Holidays are hard. I really don’t want to sound like an awful human with no holiday spirit. First, I want you to know I have it worked out in my own life for the holidays to be pretty enjoyable and not too much work. That is just my little contained world. Trust me, it is a different story once I go out in public. What that means is large amounts of holiday gatherings, parties, and events. All of those involve food, gifts, people getting drunk, or themed outfits. When all of those factors are in play at the same time, it can be too much for me and many people with chronic conditions.
Another thing that is a factor in how I feel about the holidays is that I have had some health problems come up and treatment gets messed up, delayed, and I have to wait for businesses to be open and doctors to come back from vacations. When I was a student, the best time for me to schedule procedures was during winter break. That was always tricky as far as timing went. Some holidays from the past have been less than stellar due to health issues like mono, scheduling maintenance ECT, and waiting to have surgery (the surgery that resulted in discovering cancer). It feels like the world gets a little more chaotic for two months. It also throws off routine and regular schedules (which are key for illness management).
Some things we don’t think about that our friends with chronic illness face are pain, exhaustion, variation in mood, overstimulation, anxiety, financial stressors, ability to travel, and more. People with illnesses still love their friends and families. They too want to have a good time without worries.
Here is the breakdown for holidays I grew up celebrating:
I don’t have any obligation or guilt if I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. I don’t even have to celebrate Thanksgiving. It seems as though for many people, Thanksgiving is a day to eat waaaay too much. I feel awful for people with food allergies and diet restrictions along with those who have chronic illnesses that are associated with pain, fatigue, and mood disorders. Gatherings can be overwhelming with noise, questions, and uninvited statements. No one wants to have any unnecessary attention on them if they are already struggling in private on a daily basis.
I feel like Black Friday had turned into a holiday all on its own. Immediately following Thanksgiving is the dreaded Black Friday. Talk about overstimulation and anxiety. I feel like I have two options: researching Black Friday deals so I can get as much as possible with my limited budget, or trying to ignore all of the incessant emails and tv advertising. I usually end up somewhere in the middle of those two and end up with regret no matter what I do.
Holiday parties, white elephant gift exchanges, secret Santas, elf on the shelf, ugly sweater parties, caroling, craft fairs, decorations, cookie exchanges, dinners… Should I go on? Telling people you can’t come to an event or party or cancelling at the last minute is hard and sometimes embarrassing. Not getting invited to a party because people assume you won’t be up for it can be heartbreaking. It seems like a no win situation. Christmas and Christmas Eve are similar to Thanksgiving- too much food, and too much stimulation. I like to be able to be alone if a social situation becomes overwhelming. If I want to have control, I have to drive myself instead of getting a ride with others. What I am able to control on Christmas is that I spend it with my sister and my mom. It is small, simple, comfortable, flexible, and fun.
This holiday comes with a lot of pressure to do something really cool and celebrate in style. It is a holiday that has a lot of hype. It is also a time to reflect on the past year and make resolutions for the next. What if you don’t want to review your year? You just want to be thankful that you made it through alive. I don’t have much to say about how I get through this holiday. I usually do something last minute that feels comfortable enough.
I know there are other holidays that people celebrate These are just the ones I have celebrated. Of course I went to my favorite resource, The Mighty to provide some links of stories that may be helpful:
The purpose of this post is not to say the holidays should not be fun. I sort of envy people who have holiday cheer and are really excited and joyful and bask in the holiday season that is filled with opportunities to connect with others to celebrate. I know this is the only time of year for some people to see their loved ones. I just want to share my perspective along with the perspective of many individuals with chronic illness.
May you get through your holiday season any way that is comfortable for you.