MS Life: The Best Laid Plans of Thanksgiving

This year’s Thanksgiving brings with it many hopes and dreams. For me, I look forward to making up for lost time. Of course, we missed out in 2020 because of well, the global pandemic, but even before that, in 2019, we were all packed up to move while also helping our daughter relocate.

MS can disrupt the best laid plans

I, for one, can’t wait to enjoy a house full of loved ones again, celebrate our new home, and reclaim a sense of normalcy. That said, I won’t gloss over how MS can disrupt best-laid plans.

Stress, diet, sleep disruptions, emotional dips, inclement weather, symptoms - the holiday adventure also promises these "amenities." How do we get through a holiday like Thanksgiving without inspiring an MS flare?

Take comfort in the familiar

I’ve learned you can have a satisfying holiday even if you’re not feeling 100 percent. One year, the fire in the fireplace overheated me, leading to the MS hug. Another time, I cooked Thanksgiving for 10 to 12 people while being unable to speak because of wordfinding problems.

I’ve taken naps between cooking tasks and socializing due to MS fatigue. My default? Expect MS symptoms to surface at the holidays. Sometimes they do, sometimes they stay away. I doubt I’m alone in feeling overwhelmed by the pandemic tilt-a-whirl that’s thrown all our lives into chaos. The comfort of familiar smiles, hugs, board games, and movies on the couch, plus a tasty feast. What more could we want?

It seems especially important to stick to a classic Thanksgiving menu this year. No new recipes, no unfamiliar side dishes. Plus, I have help! My husband and I split the cooking.

Other ways to simplify Thanksgiving

Asking for and accepting help will make your day and meal go more smoothly. Allow others to bring food, set the tables, make drinks, arrange games, queue up movies, light candles, and help with dishes. As a rule, holidays at my house require that you leave drama (and politics) at the door. It’s comfort first, all around. Here are a few other ways to simplify your turkey day.

Avoid the last minute.

Use lists to track holiday tasks, such as shopping lists and menus. Not only will these keep you focused, but they’ll also be easy to hand off to someone else should you suddenly need to deal with an MS situation.

Many hands make light work.

We may prepare a lot of the main meal, but everyone pitches in with food or chores or other kinds of help. Teamwork really does make the dream work!

Work ahead.

I typically shop two weeks before Thanksgiving on a Wednesday morning to avoid lines, shortages, and stress. I make ahead as many things as I can on the weekend before. Housecleaning happens then, too. The night before, we set the table and arrange other “stations” for appetizers, games, and beverages. That makes Thanksgiving Day far more relaxing for me.

Cheat!

Most years I aspire to—and mostly achieve—a scratch-cooked Thanksgiving dinner. (I am a kitchen garden cook!) But some years, I’ve used canned yams, canned cranberries, store-bought rolls. When we were in the middle of moving, we used paper plates. Guess what? Nobody cares.

Practice self-care.

I keep prescriptions filled, take vitamin D to ward off fatigue and depression, and stock up on ibuprofen before the holidays. I also prioritize 8 hours of sleep and aim to stay hydrated. A daily walk helps to keep my head clear.

Expect disruption.

We’re in flu season as well as an active pandemic. Folks might fall ill at the last minute or need to cancel following a contact tracer phone call. Storms and power outages and failing utilities can and will happen. You can also expect flight cancellations, traffic jams, even reduced ferry runs (our system just announced 50 percent service cuts across the entire fleet!) due to pandemic-related crew shortages.

Now about those plans...

No matter what happens, having a plan B is worthwhile. You just never know. But if that’s impossible, just do your best. Thanksgiving and all holidays really will always be riddled with challenges. Accepting that these are imperfect times frees us to feel gratitude and joy for any together time we’re able to cobble together. That’s all that matters anyway.

Let's face it: people with MS come to learn that, if and when plans don't fall into place, we’ll still manage the detours. This is what we do, every day, holidays or not. Almost two years into the pandemic, we should be experts by now at expecting the unexpected! It’s the old “prepare for the worst but hope for the best” scenario.

That means that, whatever my holiday looks like in my planning brain, it may not be the same as the holiday that actually happens. But guess what? The holiday that actually happens may end up being better than I could’ve ever imagined.

Wishing you a peaceful, safe Thanksgiving!

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