The holiday season is an exciting time, a time to spend with family and friends you usually don’t get to see. It’s a time when the world seems to calm down for at least a little bit.
Unfortunately, for those of us with IBD, this isn’t always the case. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at some major aspects of the holidays to see how things changed for me after my diagnosis and how I adjusted my habits long-term.
Before diagnosis: One of my favorite parts of the holidays was the food! My parents were more lenient about the amount of sweets I consumed, and I overate again and again. My family is full of incredible cooks, so everything was wonderfully decadent.
After diagnosis: I still tried to indulge, but wound up paying for it heavily. My first holiday season post-diagnosis I still ate like I normally would. This led to an incredible amount of bloating, with me passing out right after the meal. Not to mention the sheer number of trips to the bathroom.
Now: I pay attention to what I eat. I only take the things that I know I can tolerate. It’s not a perfect system, by any means; I still get the secret hidden ingredient that sends me off to my porcelain throne. But it’s a lot better than it used to be. And I’m working on not feeling as guilty about hurting the cooks’ feelings when I pass on all the sweets and decadent dishes.
The family and friends
Before diagnosis: Usually, my grandparents hosted ever holiday gathering, although sometimes my parents would. I helped out around the house, cooking and cleaning and getting ready. When I moved away from my hometown, the holidays also became a time to see as many friends as possible when I came home.
After diagnosis: Again (you might notice a pattern here) I tried to keep up as if nothing was wrong with me. I still helped when I could and was always glad to cook something. But I got a lot more tired, quickly. It didn’t take much to wipe me out and basically make me a non-participant. I still tried to keep up with my friends, but I would feel zonked almost right off the bat.
Now: I help out when I can, and as much as I can. But I don’t try to make the most complex recipes at 10 PM, and I may not pitch in on every little chore that has to be done to get ready to host people. I try to keep my schedule as open as possible. If my friends want to get together, I usually invite them over or pick an activity that lets me sit down for a while.
Before diagnosis: I was the type of person who shopped till I dropped. I would always go specific stores to find the perfect gift for everyone. It usually took about two or three consecutive Saturdays of driving around and perusing. And the gifts I asked for were always things that I would maybe use once or twice before losing interest.
After diagnosis: So, this actually changed the most. I don’t think I even attempted my normal shopping extravaganza. I really didn’t like public bathrooms at the time and was always worried about being embarrassed. I would maybe only venture out to one store for as long as I could make it. As for the gifts I wanted, I was still pretty into the hot items of the season, asking for things that made sense for other people.
Now: HELLO online shopping. I’m a whiz at buying gifts now because I can do it from home. I do miss getting out to the stores around the holidays, but I much prefer hanging onto my energy when and where I can. So I’ve gotten pretty dang efficient at shopping online and taking advantage of sales. And as far as things I ask for, practicality has finally sunk in. I ask for things that would help me out, while some of the more frivolous stuff might be pillows or PJ pants.
I think, if anything, having IBD has taught me how to be selfish in the right ways. I prioritize my health and my energy over wearing myself out. Maybe it comes with age and maybe it comes with time, but my holiday habits have changed since my diagnosis. But it doesn’t mean that I’m having any less fun or enjoying the time any less. It just means that I do things a little bit differently.
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Mandy is a writer and cat mom who is slowly becoming a health-nut. She’s earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in professional writing. For her master’s thesis she wrote about patient education materials for those diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. She works full-time as a technical writer in Chicago, and serves on the board of directors and blogs for Girls With Guts, a non-profit organization to support women with IBD and/or ostomies. Follow more of her stories on HealthCentral and blog posts on the Girls With Guts website.