A Little Holiday Advice

It’s that time of year! It’s time for our mailboxes, inboxes and text messages to be flooded with sale brochures, catalogs and self-help advice. Everyone I know is getting messages that tell us how to “survive” the holidays, how to manage family relationships (including dinner with “that Uncle who is on the opposite side of the political spectrum from you”), how to “take time for yourself”, and on and on and on. Well, here’s one more piece of advice. But I hope this advice is different.

holiday photo with coffee and candy canes

My advice for getting through the holidays physically, emotionally and psychologically intact is: Ignore all the advice! Now, that little insight may cause you to stop reading and click away right now, but if you stick with me, I hope I can share a small helpful hint.

When I first sustained my spinal cord injury, I was scared, depressed and full of dread. I lay in a hospital bed, paralyzed from the chest down, unable to see my future. Dozens of times a day, my husband and I would say to each other “I don’t know.” That seemed to apply to every aspect of our lives: We didn’t know how long I would be in the hospital. We didn’t know how, or if, I would ever walk again, or even regain sensation. We didn’t know where to find help.

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So of course, I turned out the doctors and nurses around me, and asked “What is the prognosis? What lies ahead?” Their answer always started the same: “Every case is different.” That made me frustrated, hurt, and angry. Why wouldn’t they tell me? Or why couldn’t they tell me? I wanted to shout every obscenity I ever knew. I wanted to reach out and slap them (if I only could). But over time, I have come to realize that they were telling me the truth. Every spinal cord injury is different. No two patients respond the same way, recover the same way, or deal with our paralysis the same way.

And that brings me back to my advice: don’t let anyone tell you the “right” way to deal with the holidays. We all have differing religious or spiritual beliefs. Each of our families is unique. Each of us faces different challenges traveling. While we share many common elements, in the end we have to find what is “right” for us. One of the things I have learned over many years is to try to ignore the “shoulds”. “You should do this.” “You should react this way.” “You should do this or that. It will make you feel happy.”

The truth is that for some people the right answer is to ignore the holidays as much as possible, and try to just get through the persistent encouragement coming from advertising and social media to find joy in the season. For some, surrounding ourselves with friends and families brings us gratitude. For others, a little time off from work is an opportunity to relax and recharge for a few days. Each of these approaches has its merits, and all are “right” for some people, but not for others. If your friends are doing something you don’t want to do, don’t do it. If something makes you happy, and nourishes your soul, then by all means do it. But don’t get caught in the pressure cooker of enforced holiday joy and gladness. Make your own joy.

So there you have it: my advice is to shut out the loud voices of advice. Those of us with spinal cord injuries have enough challenges all year long. We don’t need to pile on other stresses just because other people advise us that some activity or some attitude is the “right” one for the season. Do what is right for you. Make your own happiness.

About the Author - Howard Menaker

Howard Menaker is a retired communications and public affairs executive, with over 30 years of experience in international corporations and trade associations. Previously, he worked as an attorney, specializing in civil litigation. He now devotes much of his time serving on non-profit boards of directors, including a prominent theater company and a historic house museum in the Washington, DC area. He and his husband split their time between Washington and Rehoboth Beach, DE.

Howard Menaker

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $10,000,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.