The Holidays are a time of great joy and family get-togethers. Warm toasts to each other in front of a roaring fireplace. A hearty laugh as Dad carves the turkey. Out of town family members and friends we have not seen since last year are on our doorstops once again for a joyful reunion. Cards arrive nearly daily and heartfelt phone calls can be expected as well. The Holidays, no matter what ones you celebrate are meant to be joyous, and a time of fellowship, for families and friends to mingle and let each other know how much we care about them. But what when the holidays are not so joyous? When you are chronically ill, and just cannot participate like you used to? That gives me two topics I would like to touch on with you. Being chronically ill at the holidays and what role depression can play during the holidays.
When you are in the throes of an Auto Immune disease as we are, you know that one of the worst aspects of it to fight is that ever present feeling of fatigue. Its that dark shadow right around the corner, you know you cannot escape it, no matter how hard you try, you just do NOT have the stamina you had Pre-RA. I know in my case, I would say I am less than half as energetic as I used to be. I could sleep 5-6 hours, get up at the crack of dawn, work all day and still enjoy a long night of holiday festivities.... heck, I could do it over and over, day after day! Not anymore! This year I stayed at my Mom and Dads place in NW Pennsylvania. We had a Christmas Eve Dinner with Mom, Dad, my Wife, a family friend and myself. By the time dinner was over I was ready to go lay down and take a nap! That was it.... dinner... and I was exhausted. I read a very interesting article passed to me by Lene. In last month's Psychology Today, Toni Bernhard, J.D., wrote " I also know that I won’t be able to participate fully in the festivities and that even my limited participation will result in “pay back” later on." WOW, how true is that? I am imagining that all of us can relate to those words.
Pay back.... we have all been there, done that! Participating in a social gathering, holiday themed or not, KNOWING full well that we will have Pay Back for it the next day, or days for that matter. I know I pick and choose, if I do THAT then I most likely will have to pass on THIS. For instance at Thanksgiving this year, close friends of ours invited us over for dinner. It has become a tradition over the years for us to gather with them during the holidays and enjoy a meal and then just being together. My wife and I look forward to this yearly and I would not dream of NOT going to their home. BUT.... (don't we use that word a LOT more since RA?) I know I will pay dearly for doing something SO simple. My wife will drive us to their home, we will go in, visit, have a few laughs, catch up on each others news, have a wonderful dinner and then sit around a talk some more. All of this takes maybe two to three hours. At the end of it, I am so wracked with pain and fatigue I can barely see straight and I KNOW the next day will be torturous. Its a trade off, we do the things we love, in small doses and then face the Pay Back demons afterwards.
Will we keep doing it, even though we know what will happen? Of course! Its the way people with RA function socially! Hopefully you have an understanding family and friends. People that know you just flat out cannot do the things you used to do, no matter how hard you try. I am VERY fortunate, my family and friends do understand and my Mom and Dad have built me a veritable RA fortress in my bedroom here at there home. It rivals my bedroom at home with a super soft bed, piles of pillows, a flat screen TV and other amenities to make my escape more livable. See Family, Enjoy, Fatigue, Pain Meds, Rest.... Repeat! And on we go!
There is another factor to add in to the equation here as well though. Depression. This is the OTHER dark shadow lurking around the corner. The one that has a very high probability of catching up to you if you have an Auto Immune disease. Research shows that people with RA are almost twice as likely to become depressed in comparison to the general public. As I said earlier, the holidays are a time for joy, but as we have all heard over the years, it can also be a time of loneliness and depression. So what can you do to try and stay out of the clutches of RA Depression, or if you are in it, to alleviate some of the pain and feelings? One thing is to read up on some of these issues, EMPOWER yourself to find answers on what goes on with your health, both physical and mental. For instance, if you follow all the popular theories and nonsense that floats around support group sites you probably know that the holidays, December in particular is the #1 depression causing month, with more suicide attempts during that month than any other, right? Wrong! It simply is not true. It is easy to be drawn into myths about the holidays. When it comes to your health, I would implore you to research and find out answers for yourself. This way you know the facts and can defend your mental and physical well being right from the start.
Another thing you can do is limit the amount of holiday events you will participate in. Take into account how your disease is acting at the time. We all know we have periods of high activity, flares, and periods of lower activity, Heaven on earth!! No matter where you are with your disease, use it to fill out your holiday calendar. If you are flaring you will not be able to do as much, no matter how much you want to, or try to. Your body will not allow it. Keeping this in perspective can go a long way towards a happier holiday season for you and your family. If you are not pushing yourself constantly you can enjoy the events you are participating in that much more. Consider speaking to a professional. A counselor or psychologist may be just the thing you need to set your holiday plans and keep depression at bay. Gauge where you are emotionally if you already take a anti depressant as well. I talk openly to my GP at least twice a year about my anti depressant. Its the only way he can judge where I am at with it. They cannot see inside of our mental state! You need to discuss these issues with them to make a change in your life.
The last anti depression tip I have is not just holiday related, but year round. Find a pet! Studies have shown that owning and caring for a pet increases the levels of the feel good hormone, Serotonin. Think about it, how can you be depressed when your dog is looking at you, pure unconditional love, they just want to be WITH you! My big dog sleeps on top of my bed, up, carefully, against my legs and my small dog burrows under the covers and sleeps next to my back. My furry hot water bottle! They truly bring a smile to my face, whether I am fatigued, in pain, or just in a mood and need my furry friends!
I hope the Holidays were a good time for you and your family. If you have any other survival tips for us, please post them here! We can all use some insight!
Published On: January 03, 2014