The Gift of the Season

Patient Expert

If you have a chronic illness that limits your activity, this new book is the best gift you can give yourself this holiday season. If you have friends or relatives for whom the holidays are challenging, also give them a copy.

But don’t wait until Christmas! You need this book now.

The book is “Chronic Christmas: Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic Illness” by Lene Andersen, the Community Leader of HealthCentral’s rheumatoid arthritis site.

Nobody is better suited for writing it than Lene Andersen. She is not only a person who has to manage a chronic illness but also is an accomplished writer. And Christmas is Lene’s favorite holiday, which she writes about in an upbeat and inspiring style.

For such a serious subject, her book is light and shows her sense of humor well. As I read it, I smiled and laughed often.

The Christmas season can be stressful. This book can show you how to find balance and connect to the joy of the holiday.

Lene dog.jpg

HealthCentral (HC): Please tell me a bit about yourself, Lene?** Lene:** I was born and raised in Denmark and now live in Toronto, Canada. I’ve had juvenile arthritis (JA) since I was 4 years old and had a pretty rough time of it in my childhood. By the time I was 16, I’d had double hip replacements and started using a power wheelchair.

The disease has sidetracked me many times over the years, sometimes quite seriously, but I do my best to focus on living my life. I have a background in social work, but started a new career as a writer after a large flare of my JA reminded me of how important it is to follow your dreams.

HC: What is the most important message that you have to help people with chronic conditions in celebrating the holidays?** Lene:** What’s important is spending time with your loved ones. We all know that, but it’s easy to get caught up in the pressure to create a perfect holiday for the people you love and that’s pretty much a guarantee that you will be too exhausted and hurting to be part of the holidays when they get there.

The memories that last are about laughing with each other, the year the oven didn’t work and you had pizza on the big night, and being together. So take a deep breath and decide what deserves your time and energy and what doesn’t. And then focus on enjoying this season.

HC: What is the most important message that you have for those who’d like to help people who have chronic conditions at the holiday season?** Lene:** Be specific when you offer help. For instance, say “I’m setting aside a day to help you before Christmas. When do you want me to come over?”

This cuts through the emotional baggage of the person with a chronic illness not wishing to impose or feeling overwhelmed about how much help they do need. Once you get to the person’s home, let them take the lead and respect their choices. If they want to have a live reindeer in the living room, that’s up to them!

HC: What is the meaning of strange Danish word "hygge" that you mention in the book, and why is it important during the holiday season?** Lene:** Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is a concept that’s an integral part of Danish culture and this year, it’s on the Oxford dictionaries’ shortlist for word of the year! It means coziness, togetherness, trust, enjoying each other, and is often accompanied by food and lit candles.

The focus on creating hygge ramps up in December with the special Christmas version (julehygge) and it’s the reason that I believe the Danes do Christmas better than anyone else. Focusing on hygge brings us back to what the season is really about.

HC: Why did you follow the advent calendar format in organizing your book?****Lene: When I was growing up, counting down to Christmas was a way to enjoy the season (and likely to try calming down children so they didn’t explode with excitement before Christmas Eve).

We had advent candles decorated with numbers one through 24. Having breakfast when it was still dark wasn’t quite so awful when accompanied by the advent candle that would burn through that day’s date. Some kids got advent calendars with a tiny present to unwrap every day.

Sharing a new tip every day for self-care and what love ones can do to help is likewise a way to help people relax and focus on today. Mindfulness can be a very useful way of dealing with chronic conditions. Using the advent format is a way of moving into mindfulness for the holiday season.

David Mendosa is a journalist who, like Lene Andersen, has a chronic condition. His condition is Type 2 diabetes, which he now writes about exclusively. He has written thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and publishes the monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, current A1C level of 5.1, and BMI of 19.8 keeps his diabetes in remission without any drugs. For more of David's work, visit our Diabetes page.