It’s that time of year again. You know, the time of year that most (if not all) chronic illness sufferers dread- holiday time. Now, I am not being intentionally difficult. I am a huge proponent of family and faith and all the other wonderful things we will celebrate within the next month. However, celebrations are tough on diva- bodies like mine. Multiple gatherings, lots of food, crowded rooms, and endless expectations can all do a lot of wear and tear on bodies that live in a delicate balance of sick vs. well days. In less than a week, I am trying to attend THREE Thanksgiving meals- one of which is at my house (Hello? Kroger deli? Um, yeah.). Then, I’m traveling to Nashville and attending the University of Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt football game with Joe. Will everything go according to plan? Probably not. Will I spend the next week trying to recover? More than likely. The goal is to enjoy this time in spite of all the stressors it can bring.
- Take the easy way out. I know. You have always been told that you shouldn’t take the easy way out. I even agree- sometimes. If we are talking about things that really matter- relationships, professions, commitments- then I totally agree that you should give your absolute best. However, when it comes to things that don’t really matter . . . it’s okay. Take a break. Let it go! Your family expects your famous cole slaw (or whatever your great culinary gift is) for every get together, and you’re just not up to it? Buy it! Go to the deli of your local grocery store and buy a big honkin’ container of grocery store cole slaw! It’s fine. I promise. If anyone in your family mentions that your cole slaw isn’t quite up to their standard this year, by all means, let them know they’re welcome to make it next year. I promise; you are worth more than a bowl of cole slaw.
- Don’t take everything personally. I’m sure this won’t come as a great shock to you, but I can be a little self-centered. You see, I tend to think that everyone’s actions/ comments/ facial expressions are aimed directly at me. Joe can attest to this. Sometimes he sighs (because his day was long, because the dog is barking, because he has an overabundance of carbon dioxide in his lungs . . .), and I automatically interpret that action as frustration toward me. (Yes, I know. I’m weird.) So, take that type of self-centeredness and overthinking and put it into a season packed with family and friend interactions, and I am essentially obsessing over every conversation pause, eye roll, and statement. Here’s the thing- you will more than likely be around family, friends, coworkers, etc that do not understand your chronic illness. They will very likely make well-meaning but ultimately insensitive remarks. It’s okay. They aren’t challenging you. They don’t understand what you’re dealing with every day. You can use the moment as a time to educate them, or just let it go. There is more to you than your illness.
- Just say no. Yes, this is the anti-drug slogan for all of us kids of the 80-90s, but perhaps we should say no to more than drugs. It’s okay to not go to all the Christmas open houses you’re friends are having. You can only go to so many ugly Christmas sweater parties or white elephant gift exchanges before you start dry heaving at the thought. It’s okay. Tell your friend (who was kind enough to invite you- I’m not encouraging being ungrateful!) that you appreciate the offer, but you have to limit your activities to protect your health. Maybe even send a thank you note to the person who invited you? Just don’t feel like you absolutely have to do everything for everyone. Yes, someone might get their feelings hurt, but all the people who really care about you will get over it.
- Don’t feel guilty. What ties us together as a crazy, chronic family is our chronic illness, and chronic illnesses are just rude. Trust me. At some point during this holiday season, chronic illness will more than likely ruin your plans. In my first Christmas after my chronic illness symptoms’ onset, I was so incredibly sick. I remember resting for days to be able to go to my nephew’s Christmas play at church. (He was the cutest little Christmas puppy ever to grace a stable in Bethlehem!) The day of his play I couldn’t stand up without blacking out. I couldn’t even walk down the stairs- let alone go to his play. I was devastated and convinced that I was breaking his little puppy heart. Do you know what happened? My family made videos and pictures; I called my nephew afterward to tell him how proud I was of him, and it was fine. What I learned (and I keep learning as I have to change my plans more) is that if you can’t do something, it’s not the end of the world. Show that you care as much as you are able, and forgive yourself for the rest.
For my American readers, tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I hope it is a wonderful, symptom-free day. For all my readers, please know that I am so appreciative that you give up your time and precious energy to read my blog. I am so very thankful for all of you; please know that you have made a very tired, professionally sick person feel involved in the world again- and it’s a great feeling. May your Thanksgiving, Christmas, and all winter holidays be blessed with peace, love, and health.