Celebrating the Holidays with Chronic Illness: 5 Tips to Not Let Life Pass You By

Patient Expert

Seven years ago, my health tanked in a way that not only rocked me physically, but shook me to the very core of who I am. I was forced to stop working full-time, stay in bed, and was facing surgery just to walk again. I struggled with identity loss at my favorite time of year: the holidays.

I love everything about this time of year, including the PSL- (pumpkin spiced latte) obsessed as well as the scrooges — they all make me smile in their own unique way. What I love most is the planning. Thinking about the epic pie I'll craft from scratch for Thanksgiving, what little heartfelt gifts I'll make for the special people in my life, the meaningful and gag gifts I'll stash away for others, even my artistic wrapping scheme for the gift giving season! I truly love taking the time to think of others and finding ways to show them my love and appreciation.

The problem with bad health this time of year is that you suddenly find yourself planning around doctor appointments and procedures, frustrating diet requirements to keep you feeling your best, and generally just trying to plan how to get through your day. After the full-time job that chronic illness is, it's tough to have any energy to plan for the happy things in life.

Seven years ago, I found myself missing out on all these little things that meant the most to me, and I felt like life was passing me by. This is a feeling that so many of us with chronic illness go through from time to time, and it can be very isolating. As with anything in #ChronicLife, small adjustments have allowed me to participate in the season I love so much, while still doing it on my terms. This post will give you just a few tips on how to still participate in the holidays, even when you’re not feeling well.

Start early

I will confess that I plan for Christmas and Chanukah presents in August! I start a list and have add to it over the next couple of months. This has allowed me to still enjoy planning for the holidays even when I’m slapped with a good dose of autoimmune flare. If you enjoy gift giving and planning the way I do — start early! That will give you the space to enjoy the season without feeling stressed about going to an overcrowded mall in the middle of December.

Online shopping

Get your orders in early! This is something I am still learning. The postal service slows down to speeds resembling autoimmune bodies this time of year. Reduce the "will it get here in time" stress by swapping your late-night insomnia social media hours for happily looking for gifts (or making your own wish list!).

Spending ain't your thang?

Though I obviously love gift giving, it's not about materialism for me. If you're like me, you also have limited funds after paying to manage your health. So I've learned to get more creative with my gift giving. Both by actually making gifts (knitting and painting), and by finding those small thoughtful items that will let people know I care for them. Pro tip: mailing small gifts is much cheaper than bigger ones!

Back to what this season is really about

Now that you know I'm gift-giving obsessed, let's establish that I'm also obsessed with spending time with my family and friends. The energy for doing that can be really tough to muster, so once again, planning is key. What matters most to you this time of year? Is it watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, attending your kid's school play, or catching a certain football game? Identify the things you most want to do, and communicate those activities to others around you: "I really want to see the Nutcracker in person this year, so let's make that a priority."

If the idea of going to certain parties is both exciting and exhausting, how can you make it easier on yourself? Who needs to wear full dress clothes when a wonderful scarf, hat, or pair of comfy shoes or boots (note: this girl does not wear dress shoes!) will make your outfit? Does the idea of standing around at a party worry you? Position yourself near a stool, or ask someone to help you stake out a seat and let people come to you.

When small talk feels impossible

Attending events inevitably means talking to people, and if your full-time job is your chronic illness, it can feel very frustrating trying to answer, "so what have you been up to?" Instead of feeling like you have nothing but your health to talk about, figure out in advance the small things that have made you smile recently. Did you craft a new recipe that was killer? Did you see a great movie on Netflix, or discover new music that you're really into? Celebrate these achievements! I find that getting a break from talking about my health renews my spirit and usually guarantees I enjoy the event.

All of this boils down to planning ahead. I know even that feels stressful to some of you, but I guarantee that you're already masters of planning. You manage your health every day in ways you don't even realize! Take those skills and apply them to creating a happy, healthy, and memorable end to the year!

See more helpful articles:

Chronic Christmas: Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic Illness

Last-Minute Gift Ideas for People with RA

Best Nutrition and Cooking Gifts for Someone with a Chronic Illness