Oh the holidays. Sometimes wonderful, often difficult. Filled with joy, and also stress. Sometimes the prompters of grief, sometimes the creators of new and beautiful memories.
Sometimes I like the holidays and sometimes I do not. But I have found that the way I approach them makes a huge difference in how I experience them.
And so, here are a few reminders for the holiday season to all of my friends with chronic illness and pain:
Asking for help and collaborating together is the way life is supposed to be. So, ask. Ask for help with the cooking and cleaning. Ask for help getting to where you want to go. Ask for those accommodations that you need. Ask to be invited over. This is not shameful; this is good. Tell people what you need, or they will never know.
“No” is a wonderful word that many people do not use often enough. It is quite difficult but also quite simple – if you do not want to do it because of how it would affect your pain, you do not have to. Sure this could be used selfishly, but I know so many of you, and I know that selfishness would not be in your heart. In saying “no” you are caring for yourself and the people around you. This is good.
Saying “thank you” is so much better than saying “I’m sorry” when you haven’t done anything wrong. It’s ok that you can’t cook the whole Thanksgiving meal – just say thank you to the person who does! “Sorry” doesn’t make sense when no offense has occurred.
Rest, rest, and rest without shame! Leave halfway through the meal. Find an empty bedroom. Come to the meal late. Do what you need to do to get through the day without flaring. Worrying what people think is overrated. I know this is easier said than done, but no matter what people think of you, value yourself enough to rest when needed.
What to do when people ask about your illness or pain? I honestly believe that the truth will set you free. Is the truth that you don’t want to talk about it? Say so. Lovingly, but say so. Is the truth that you feel horrible, but still want to be around family and friends? Say so.
If you have to spend the holidays alone… This is a tough one. But, I think it helps to find other people online in the same situation. I think it helps to reach out by phone and text and social media to people you know. I think it helps if you focus not on the things you are unable to do and the people you are unable to see but on making the moment better. Find a few good things to bring into your day as you are able. So much more could be said about this, but this is where I start.
Finally, think about your expectations, and bring them in line with reality. During years of pain, holidays have always been most enjoyable for me when I truly consider what I am able to do and plan within my limits. Cut out the extras. Let go of the things that feel necessary but are not. Acknowledge where you are and what your body is able to do, and plan accordingly.
What are your best tips for approaching the holidays?