The Best Little Gift Guide

I used to pride myself on being able to find little things – and big things – that seemed like a perfect fit as gifts. I would look or listen for clues. Okay, maybe sometimes I wouldn’t get it quite right, but at least I would try. My shopping would take place over the course of the entire year and during festivals and trips, because you never know when you will stumble on something unique that screams “_____!” (Use your imagination.)

But times are different. It seems like the majority of the people I know are much more careful about how and where they spend their money because of various constraints or social awareness. I have to be careful too; I no longer have an income, so no extra money to spend during the holidays. This list that I’m going to lay out is for someone – like me – who has little or no income, who might not be able to buy much of anything anymore.

1. Time. This is a big one, and it’s free! I simply can’t get out and socialize like I used to, because my body has put a hard stop on that. Sometimes I don’t want to be by myself. I love it when people visit or call, but I don’t always initiate stuff like that because I don’t want to be a burden. There’s nothing worse than a whiny-ass friend constantly saying “Pay attention to me,” right?

2. Gift cards. Conventional manners/wisdom say that giving gift cards is tacky because then people will know how much you spent on them, yadda yadda yadda. Bullshit. I love gift cards. I especially love them when my entire monthly budget has gone to rent/utility/medications and I have nothing left over to buy groceries, and I have a lovely gift card to the rescue.

3. Wheels. Man, I miss driving. I miss those Saturday mornings when I would get up at 8 am and run around until 11 am and go to about 8 different places and get all of my shit done. Now I ride the short bus and I can only go one place, and it takes me 2-3 hours. And it’s a drag. And I never know who’s going to be with me and if it’s going to be a bat out of hell drive. I would love it if I could have a whole morning of driving around for errands, like dropping off my recycled clothing/rags, recycled toner cartridges, disposing of hazardous waste, petting animals at the humane society, recycling old medications, getting 5 favorites from Trader Joe’s and 6 favorites from Hy-Vee and 4 organics from Aldi. As a side note, disabled people like to recycle too. It’s just that we can’t easily get to these locations and facilities. Plus, me getting out to do these things instead of doing them for me means I get to get out. (As a side note, I have discovered that more than a few people have assumed that the short bus is free. It’s not. It’s actually more expensive than the regular bus. Each round trip for me is nearly $10. It’s really, really expensive when you have no money coming in at all.)

4. Independence. My oldest sister made up a list of modified items that would have made her life easier, like rounded chopping knives that were easier to grip. We were puzzled at the time; it didn’t seem like fun, especially for Christmas. She had debilitating MS and was bedridden because she had lost the use of her legs and some of the finer motor skills of her fingers and hands. Looking back, and living what I am now, I understand that ignoring her list and insisting that we only get her “fun” stuff was a huge mistake. It is not only fun but a huge relief to get everything you ask for and need. So if someone asks for a modified chopping knife, get them the chopping knife.

5. Entertainment. I’m a movie/TV snob. I don’t like most sitcoms because there’s a lot of yelling involved. I also don’t watch cartoons. I know what I like, and I’m a binge watcher! I’m a loyal customer of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Plus. Yes, all three. They have some overlap, but there are some things that don’t appear on all three, and Hulu allows me to watch network shows that aired the night before. If you love me or someone like me who is in bed a lot, give the gift of streaming entertainment. I guarantee you it will be used. (Side note: I’ve tried reading. I used to be a voracious reader. Because of brain damage and eye problems, I don’t read much right now. Zero memory and attention span. Squirrel!!)
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6. Amazon. This deserves its own category. I have used Amazon for vitamins, durable medical equipment (that was not covered by my insurance), ingredients to make my own deodorant/antiperspirant, and tons of OTC medication like Benadryl and Pepcid, which I take megadoses of. Of course, I use Amazon Prime too, so I get the movies, and it comes automatically with the music service too. Another great thing is that if you purchase through Smile.Amazon.com and designate a charity to receive 0.5% of your total spent, you can automatically make donations. I don’t have money to donate to any causes, so it still makes me feel as if I’m making a contribution, even if I can’t hand anyone cash. So you will never go wrong with an Amazon gift card.

7. Skin. Disabled people like luxury stuff too. Not everyone wants to smell like an Avon or Dove whorehouse or litter box. A little company called Villainess was just purchased by a new owner and sold out within a few days of its new stock because everyone was so excited to dive back into its soaps, lotions and scrubs. I’m telling you, their stuff is sooooooooo yummy. I just got 3 of their jars of lotions. I’m going to wait to open the jars until I feel really poor because it should be used within 2 months of opening (less preservatives = better for your body) and I want to stretch them out. So keep an eye on them, and put in an order and make someone feel extra special.

Another great place with amazing combinations is Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. I’ve had some bottles for 2-3 years because I have enough to rotate them around and not smell the same every day. You can buy samples (“Imps Ears“) instead of full bottles, but if you are sure you are going to like all of the flavors that they list, go ahead and buy a whole bottle. I have very rarely been disappointed. Buying scents for other people is a crap shoot, so be very cautious! I’m deathly allergic to lavender and patchouli. Anybody can be allergic to anything. If you aren’t sure, there are always gift certificates.

8. Pain control. I reviewed two different lotions in my blog, and I recommend them both: Mo’s Dream Cream and Invigorate. You can’t go wrong with either of them.

The Oska Pulse is a device that is a financial investment, to be sure, but it has a 30-day money back guarantee, and I use mine every day – because there isn’t a part on my body, somewhere, that isn’t hurting. Sometimes I end up using it six or seven times on that part. I’m just grateful to have it because I always end up feeling better. (It is important to note that it shouldn’t be used around any medical devices that are surgically implanted that could be affected by magnets, like shunts, stimulators or pacemakers. My shunt is strictly all silicone because I’m allergic to nickel.)

9. Massage. I go to a massage therapist once a month. There have been a couple of times where I have second-guessed myself and the wisdom of going, especially when I’ve had to shell out extra for medications and money is getting low, but when I’m on the table and getting worked on, I know I need it. First, it’s hard on my body to be in bed so much. Second, I rarely ever have any physical contact with anyone else. The massage is it.

10. Activism. I can’t do all of the work. Literally, I can’t do all of the work. The best gift you can give people that you don’t even know personally is to tell your elected officials that disabled people need housing, healthcare, transportation and good nutrition. I’m still waiting for housing that I was promised 8 months ago; it would mean that I would have things like grab bars, instead of constantly falling in the shower, and affordable rent, instead of paying full price on zero income (still no disability income after nearly 3 years of filing). Do not buy into this idea that everyone who is disabled should be punished.

Honorable Mention:
Check out The Unchargeables for a variety of chronic/invisible/rare diseases for gear – you can even look for items according to the disease! I checked my alphabetized list and they have a few of mine in there. Pretty impressive! And for each disease, there’s a bunch of items, so you’re not limited to just a t-shirt or bracelet.

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My Aching Back/Arm/Knee/Foot/You Name It

What are the two most common symptoms of chronic illnesses that we hear over and over, without fail? Fatigue and pain. This post is all about pain. That is why I was excited to receive this product to review, because in all of my adult years (24+ now), pain has been my constant companion. Just to be clear, I have been given this product through the Chronic Illness Bloggers Network. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company Mo-Haganys’ Dream Cream Products.

One friend, Nikki over at As I Live & Breathe (https://ilivebreathe.com/about-me/), got her products before I did, and excitedly told me, “Chels, just wait! Just wait! I did not have to take my painkillers tonight!” Now that is a huge endorsement, because like me, Nikki has some major stuff going down in her body that is the stuff of horror films (I will let her tell it).

What is this stuff anyway? Well, it’s some crazy concoction that seems so simple that it should be obvious and available everywhere and after you read this, you should be wanting to bathe in it. Unfortunately, your cynical side might still win out and you will proceed with caution. You will wait a few more weeks to buy a bottle with a homemade label because, hey, what does this woman know that big pharmaceutical companies don’t? But if you’re smart, you’ll give this serious consideration, because I’ve been a doubter myself many times too, and I treat Consumer Reports as a shopper’s bible, and when you find gems, you buy them up like they’re going out of style.

The woman who owns this company, Keri, formulated these products after contracting bacterial meningitis and developing debilitating pain and being placed on, in her words, “ridiculous” pain meds with horrible side effects (something that I myself know well). She began researching apothecary and Chinese herbology, and discovered a way to ferment cayenne pepper to make a capsaicin paste that does not “burn” the skin. She then worked on using different ingredients for blending and aromatherapy to compliment the paste’s action to “deaden” or “muffle” the nerve action. It depends on the person and the severity, but the pain relief can last 6-12 hours.

I was looking forward to this particular product challenge because my body is really giving me hell right now. Besides the ever-present abdominal pain from the rejection of the shunt materials, I am pretty sure the tendons at my left shoulder are frayed. I’ve been in physical therapy for three months and though my strength has improved, the pain has actually become worse; my doctor has ordered six more weeks of PT and an MRI at the end, but is reluctant to perform surgery because of my proclivity to immediately build up copious scar tissue and possibly undo everything the surgeon would do for benefit. This month was also the Hydrocephalus Association conference and so I was in incredible pain from sitting, walking and standing for four days, my feet and hips taking the brunt of the beating.
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Immediately after receiving this package, I tore it open and slathered the lotion, Mo’s Dream Cream, on my shoulder. I could not wait. The lotion has a thin consistency and I would caution everyone to use common sense like they would around light-colored fabrics and tomato food products: make sure it is well-absorbed before contact is made, or there might be color transfer that is irreversible. Also, another caution mentioned more than a few times: do not apply to broken skin. Here’s a small sample so you can see for yourself:2016-06-28 16.09.32.jpg
These products have a very specific scent, though I struggle a bit to describe it. You will recognize the spiciness of the capsaicin, because it’s the stuff that flavors our Mexican/Thai/Vietnamese/Korean food and haunts us later. But the essential oils include orange, tangerine, clove and wintergreen, so you will have hints of hot chocolate and sledding parties wrapped up in your burrito dreams.

The left shoulder pain is preventing me from sleeping comfortably. I also cannot get dressed easily, pick up items at waist level, overhead or floor level, or reach over to rub my boyfriend’s shoulder in a display of affection. Even doing simple things like buckling my seat belt as a passenger are turning into ordeals, and I have cracked three teeth on my left side because of the pain. So for me, because there’s structural damage, it’s not an easy fix; the pain can spike up to a good old fashioned 10. However, the lotion can bring it down to about a 5 in a matter of minutes, and keep it there for about 4-5 hours.

My abdominal pain is a little trickier. I’m allergic to the parts of the shunt that are housed in my abdomen and the pain is at exactly the place between the front of my abdomen and the middle of my back, so it’s in the middle of my middle. Again, the pain can spike up to a 10, and applying the lotion can get it to calm down to about a 7, but it’s just in a tough spot. Until I can figure out how to get a dose to middle earth, I am not convinced it’s going to get better than that.

After the first day of the conference, the pinched nerves in my hips were severely limiting my gait. My feet felt as if I had walked over hot coals. I could barely move, and I nearly cried at the thought of having to get up and do it all over again for three more days in a row, early to boot. I decided to wash my feet and then try to the stick form of the pain relief:
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Even though the capsaicin paste is the same, the scent and emollients are slightly different. 2016-06-28 16.53.09 The next morning, when I had to go back for day two of the conference, I felt as if day one had been erased by the pain stick. That is HUGE.

Overall, I felt like the lotion did a quick job of penetrating to the pain and providing the relief, but I certainly appreciated the convenience of the “No Mo Pain Stick” too – so much easier to carry that in a purse than the bottle of lotion, which now has a permanent spot on my nightstand.

Now I’m mentally debating making an appointment to see my pain doctor just to push these goodies on him. He’s a younger guy and I know he has chronic back pain. I want him to try it. I mean, what could he lose? He could just put some on a spot on his back and then slap a pad over the top of it if he’s trying to maintain a scent-free office because of sensitivities…

The skeptic in me also wanted to make sure I wasn’t under undue influence of the placebo effect, so I sent this with my sister for a few days, because she has RA. She was afraid that her boys would be put off by the scent but her co-worker dug into it, and she felt as if it helped her with pain (though I didn’t get to discuss it at length before I grabbed it back because my shoulder was singing like the hounds of Hell).

Here is a snapshot of the information that Keri sent with her products that you may find useful:

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Since I can’t transport a bottle directly through my screen to you, you still have to go and get a bottle the old-fashioned way through the internet, but I’m thinking you won’t be disappointed. And hey – Keri is even offering everyone a discount who has enjoyed my review by using the code CHELSEA4U (which I was not expecting, but thought extra helpful if you are on a budget): https://squareup.com/store/modreamcream.