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November 26, 2014

Wellness Wednesday: The Holidays Are Hard

Guys, the holidays are hard. I know, they're hard for everyone to some extent. But trust me, they are extra hard for those with a chronic illness.

I used to love Christmas. Like most normal people. But over the past couple years, I've realized that I'm not a huge fan of Thanksgiving and Christmas anymore. A large part of that is simply because they take place in the winter time, which I've already mentioned makes me feel even worse--air conditioning alone causes me pain, so of course the cold temperatures, even if I'm indoors, make my pain worse. So this makes winter, and therefore the holidays, even harder.

But I've also recently realized the now-obvious reason that I'm not a huge fan of the holidays: they're just so hard. Because doing much of anything with a chronic illness is hard. And this is true for anyone with a chronic illness. But for me personally, considering some days showering is my accomplishment and great days are when I do the dishes and make dinner? We have only so many spoons to use. And when it comes to Thanksgiving celebrations, which involve making yourself presentable, driving or riding to the gathering, then being at the gathering for hours ... most spoons are already gone by the time you've done your hair and makeup and gotten dressed. Add to Christmas the whole shopping and wrapping gifts thing, and the decorating that likely won't even happen.

Further, if you have certain food needs, as many with chronic illnesses do, that's an extra burden. You most likely have to make all your own food ahead of time (watch the spoons disappear before the big day's even begun), figure out how to transport it, figure out how to heat what needs heated/find room to refrigerate what needs it once you're there, etc. (Heaven forbid you travel 8 hours away and not be able to transport perishable items. Ahem.) All of these are small things alone, but add them up, and they're just one more additional stress after another weighing on you. And we all know that stress makes anyone feel worse.

And that's just everything leading up to the big day--we're not even to the actual meal yet. When you're sick, just sitting down to eat at a table (which some cannot even do) and the action of constantly raising your fork to your mouth and chewing can be exhausting. I frequently have to take a breather while eating at family gatherings just because sitting upright in a stiff chair and raising my arm that far to my mouth over and over is straining and tiring. Then try to hold any kind of conversation, while also foggy as usual with any number of other issues like stomach pain or dizziness or sensory overload going on, and also juggle the inevitable, often well-intended but sometimes rude inaccurate comments and questions that are sure to come. It makes me exhausted just thinking about it.

So the answer for those with the chronic illness? Pace yourself the best you can, and don't be afraid to say no. In my few years being sick, I've gained a thicker skin. I still feel guilty for things I can't do (though it's not my fault), and I'm not sure that will ever totally go away. But I used to feel so apologetic about being gluten-free or saying no to things I knew I couldn't do and felt like I had to always explain myself. And also felt like a total weirdo for my food needs. But now that I don't eat gluten, dairy, soy, corn, nuts, nightshades, or refined sugar? I know that's what my body needs--I'm convinced of it by the way I feel when I eat those foods. But most many people don't get it and won't try to because it's so abnormal to them. My needs and my problems are an inconvenience to others, way out of the ordinary, and hard to grasp. But they are part of me now, and my needs are requirements, not preferences, so I ... kind of don't care what others think/say about it anymore. I have to not.

And for those who love someone with a chronic illness? Dear Rebecca at Caravan Sonnet recently shared 15 Ways to Help a Friend With a Chronic Illness During Thanksgiving. Can it get any better than that? These tips are wonderful, and I highly recommend reading them and passing them along.

Plus, Rebecca has also compiled a list of 30 Christmas Present Ideas for Your Chronically Ill Friend. Of course all of these won't apply to absolutely everyone with a chronic illness, just based on their personal situations, but this list is an excellent guide, and just tailor it to what you know about your ill friend (or ask someone who would know). #30 is also very important--just as even Daniel can't know exactly what I'm going through, the same goes for me and what he's going through. The caregivers are even more overlooked than the sick, and they need encouragement too.

So this Thanksgiving and Christmas? I'll be shopping online (which I've already done a lot of), eating lots of this chicken in a modified, easier (but amazing) crockpot version (which I really need to share on here) or this pizza with these or these cookies for dessert (all also in hopes of making everyone jealous of Kacie's "weird" food), not decorating besides our tree--and that only because of Daniel's help--and just trying to breathe.

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