For most people, the holidays bring the type of hustle and bustle that get the adrenaline pumping and excitement going for the joy of the season. For those suffering with a severe chronic illness, however, surviving the holidays can be a time of tremendous anxiety and sadness.
I have experienced this firsthand for the last 6 years. I had high hopes of creating holiday traditions and bringing joy and happiness into my home by decorating and baking and all of the things that make the holidays special.
However, after spending the last 6 years mostly bed bound, I’ve had to work through the grief and sadness of those dreams not coming true and learn to cope with the reality with which I’m currently living.
I thought that I would share with you a few of the strategies for surviving the holidays that I’ve incorporated into my own life that make the holidays a little easier to bear when you are living with a chronic illness.
Strategies for Surviving the Holidays
Let Go of All Expectations
This is a tough one, because we all have certain expectations that are imposed by society or advertising or by our own inner desires to make the holidays a time of joy and peace. We think that we should feel happy and joyful during this time and feel like something’s wrong when we don’t.
Realize that the holidays magnify all emotions, good and bad. Many times, our emotional state during the holidays stems from what was encoded into us during childhood.
It’s important to be honest about our feelings and not try to pretend that we are happy when we’re not. I’m not saying it’s ok to wallow in self-pity. We all know that is a fast train to misery. I’m saying acknowledge the loss and sadness, feel it fully, then let it go with gratitude for the things that you do have.
We actually take many things for granted. Do you have full use of your arms and legs? Can you breathe without assistance? Did you have a full meal today? Those are all things that we can be thankful for and start to shift our emotional state. There are many in this world who cannot answer yes to all of these questions.
A recent example of letting go of my expectations involved having no furniture. I had to move a few months ago, because my home was infested with mold, and I was afraid that I would cross-contaminate my new place if I moved my furniture. You can read about my experience here.
After much research, I had decided that there were a few pieces of furniture that I could keep (including two beds that were on the 2nd floor where there wasn’t mold) and had planned to move them over before my son got home from college.
Guess what? I had a Herx reaction and was down for the count for a week and realized that moving the furniture just wasn’t going to happen. And, you know what? My son didn’t even care. We made due with air mattresses as usual, and he was fine.
One of the most stressful situations for me during the holidays is meeting new people who may not know about my health issues much less understand what it’s like to have a chronic illness. We’ve all probably dreaded getting the question, “So, what do you do?”.
We have to understand that many times people are truly interested in getting to know us better, so we shouldn’t hold it against them for asking this question. Even if they are asking it in judgement, that’s their issue, not ours.
A good friend of mine, Lauren Lovejoy from Lyme Warrior, shared with me her response to this question, and I believe it works well. She says, “I have a chronic illness that takes up most of my time, but I also raise money for research and advocate for safer skincare.” I really love this, because it’s straightforward and you’re not apologizing for not working full-time.
Try sending an email in advance of a family gathering to let everyone know your current status and what to expect. For example, you may say something like…
“I’m really excited about seeing everyone on Saturday! I just wanted to give you a quick update on how I’m doing and what to expect. I’m functioning at about 20% energy level, but it fluctuates and I’m struggling with migraine headaches. I may have to excuse myself to go lay down during our gathering, but it has nothing to do with not wanting to spend time with you.”
If you feel that you must do holiday things during this time of year, try to remember your limits. I will admit that I am SO BAD at this. I usually remember my limits only after I have overextended by a sizable margin.
There may have been more than one occasion where I have started a project on a day when I had a little more energy only to have to abandon it, because I had overextended myself.
Schedule In Down Time
If you know that your usual limit is about 2 hours, then make sure that you rest after about an hour and a half of activity. It’s always best to leave some energy in reserve.
Many times, being in a crowd or meeting new people on it’s own will require more of my energy reserves. Keep visits short. Again, I am SO bad at this. I socialize so little that when I do enjoy talking with someone, I find it hard to break away.
You may say something like this…
“I am enjoying this so much, but I can tell my energy is getting low, and I need to go rest and recharge. Can we continue this later?”
You don’t have to buy a gift for the mail carrier, your doctors, health practitioners, hair stylist, dog groomer, etc. It would be nice to be able to afford all of those gifts, but if you’ve been living with a chronic illness; then, chances are, most of your finances have gone to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Pick a few special people in your life and give them something small and meaningful. This is another one that I struggle with, because I find so much joy in giving gifts. I have to reign it in and focus on the few.
Start as far in advance as you can. On a day when you feel up to it, make as many things as you can and put them in the freezer to pull out at the holiday gathering.
For example, I made two pumpkin rolls at Thanksgiving. One to use then, and one went in the freezer for Christmas.
Delegate as much as you can and require EVERYONE to pitch in. Assign a dish to all of the guests. If they can’t cook, then assign another task like cleaning up, decorating the table, picking the music, flowers, etc.
As much as I hate to say it, there are some people who will not understand your illness and may even antagonize you. AVOID these people as much as possible.
There are others who are just clueless and have negative energy that drains you. Some of us are sensitive and take on the energy of others.
I heard a really good technique for protecting your energy when someone is dumping their junk on you. Visualize a bucket between you and that person. Visualize the words coming out as something nasty being dumped in the bucket.
Try to break away from them as soon as possible. When you do, mentally dump the bucket in the toilet and flush. Hopefully, this will help you to keep it from getting all over you and draining you of your precious energy.
Coping With Loneliness
Not all of us will be spending time with other people during this time of year, and it can seem like everyone else is with friends and family.
I found myself in this predicament last year on Christmas Eve while it seemed everyone else was at a candle light service or holiday party or family gathering.
I wanted to attend a Christmas Eve service so bad but was unable to leave the house. I ended up doing my own candle lighting ceremony at home by myself. I was still very sad that I wasn’t with other people, but it allowed me to focus on what was truly important.
I found out later that another good friend was alone on Christmas Eve, and if I had just reached out, then she would’ve come over to participate with me. If you find yourself in this predicament. See if you can find someone else who is alone.
Maybe an elderly person, someone who is recently widowed, someone who is single, etc. Trust me, there are many who spend the holidays alone. If you can’t be with them physically, then plan something online.
Surviving the holidays can be hard whether you have a chronic illness or not. Remember, that the only one who can make our holidays a success is us.
Hopefully, these strategies will help you maintain your energy and have a happy and healthy holiday. Here’s some more ideas to help make your holiday easier to manage. 15 Tips For Surviving the Holidays With Chronic Illness.
So, how do you make your holidays a success? What did I leave off the list? Let me know what you thought of this post on social media. Be sure to tag me at #deephealingcafe.
Also, we have a lively Facebook Community where we talk about the latest health information, recipes, safe skincare options, and more. We’d love to have you! In order to protect your privacy it’s a closed group. Just request to join here, and I’ll approve you asap!
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