How to Survive the Holidays with a Chronic Illness

A few years ago, I created some graphics for Chronic Migraine Awareness.  Among the graphics I created was this series on how to survive the holidays with chronic migraine.  I share them here in the hopes that they can help you get through this busy, stressful time of year.  Of course they are applicable to any chronic illness and are good holiday survival tips for anyone.

Tip #1 - Make a List - Santa does it, and so should you! By making a comprehensive list of everything that needs to get done, purchased, made, etc, you'll be prepared even when the worst brain fog strikes. Check it more than twice.

Tip #2 - The All-Important Budget! Sure, it's important to budget your finances, but I'm talking about the more important budget for anyone with a chronic illness - spoons! Spend them wisely! This may mean you pass on an afternoon of Christmas shopping so you can make it to the Christmas party for a few hours.

Tip #3 - Recruit some elves! Delegate, delegate, delegate! If you know you don't have enough "spoons" for an afternoon of grocery shopping, send a friend or family member off with your list.

Tip #4 - Shop Online! Avoid the madness of the mall and do your shopping online. And with Amazon Smile, you can even donate to Chronic Migraine Awareness at the same time!

Tip #5 - Embrace "No." Be realistic about your limitations and don't spread yourself too thin. Don't be afraid to decline some responsibilities or social invitations. This is all part of budgeting your time and 'spoons'.

Tip #6 - Market Yourself

Tip #7 - Make New Traditions. If chronic illness has you missing some important holiday traditions, make some new ones that are "chronic illness friendly". Cuddle up and watch some classic movies, or go for a drive to see the Christmas lights. Sometimes the most treasured moments are the quiet, unassuming ones.

Tip #8 - Give back. 'Tis the giving season! Find a way to give back - volunteer, make something for charity or donate to a toy or clothing drive. By participating in something larger than yourself, you can gain a sense of purpose and fulfillment that is easily lost when you live with a chronic illness.

Tip #9 - The Importance of Support. If you haven't already, find a support group. Living with chronic illness presents a unique set of challenges and being able to discuss these with people who understand can be a huge lifeline! Keep your sanity by giving and getting support throughout the holiday season.

Tip #10 - Share joy. The holidays can be an isolating time for chronic illness sufferers. Reach out by phone, greeting card, email or in person. Make the effort to share joy and focus on what is really important - connecting with friends and family.

Tip #11 - Keep It Simple! It's easy to get caught up in the elabourate decorations, fancy parties and mass-marketing of the holiday season. But all of this just adds unnecessary stress and can trigger our illnesses. Don't be afraid to keep it simple.

Tip #12 - Practice Self-Care. With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it's easy to get overwhelmed and make yourself sick. Be sure to take time for self-care. Relax, meditate, have a soothing bath - something just for you. You'll end up more equipped to deal with whatever the holiday season throws at you.

Hopefully these tips allow you to make it through the season as pain-free or low-pained as possible.


Beware of Holiday Migraine Triggers!

The busy holiday season is among us.  At least in Canada, Thanksgiving and Christmas are spaced out a bit more, but if you’re a Kraniac living in the US, I feel for you!  So much hustle and bustle in a relatively short time!  How do you have enough spoons?!

So as my early holiday gift to you, Kraniacs, I thought I’d give you a little reminder of some triggers to watch out for this holiday season.  They are everywhere, aren’t they?!

1 black friday shopping

Migraine Trigger #1.  The dreaded holiday shopping!  The crowds, the noise, the physical activity it requires to wrestle someone for that last tech gadget… is it any wonder it’s a migraine waiting to happen?

2 Office-Holiday-Party

The good ol’ holiday party.  Whether it’s parties with coworkers, friends, family, it seems that this is the time of year for getting together and catching up.  The problem is, when you have migraines, this can be absolutely dreadful!  I think one of the things I find the worst is the small talk:

“Karen!  Haven’t seen you in ages!  How are you doing?  What’s new?” queries some random old friend.

“Hey, yeah.  I tend to lay low these days – still suffering from chronic migraine.” I say, trying to not look as awkward as I feel.

“They haven’t figured out what to do about those yet?” they say, and I can tell they aren’t really interested by the way they keep staring everywhere else.

“Well, there is no cu-” I begin while groaning inwardly.

“My aunt’s boyfriend’s brother’s coworker’s mom suffers with migraines and she got one of those ear piercings.  Have you tried that?”

At this point, whomever I’m with should probably be interjecting here or leading me away because nothing makes me lose my broken, migraining mind more than talking about daith piercings.

3 making spirits bright

If you’re at the above-mentioned holiday party, the temptation to partake in some liquid holiday merriment can be high.  Although the price us Kraniacs can pay if we’ve sipped a few too many rum and egg nog is higher.  Is ‘nog’ the noise your body makes as you’re puking into the toilet the next morning?

4 flashing lights

Ahhh Christmas!  All the beautiful lights, everyone so merry!  Twinkling lights, a Christmas carole or two.  But our consumerist society isn’t conditioned that way!  All the lights, set to music, and flashing, flashing, flashing!  It’s the most wonderful time of year indeed!  😛

5 box of chocolates

I love chocolate.  And I’m fortunate that it’s not a terrible trigger by itself, but it will often gang up with other triggers for me.  And of course, an open box of chocolates is an empty box of chocolates (unless it’s one of those weird assortment boxes with the fruit filled chocolate landmines that you don’t realize how gross they are until you bite into them.)

6 perfume

I’m not triggered by all scents, but overpowering perfumey ones are brutal!  Even if they don’t trigger a migraine, I’m so sensitive to all smells that what seems like a normal level of perfume often isn’t.

7 cinnamon meme

Which brings me to this next fall favourite.  Love cinnamon foods, but as a candle or straight up cinnamon stick or whatnot, it’s a dealbreaker.  Cinnamon, and it’s other heady scent-sister Clove, just do me in at this time of year.

kids drums

If you’re a Kraniac with young ones, it seems like every toy kids want these days is noisy.  Very noisy.  Good luck with the new toys!

9 christmas_feast_treats

And rounding out today’s post of migraine triggers, dinner with family.  Now, don’t get me wrong, family is priceless.  But it can be hard to realize just how valuable time with loved ones is when you’re struggling with migraine.  Dealing with family members who don’t understand your illness adds an extra level of stress to the holiday season.

Migraine triggers exist around every corner, holiday season or not.  And of course, what is triggering for one of us, isn’t triggering for the rest of us.  Hopefully though, you can make it through the holiday season as migraine-free or migraine-minimized as possible.

Stay tuned next week when I’ll share some tips for making the holiday season easier when you suffer from a chronic illness.

Living in Darkness

hell and reality

It’s been a rough week (month, year?) over here, Kraniacs.  I try to post realistic, yet hopeful posts, but I fear that this one might not deliver.

Disclosure:  For those who are wondering or feel compelled to ask, I am safe.  I am not a danger to myself.  To my loved ones, I promise.  No, I don’t want you to come over, or drag me out or try to lift my mood.  For everyone’s safety, I’m just giving myself some more time-outs.  *HUGS*

The above image is from a great blog post about depression from Hyperbole and a Half, which I ought to just copy and paste here in entirety since it is EXACTLY how I feel these days.  It’s really worth the read.

And while I have so much I could say on this topic, it’s dark over here.  Dark like a black hole.  Everything gets sucked into its nothingness to never be seen again.  Including any organized thoughts or motivation I might have to articulate my thoughts into a blog post. Maybe at some point in the future I’ll post the rambling, disjointed weirdness that is the post I was going to put up tonight.  But for now, enjoy the hyperbole.


Halloween #Grafogs!

jack o lantern

It’s a rainy, migrainey day over here, Kraniacs.

So here are some Halloween and scary themed #grafogs to keep it simple for you today.  Feel free to share.  🙂


Do you find that dealing with migraines makes so many other things less scary? Are you the type of person who is scared by innocuous things like clowns?

evil clown

I’ve never really been a zombie person in the first place, but I’m pretty sure, with my brain as maimed as it already is, it wouldn’t be much good to a zombie anyway.

sorry zombies cma

Have a safe and happy Halloween, Kraniacs!  Watch out for the migraine goblins!




I hurt here and here and here

i hurt

It’s been a bad day over here. Heck, week maybe. Woke up with a doozy of a migraine assaulting my head, only to read that Gord Downie, lead singer of The Tragically Hip, passed away.

If you don’t know who Gord Downie is, he’s sort of the Canadian equivalent to Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan, but in typical, unassuming and much more obscure, Canadian fashion. He was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer last year. You might have heard about the farewell tour, the last concert being played right here in Kingston where I live (Downie’s hometown.)

I’m not a huge Hip fan, to be honest (Downie’s voice has always sounded so grating and angry, sorry!), but news of Downie’s diagnosis, the subsequent tour, and the Canadian patriotic uprising have had me following his latest saga.  Somehow though, I missed this video, which I stumbled on today.

Here we have Peter Mansbridge (Canada’s Dan Rather) interviewing Downie last year.  Watching this makes me realize exactly why Downie has such magnetism.  He’s authentic to the core.  And so genuinely Canadian.  His apologies, and the way he takes everything, even brain cancer, in stride.  Hearing him talk about what illness has taken from him (his memory) but even more so, what it has given him (the opportunity to form his legacy – his fund for the future of First Nations in Canada, his swan song tour, and making more music.)

For those of us with chronic illness, we can take a lot from this.  Maybe find the silver lining in our own dark clouds.  To view our own illness as a moment of awakening rather than demise.  To recognize the possibilities, the abilities we have to sift out the insignificant and make a difference in our lives.  And for me, personally, on a day like today, it’s reassurance that as much as ‘I hurt here and here and here’ (Downie lyrics from “Here and here and here” a song from his album “Secret Path”) that I have resilience and I can persevere and that despite the pain and the challenges, I still have power and I can make a difference.

If you would like to make a memorial donation on behalf of Gord Downie, you can do so at the following links:

The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack fund

The Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research

And I leave you with some of Downie’s great quotes and lyrics…

“It would be hard for me now, at this age and stage, to leave a song without a glimmer of hope… I always like to have a glimmer of hopefulness, even in collapse.”

“I have no illusions of the future. Or maybe it’s all illusion. I don’t know. I’ve always been ready for it.”

“I’m agile. I can play on the ass of an elephant. That’s the goal — then you can play anywhere.”  (This one is so damn witty and hilarious I couldn’t leave it out!  And I take from it the notion that no matter what circumstances you find yourself in, make the best of it.)

“I like hanging with my family and helping them on their way however I can. There’s a new tragicomedy every half-hour, there is laughter, there are tears, and it’s all real. They are endlessly entertaining, they have given me so much, they’ve given me a chance to ‘see’ things again.”

“It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations reveal themselves one star at a time.”

“For a good life we just might have to weaken
And find somewhere to go
Go somewhere we’re needed
Find somewhere to grow
Grow somewhere we’re needed”

Walk Among the Stars, Mr. Downie.  RIP



Introducing #Grafogs

taylor swift

Graphic + blog =  Graphog?  Graphlog?  Graflog?  Grafog?

I want to start sharing some of my graphics here as blog posts.  But I don’t know what to call them.  Graphog looks too much like grap-hog.  Graphlog sounds too much like a log of graphs (boring!)  Graflog reminds me of flogging, which isn’t quite the image I’m going for.  Grafog could be good (and also gives a nod to migraine brain fog) but somehow it makes me think of frogs.  Although, since a graphic blog post is a shorter entry, I guess it’s like a quick hop of a blog post that doesn’t require much reading.  So feel free to hop in, take a quick look and hop on your way.

Sometimes I’m very (read: too) verbose.  Like when I’m trying to figure out what to name a graphic blog post.  I’m also very (read: really too!) corny for my own good!  Thank goodness for graphics!

chronic corn maze




crack cohen“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen

Dear Kraniacs, today we’re going to talk about living life between the cracks.  Have you ever walked down the sidewalk and stumbled upon a little flower, defiantly growing up through a crack in the pavement.  What a bold and determined little thing!  To grow despite the challenge, the unfriendly environment.  Can we too, be like that little flower and grow despite where we’ve been planted?

“Kintsugi”, or kintsukuroi, is the Japanese tradition of repairing broken things (usually pottery) with gold. The goal is to not make the cracks unnoticeable, but rather, to highlight them. In kintsugi, the broken becomes beautiful and more valuable because of what it has gone through.

While I had heard of kintsugi before (and it is the inspiration for the title of this blog), I stumbled upon this video recently and it came at a time when I was really needing the reminder that there is value and beauty within the struggles.

Now, before you say it, I know.  I know that you’ve got a bit of that skeptical face going on right now.  That’s an awfully big glass of Kool-Aid.  A life with chronic illness isn’t like a momentary bad turn.  We are often faced with the realistic fear that we will always be like this, always suffering.  The truth is, though, everyone suffers.  Having a chronic illness does not give us the monopoly on suffering.  You have a migraine, someone else is getting a divorce, another person’s car broke down, that other guy just lost his job.  Everyone, whether chronic illness sufferers or not, has a life full of the mundane, the frustrating, and yes, the just plain awful.  We’re all broken. We’re all tired.  We all go through life trying to find something to hold on to.  We’re all those little flowers growing up through the pavement wondering “Why me?!”

The advantage, if you can call it that, that we expert sufferers have, is that we can gain a clearer picture of life as a whole.  When you are forced to budget your time and energy, you choose what is most important to you.  The insignificant things that so many people get tripped up by, are easier for us to discard.  I choose to fill my cracks with gold – I cultivate relationships with my loved ones, I take joy from the little moments, I make time for self-care and I try to give back and help others through their pain.

We all have cracks.  The question is, what will you repair yours with?





Welcome to my little corner of the Internet!  I’m glad to have you here.

I suppose the fitting place to start is here.  With a breath.  After all, when we enter this world, that is what everyone eagerly waits for us to do – take that first gasping breath.  Then, most of us cry.  (If that’s not some kind of foreshadowing to life in general, well, I don’t know what is.)  And as long as we’re breathing, we’re living.  Apparently.  Can it really be that simple?

breathe poster small file“Breathe.  You’ve Got This.  We’ve Got You.” I’m not sure where or how I came up with this, but somehow it has become a mantra of sorts in my migraine group, Migraineurs’ Hideout.  It’s awfully simplistic and it sounds so cliché, but it works.  When one is overwhelmed with pain and suffering, getting back to something so basic can help.  Tuning everything else out so that the only thing you focus on is your breath.  You might not be able to control anything else, but you can control that.  Slow it down, elongate the inhale, hold it, and then let it out with a sigh.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

And for today, that is enough.

ok breathe