Practical Gift Guide For Spoonies
A PRACTICAL GIFT GUIDE FOR SPOONIES AND THE CHRONICALLY ILL PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE
With the holiday season upon us and people generally ramping up their gift shopping activities, I wanted to share some gift ideas if you're buying for a spoonie (ie. someone with a chronic disease who often has very little energy - you can research "the spoon theory" for more information). These are also ideas you can use at any time of the year when thinking about helping out someone you know who may have a chronic illness.
I realize that the needs and wants of every spoonie is different and that the financial situation of every person is different so I would encourage you to use these ideas as a jumping off point to spark your creativity and tailor them to your unique situation!
These are simply ideas that I personally would find meaningful and helpful, coming from the perspective that sometimes gifts can be a good opportunity to get things that could improve a chronically ill person's quality of life. Often our illnesses debilitate us to the point of being unable to earn an income so even though we need a lot of tools and systems in place to support our function, many of us can't afford to fund everything we need.
I understand that these might not seem like the "sexiest" or most "traditional" types of gifts and you might even feel awkward gifting one of these. But I assure you, if your family member or friend is anything like me or in a situation like me, they will be so grateful. Especially because asking for help is HARD. We don't do it nearly as much or as often as our health needs us to but we'd rather suffer the consequences than ask for help and feel like a burden to you. You giving any one of these as a gift takes that out of the equation and I guarantee that you'll be having a significant and meaningful impact on someone's life.
So let's get into it:
Offers to help with specific chores or errands that you're willing to do such as vacuuming their house, taking their grocery list and doing a grocery run for them, taking a couple of your spoonie's favourite recipes and preparing the meals for them, walking their dog, etc. This would be immensely helpful because we're often too sick to do these things for ourselves and when we do push ourselves to do them, it can make us crash and lose even more functional capacity for days or weeks at a time. If you're going to go this route, then I'd recommend scheduling some dates and times upfront so that it doesn't end up being an empty offer that never happens!
Tied to the above, gift cards for housecleaning services would be incredibly helpful. We often do not have the energy to keep up with household chores and cleaning, and sometimes our symptoms make it so that we're too physically debilitated to engage in these tasks. When the mess builds up, it can feel overwhelming and demoralizing. Being in a clean space can really uplift a person's state of wellbeing.
Buying an assistive device or tool that helps them complete tasks – this could actually change their life in concrete ways (energy conservation, pain mitigation, vertigo prevention, reducing nausea and muscle spasm to name a few) and there's such a wide range to choose from according to your budget. Some examples: a shower bench, non-slip mats for opening jars and pill bottles, extended "reachers" that can help a person reach for a bottle or jar on a higher shelf (side tip: short of having one of these, one thing I do at home is use my extra long set of tongs to get things on higher shelves so I don't incur pain or muscle spasms from reaching), electronic jar openers, utensil grips to go over utensil handles, adapters for knife handles or a special ergonomic knife, a cushioned and adjustable stool to use in the kitchen (eg. so they can sit at the counter to cut vegetables, cook food, wash dishes), a four-wheeled walker, wheelchairs (see note below), seat cushions, portable back rests for chairs that they can bring with them to doctor offices or restaurants, a cane for stability, pillbox organizers, a book holder (it wouldn't be a first thought to most but some chronic illnesses can make holding books to read very challenging and painful).
A note on wheelchairs: there are so many variables and person-specific needs that will dictate the kind of wheelchair that is needed. This would be more of a collaborative gift where you have the input of the intended user helping you make the purchase. Also, while transport wheelchairs are great, especially for those who absolutely do not have the energy to maneuver themselves, I personally would recommend a wheelchair that can be both pushed by someone else and also maneuvered by the user. Even though there were periods when I didn't have the energy or strength to self-maneuver, I felt so helpless at times when I was being pushed by others. For instance, if in a store, maybe the person pushing you steps away momentarily to look at something for themselves and then you need to get out of the way of another customer. Trying to pull/push yourself out of the way with one foot on the ground is not fun. It can take a toll on you physically, mentally, and emotionally.
For the higher price-tag items like walkers and wheelchairs, consider making it a joint gift from a bunch of people in order to share the cost. These assistive devices can transform someone's life in significant ways. Another option is to pay for the rental of an assistive device. Maybe your spoonie isn't in a health position to go out very much but perhaps on a rare occasion, they have a special event to attend or want to make a special shopping trip. There are companies such as Wheelchair Works in Richmond, BC that rent assistive devices for short term use!
Another thing that isn't a typical assistive device but that I've found to help me with energy conservation is a utility cart such as the IKEA's Raskog Utility Cart. To save myself from walking back and forth across the house unnecessarily (even across a short distance, it can be quite fatiguing for someone like me with Central Sensitivity Syndromes, I collect everything I want to bring with me from my bedroom at the front of the house to the living area at the back in the morning and then from the back of the house to my bedroom at night. It saves me from holding things in my arms and making multiple trips. I also use this to unload the dishwasher and recommend it for other spoonies too! You can sit on a chair next to the dishwasher, unload everything on the cart, and then roll it close to the cupboards for unloading.
A subscription to a meal kit delivery service such as Goodfood (and if you can afford it, I highly recommend choosing the option for pre-prepped ingredients because chopping vegetables and other food prep is a large barrier to being able to cook for ourselves). At the time of writing this, I haven't personally tried out any of these but I did just place my first order from Goodfood to test it out and will update this after I've experienced it. I used them as an example because they're the only ones to my knowledge that also deliver to small areas like Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. I can't vouch for any of these but other options are HelloFresh, Fresh Prep, and Chefs Plate.
Similarly, you could consider gift cards to restaurant delivery services like Skip the Dishes for those days when your friend has zero spoons (energy) and cannot manage to make any food for themselves, no matter how simple the meal. Being able to order from a restaurant, have it delivered, and not worry about the cost would be a such a relief! My experience with these services is limited because it's outside my own financial constraints, but I have tried DoorDash and Skip the Dishes before. I 100% DO NOT recommend DoorDash. So far Skip the Dishes has worked (I was around when my sister used it for us) but try at your own risk really. I don't often hear the greatest things about these services.
Grocery delivery services! I don't actually know if grocery stores that provide delivery services for your food shop like Save-On Foods or Quality Foods have gift cards that can go towards paying for this service, but maybe you can find out how much it costs and gift your friend the money with a note that it's for the delivery of groceries. I can't tell you the number of times since beginning to live on my own that I wanted to order my groceries online from Quality Foods and have them delivered but then held off because of the nearly $10 delivery fee. When you're financially constrained because your illness prevents you from earning an income, spending money is a real mental battle.
Audio books and/or membership such as gift membership credits to Audible Books. Finding ways to stay entertained, especially when bedridden, can be challenging. Audio books would be a great way to help your friend pass the time. For someone dealing with illnesses like Central Sensitivity Syndromes, looking at screens can also cause a crash so this is a nice way to avoid screen-time. Holding books can prove to be too heavy and painful as well. Audio books saved me during migraines that lasted for multiple weeks and kept me bedbound in the dark!
Dry hair shampoo – trust me on this. Showering can be hard, sometimes impossible. There were times I couldn't manage showering more than one in a week and that takes a toll on your mental health, self esteem, sense of dignity. Something as inconsequential and ordinary as dry shampoo suddenly became precious and life-altering to me (of course, I don't have to worry about that now that I've eliminated all my hair-related problems by shaving it off!). The one I used to use when I had long hair was Batiste and for having dark hair, I didn't personally notice any white residue.
Tied to the above, a gift certificate to a hair salon for a wash and blow-dry. This would mean the world! Just FYI, especially if your spoonie doesn't have much of a support network, it might also potential mean offering to be the one to drive them to that appointment. If you can afford it, booking and paying for a mobile hairstylist to come to the house to cut the spoonie's hair (many are bedbound or housebound).
The gift of access to HandyDart. Giving them a monetary gift specifically so they can afford to pay for HandyDart. This is like giving them the gift of some independence and self-sufficiency. We often feel like such a burden to those in our lives when we're 100% dependent on them for rides. And sometimes we just want to be able to go somewhere without being accompanied by someone we know. This is a way to give your family member or friend some autonomy.
Essential oils can also help cope with symptoms. I carry my Saje Pocket Pharmacy with me almost everywhere I go, especially when travelling (or anytime I know that I'll be in an environment that's overwhelming for my hyper-sensitized Central Nervous System). It contains five rollers with different essential oil blends: Peppermint Halo, Immune, Eater’s Digest, Stress Release, and Pain Release. If you can only afford to buy one roller, I recommend Peppermint Halo. It's the one I get the most utility out of and use a lot of (Immune is a close second). This is well-known as a headache remedy but I use it for pain in general. I'll roll this on areas of my body that burn with pain such as my shoulders and lower back (or sometimes my entire back if I've been travelling in cars / on the ferry / on planes) and the cooling sensation provides a distraction and can relieve the experience of pain. I'll get intense pain in my cheeks, along my jaws, or in my temples during colds or migraines and roll it on there for relief (however, warn your friend that this is more for when they can lie down with their eyes closed otherwise the "fumes" from the peppermint oil can make their eyes sting and stream tears).
Gift certificate for a massage. Massages don't really cure anything but to illustrate, I've gone through periods of such intense and prolonged pain that I desperately wished I could've gone for a massage. Yes, massages can still be painful, but it breaks up the pain you're feeling by introducing new sensations.
Gift certificate for floating at a float centre like Float House (if you can afford it or team up with a few people to contribute, I recommend a package of 3 floats because doing a single float isn't a fair trial – it's just not enough to determine if it can help you). I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS ONE. Floating has been INSTRUMENTAL in managing this chronic disease and helping me heal.
A very soft beanie like the BKco beanie – it's the ONLY thing I can bear to wear on my head for more than a couple minutes. Everything else eventually causes pain (especially great if your spoonie wears glasses). I recommend getting the fleece bamboo option: these are so soft and gentle on the head, provide a good amount of warmth without being overheating, and have added benefits to someone with hypersensitivity to external stimuli such as reducing the loudness of sounds. During hospital visits when I'm lying on a stretcher and have the painfully bright fluorescent lights overhead, I've been able to pull this beanie down over my eyes to block out the light (because it's quite large). I highly recommend this one and the BEST part is that because this company sells these for cancer patients, for every beanie you purchase, one is donated to a child fighting cancer!
Compression socks can be beneficial for spoonies who have pain, inflammation, conditions such as POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), and dysautonomia.
Offering to help organize medical documentation. This is perhaps a strange one but from personal experience, when your life becomes all about illness and one medical appointment after the next, the amount of notes and paperwork and documents that we need to manage is overwhelming. And we're usually too sick to deal with it in a timely manner so it piles up and then becomes a disorganized nightmare. I personally would find it so helpful to have a friend help me sort through it, especially when contending with brain fog. You can have the focus to organize, ask the right questions that prompt recollection in your spoonie friend, and I honestly think it would be so valuable if you offered to sit down at a computer with an open Word document and have your spoonie word vomit things they remember from appointments, things they need to do, symptoms or health incidents that need to be written down. Your presence and taking over the writing while they speak would be an invaluable catalyst to getting documentation that will later be needed for future medical appointments and applications.
Providing in-person medical appointment assistance. In the same vein, if your schedule permits it, your gift could be to give them a ride to their medical appointment and be present at the appointment, taking notes for your spoonie and reminding them of any questions that wanted to ask the health care practitioner. This, of course, depends on the nature of your relationship with the person you're gifting it to and would only be done if you know that they would be comfortable with you being present during their appointments (and if you don't know, ask!).
Gift cards to health food and supplement stores. This is a GREAT one! Why? Well, first of all, our medications cost us so much money and there are many in situations like me who don't have medical coverage and therefore need to pay for medical expenses out-of-pocket. Adding supplements on top of that if a true financial burden. At some point or another, many end up needing to take supplements. For instance, when I was a patient at the Complex Chronic Diseases Program, in conjunction with the medications prescribed from their doctor I also had to purchase supplements while testing out the protocol from their naturopath. And right now, I severely iron deficient on top of all my other health issues so I need iron supplements and the one recommended by my GP just cost me $70. We're taking more medications and supplements than the average person so it gets very expensive and it really adds up. This would be a very helpful gift (and I'm very grateful to the person who commented on my Instagram post for reminding me of this!) In Port Alberni, you can get gift cards to a fantastic local health store, Healthy Habits.
There are SO many other ideas and maybe I'll continue adding to this list gradually over time (so feel free to bookmark it and check back in the future).
I hope these ideas help you help someone else out in a meaningful way! If you have any questions, don't hesitate to reach out to me.
PS. I get since we're living in the age of the influencer I should mention that none of the above links are sponsored, nor are they affiliate links. I also am not necessarily endorsing any specific product that I link because I may not have tested them out myself or fully researched them. But I'm just trying to make life a bit easier for you but showing examples of my ideas. Do the research yourself to find the best options! :)