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Don’t Settle for Less

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Twenty-five years ago, I was a new single mom, with a ten-year old daughter and thirteen-year old son. Fear and uncertainty lurked around every corner. Money was tight. What would I do about Christmas?

An acquaintance told me about his Christmas tradition with a good friend – they celebrated the Twelve Days of Christmas by sharing small gifts each of the 12 days up to the Epiphany.  We had always opened a gift on Christmas Eve – new pajamas so we’d all look good in the Christmas pictures – and I wondered if the kids received a small gift each of the 12 days leading up to Christmas, maybe Christmas morning with just a few gifts to open wouldn’t seem so bad.

Our Twelve Days of Christmas tradition was born. Kimberly loved bubble gum, so one of her gifts was a full sleeve of Rain-Blo bubble gum. She also loved black olives; another gift was a can of black olives all to herself.  Andy liked Keebler Sweet Spot cookies; one night his gift was a full package of them. Baseball cards were a hit that year too.  We made a production each evening of opening the gifts and celebrating together. They both opened their new pajamas Christmas Eve, and Christmas morning wasn’t nearly as bleak as I had imagined it might be. I think my total Christmas budget that year was less than $100. 

That was more than two decades ago. We’ve continued the tradition, extending it to my mom until her death eleven years ago. The year Kimberly was in tech school with the Air Force, she got 12 days of cleaning supplies so she would always be ready for inspection. Andy got all kinds of camping gear one year. My mom loved angels and pansies; she was so easy to buy for. I must admit though that some seasons the budget swelled way beyond that first year.

I have discovered over these two decades that giving, even in small ways, opens the door to the joy of receiving.  Receiving opens the heart to love.  Love connects us to those around us.  I don't remember every gift given or received, but I remember those first Twelve Days of Christmas and the love they represented.  

Today is the first day of our Twelve Day tradition, and the gifts are ready.  As I gathered and wrapped the various items bought over the past year, I thought about what I would like for a Christmas gift.  And especially what I would like to give to others that goes beyond material possessions.

As I think about you, the ProHealth reader, my wish for you this season is…

The ability to have an honest conversation with loved ones and caregivers – informal and formal, amateur and professional –
so that your values about a life of quality are clearly understood.

So often when we live with a life-limiting illness like fibromyalgia, we settle for less.  Less understanding.  Less compassion.  Less listening.  Less enjoyment in life.  We are often sick and tired of being sick and tired, and we imagine that those around us feel the same way.  It’s difficult for us to make – and stick to – plans with friends and family.  Sometimes we have a scheduled doctor’s appointment and just cannot make it.  We know that it can be difficult to live with us, to care for us, and sometimes (we think) even to love us. 

I don’t want you to settle for less.  I want to encourage you to speak up and speak out.  You are not difficult – your disease is difficult.  Your are lovable and loved.  Spend time with your loved ones and your healthcare providers talking about what truly matters to you.  What brings joy to your life?  What pulls your joy away from you?  How do you want to spend your good times, those times when your energy level is up and your pain level is down?  

As you ponder these ideas, I hope you uncover new insights into your own psyche.  Question yourself.  Challenge yourself.  To quote the Bard of Avon, “This above all:  to thine own self be true.”  Don’t settle for less. 

Give yourself a gift each of these Twelve Days of Christmas.

Cindy Leyland is ProHealth's Fibromyalgia Editor.  Cindy also serves as the Director of Program Operations at the Center for Practical Bioethics and the PAINS Project Director. She lives in Kansas City with her husband, enjoys hiking, reading, and being Gramma Cindy.

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