrees. 

7. Spend more time in your kitchen. Unlike the summer, this is the time of the year when you want to heat up your kitchen. Baking, as you probably know, can definitely heat your house. So, break out your cookbooks and research some recipes on Pinterest. While you're looking for things to make, find some soup recipes. Soup and hot drinks can really warm you up. Besides the kitchen, using your dryer can also heat your home. So, you may want to time your laundry tasks for those times when your home is the coolest. 

8. Prepare your vehicle. Keep extra clothing, a blanket, first aid kit, jumper cables, and phone charger in your car. Also, it's good to have some water bottles and snacks just in case you get stranded. It's not likely, but why not be prepared, just in case? Make sure your car is serviced before the colder weather hits, so it's safe and runs efficiently. If you plan on traveling, consider buying an electric throw for the car; it plugs into the 12-volt outlet just like a cell phone charger. This comes in handy when you're always cold and others in the vehicle aren't. If you aren't lucky enough to have a remote starter, warm your car up a bit before you get in. 

Some chronically ill persons aren't bothered by the cold. If you are one of those people, consider yourself lucky. You may be more affected by the heat. In that case, you might want to review my tips for keeping cool in the heat. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

10 Tips for Getting through the Holidays With a Chronic Illness

This blog post is from November 30th of last year. I figured it was worth a rerun.

Is it that time of the year again? I don't know about you, but it seems to me that the years just fly by anymore. If anyone knows how to slow them down, please let me in on the secret. So, I thought I'd try something new, or at least new to me. We've all seen the articles with lists on how to accomplish just about anything. I thought I'd make up one with tips for making it through the holidays with a chronic illness. Here it is:

1. Make Lists: Lists of things that you need, or want to do. I have a baking list, house cleaning list and a gift-giving list (actually, I have a gift giving app this year which I love!). Okay, now throw them all away, just kidding. Prioritize those lists. Delegate and let some things go. Find shortcuts. And, don't be a perfectionist. There's no room for perfectionism in a chronically ill person's life.

2. Ask for help: Ask for specific things. I don't like to depend on anyone for help, but if it means making the holidays more manageable, then I think it's worth it. Sometimes, people will offer to help, but they don't say what they are wiling to do. Having a list ready with ideas of what others can do for you will come in handy when people make those kinds of offers. Do you need help with laundry? Running errands? Housework? How about help with wrapping gifts? Think about all of your regular and holiday tasks and delegate some of them to family members and willing friends.

3. Pace yourself: If you know you have a party to go to in the evening, that morning is not the time to scrub out your tub. Ask me how I know this. This is another area in which I struggle. Pace yourself throughout the day and over a period of several days. If you are planning on going shopping with friends on Saturday, plan on Friday and even Thursday, being light activity days.

4. Plan meals: I normally try to cook four or five nights a week. We usually eat out once a week, and the other nights we have left-overs. But, cooking four or five nights a week can be a lot during the holiday season. To make things easier, I prep as much of the meal as I can in the morning when I'm at my best. For example, If I'm going to make a casserole that evening, I will chop the vegetables up and brown the meat (if needed) in the morning. I also love to use my slow cooker this time of the year. It's so nice to put everything in there in the morning and have nothing or very little to do come dinner time. One thing I've done to help with meal prep is to cook and freeze chicken breast for casseroles, salads, etc. I put three or four pounds of breasts in the slow cooker with some seasoning and chicken broth and cook them for about four hours. Then, I shredded the chicken and freeze in two cup batches. I have a few bags thawing in my refrigerator now for a casserole I'm making later in the week. I always try to make soup once a week this time of year, And, we occasional have a sandwich night just to make things easier. I've also been known to have a Stouffer's Lasagna in the freezer for a quick and easy meal.

5. Eat right: It's okay to have some sweets in moderation (so I hear), but make sure you eat enough of the good stuff. In the past, we've actually bought and cut up vegetables and had them ready to eat in the refrigerator. It's time to do that again. Seasonal fruit is a healthy snack or a great addition to a meal. I always try to buy a bag or two of the ready salads at the grocery, but to make them a bit more nutritious, I make a stop at the salad bar and fill a box with more lettuce and a variety of other vegetables. Yes, it costs more this way, but it's so much easier to buy the pre-cut vegetables.  It saves time, and it's easier on my aching joints. Make sure you have a few sources of quick protein available. Healthier protein bars, nut butter, yogurt, boiled eggs, cheese, etc.

6. Keep managing your chronic illness: In other words, go to your scheduled doctor's appointments and take care of yourself. It's so tempting to cancel this time of the year, but, if you can help it, don't. If you are due to have any tests, lab work or surgeries, try to get them scheduled before the end of the year if you've already met your deductible. That's stating the obvious, but it's the smart thing to do. Make sure you are taking your medications as prescribed. If you are traveling, be sure you have enough medication for the duration of your trip. Find out if you can get a refill at a pharmacy where you are vacationing if need be. If you have special dietary needs, keep them in mind when eating out and preparing meals. Now is not the time to go off of a medically necessary diet (not that there ever is a good time).

7. Connect with others: Not just the family that you are expected to be with for gatherings, but with friends. Have a quick get together at a Coffee Shop, have a girlfriend over to watch a sappy Christmas Movie. Make an effort each day to reach out to someone. Text, Facebook, instant message, make a phone call, You don't have to carry on an hour long conversation, just a brief connection can be enough. I know that when I go a few days without connecting with a friend, I feel down. Friends truly are good for your health.

8. Find "me" time: Whatever it is that you enjoy doing, keep doing it. I love to read, and I usually try to read some holiday-themed fiction books. If you are crafty, find a small project you can do. Watch holiday specials and those Hallmark Christmas movies (even if you know how they are going to end). Anything that gives you pleasure and keeps your mind off all that you need to do and how you are really feeling is worth doing.

9, Make time for your spouse or significant other if you have one: It's so important to keep communicating, especially if you aren't feeling so well. Be honest about how you are feeling and ask for help when you need it. Go on inexpensive "dates". Drive around and look at the Christmas lights, stop for some hot chocolate, attend a Christmas program together. Just enjoy each others company.

10. Remember the reason for the season: It's so easy to get caught up in the baking, partying, shopping, decorating, etc., but that's not really what it's all about. If you are a religious person, keep attending church services and go to the special holiday programs. If you're unable to attend, watch or listen to services online. Chances are if your church doesn't offer online services, another one in your area does. Listen to religious Christmas songs along with the pop tunes. If you aren't particularly religious or are an unbeliever, find other ways to nurture your spiritual side. Meditate, attend holiday community events, just find peace somehow.

Well, there you have it. I hope you found something you can take away from the list. No doubt, you've heard some of these before. But, it never hurts to hear them again.

Until next time, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!