The holiday season is finally upon us! It’s the season of food, festivity, family and fun. A time where we celebrate our loved ones and what we’re grateful for…it’s the season of giving and of recieving. But let’s be honest, it can be a very real reminder of a very difficult reality that we’re living. For people with a chronic illnesses the holiday season is the season of reminders, reminders of where we were in the years before this, reminders of traditions that have changed, reminders of the company that has come and gone, and reminders of what truly matters in each day. It’s not the easiest to navigate, so here’s some tips to get you through the holidays.
1. Before you do anything: give yourself permission
The holidays are notorious for the hustle and bustle of holiday gatherings with friends, families, co-workers, an then some, delivering gifts and checking off every item on your list of gifts to purchase. It’s exhausting and busy for those with normal energy levels, and we know it’s even more exhausting for us. So give yourself permission–allow yourself to sleep in an extra hour, to only drop by the party instead of staying all night, to not go to that party at all, to not eat that dish that your aunt keeps pressuring you to eat even though you know you’ll pay for it later. Give yourself permission to take time for yourself and your body without feeling guilty about it, or bad about yourself. Our chronic debilitating illnesses don’t take time off, they don’t disappear for the holidays and I swear that my symptoms are actually worse but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. You are allowed to gift yourself this season, and do that in any way your heart desires.
2. Plan ahead
Two words: brain fog. Let’s face it, for one reason or another we’ve all done something and later realized that you have no recollection of doing it or gotten a call for an appointment that we don’t remember booking. Get a calendar, I have a really big one that’s constantly in my face right next to my bed. I purposely made sure it was obnoxiously big so that way the second I stepped out of bed in the morning I would see what I had planned for that day, it’s saved me from missing a lot of appointments and lunch dates and is my saving grace during busy times. If you’re anything like me you’ll find a deep satisfaction in colour coding all of the events you plan. If you’re not into the obnoxiously big ordeal, get a small pocketbook calendar that you can look at every day.
3. Be in the moment
There’s so much that happens during the holidays and I frequently find myself getting overwhelmed with all I have to get through, my solution to this is to remind myself to live moment-to-moment. Focus on playing with your nieces and nephews, or on baking cookies with your grandmother. Focus on the atmosphere, how for once people are so happy to be together. This moment is all we’re guaranteed and we know all too well how our health can change at the drop of a hat so enjoy it. Don’t get caught up in what tomorrow has to bring, or what you have to get through in a weeks time. All you can do is get through right now.
4. Remember the sentiment of a handmade gift
I’m going to talk about the elephant in the room: finances. I have been unable to work for over a year now, and I know that even though my heart is giving my bank account is not. I’ve always said that if I was a millionaire, I’d be a millionaire for a day because there are too many people who deserve good things in the ugly of today that don’t get it. With that being said I know that I would prefer a handwritten letter from someone, instead of a gift anyday. We, as a society, need to work on getting the materialistic aspect not associated with the holidays. Don’t feel guilty about DIY gifting, excercise your crafting ability, write a letter, create a book of the reasons why you love said person. The gift doesn’t need to be worth hundreds of dollars to be memorable, so don’t stress your bank account out by trying to make everyone else happy. The truth is that those who love you don’t expect a gift from you, I know I don’t expect that of my loved ones. Even on the people that you absolutely feel inclined to gift, don’t hesitate to take advantage of online shopping and bargain websites. You wont remember how much the gift was when you look back on the memory, but you’ll remember how the gift made you feel.
5. Gift yourself a nap, or a bath
Seriously, treat yourself. If you’re tired take a nap, don’t push yourself to the breaking point because then you will miss out on far more than what you will during a two hour nap, or a soak in the tub. Remember to include days to rest and recouperate. Remember that promise you made in #1, in the season of thinking of those you love don’t forget to take care of yourself. Who knows, maybe you can make a gift out of it and take your best friend to the spa and tag along for a facial.
6. Bring your safe food to parties
As someone with mast cell disease, I need to stay on a strict diet of things that I’m not allergic to. A lot of the holiday celebrations and traditions are geared towards eating, and if someone is unable to eat that can lead to a lot of isolation. So if you have foods you are able to eat don’t hesitate to bring them with you to the party! Try making it a dish that everyone can eat as well and bring it along with you if you’re not looking to draw attention to yourself. The important thing to remember is that even though I am 100% supportive of treating yourself to the food you’re craving just be mindful of the response you’ll get from your body in the days to come. Indulge with caution.
7. Don’t be afraid to say no
On the topic of food, there’s only so much that you can take. If sitting at a table watching people eat, or standing around refusing appetizers as they are passed around is getting tiring then don’t be afraid to say no to the next event. If you know that you have a threshold of how much you can take, respect that! The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. So don’t drive yourself to the brink of insanity trying to make dinner parties work. Plan them few and far between, unless you aren’t affected by food than definitely enjoy and enjoy a little extra for those of us that can’t.
8. Starting new traditions are just as great as the old
For me personally, one of the hardest things (or sometimes rewarding, it’s a catch 22) is comparing where I was last year to where I am this year. Sometimes that can bring a lot of pain, sometimes it can bring redemption, sometimes it brings a sense of accomplishment. That’s the thing about time, is that with time there is change and that change may not always be good. So when this year comes around the traditions that you grew up on or that you’ve always done very well may not be able to be maintained, but dont beat yourself up. Traditions are created every year, and creating a new one to replace the old isn’t the end of the world! Creating new traditions is just as exciting as carrying out the old. So much has changed since last year, celebrate it!
9. Reflecting doesn’t have to be ridiculing
When the new year rolls around everyone hops on the resolution and reflection train, the resolutions stick for a month (if you’re lucky, and then we’re back to the same old). Maybe you can call me a perpetual pessemist, I like to call myself a realist…but I tend to go straight to the negative. I recount all the bad things that happened in the year, I like to think that I do that to create a new found hope for the year ahead but this year make it a point to focus on the positive. Think of all the great things that happened this year, focus on the victories, on the company you enjoyed, the new faces you met, the new hearts you got to know, the adventures you embarked on, the simple things you came to appreciate, the lessons you’ve learned, the gifts you’ve been given, the knowledge you’ve gained…there is so much to celebrate, so much about you to celebrate.
10. Pat yourself on the back
You did it. You got through another 366 days, another year. You overcame every hurdle that was in your way, you fought every symptom, you got through each day–even the ones that you thought you couldn’t. You have lived another year; a year was filled with laughs and tears, with victories and losses, with hellos and goodbyes. Not every day was easy, not every day was guaranteed; I know there were many where I questioned my ability to perservere but I was proved wrong. Applaud yourself for that, because we both know that wasn’t easy. The demons you fight are relentless, they are strong, they are willing, they are persistent…but you are stronger, you are more willing, you are even more persistent. Take this time to look at the happiness that’s around you, the love that you’re surrounded by, the reasons that you fight…look not at the ugly, but at the beauty that remains despite of it.
Like all things this holiday season is temporary so embrace every second, even the frustrating ones. Let this time be a reminder of all of the love that you’re surrounded by, the things and people that have remained constant even in a whirlwind of a life that changes every day. You are here for a reason, you are loved for multiple reasons. Your illness may take up majority of your energy, your days may be more difficult than easy, but you my darling…you are powerful beyond measure. I hope that you spend this season in the company of those you love most in this world.
Happy Holidays, my fellow warrior. Here’s to another year of overcoming the odds stacked against us.