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10 Tips for Chronic Illness Warriors Trying to Navigate the Holidays

The holiday season is finally upon us! It’s the season of food, festivity, family and fun. A time when we celebrate our loved ones and what we’re grateful for…it’s the season of giving and of receiving. But let’s be honest, it can be a very real reminder of a very difficult reality that we’re living. For people with a chronic illnesses, the holiday season is the season of reminders, reminders of where we were in the years before this, reminders of traditions that have changed, reminders of the company that has come and gone and reminders of what truly matters in each day. It’s not the easiest to navigate, so here are some tips to get you through the holidays:

1. Before you do anything, give yourself permission.

The holidays are notorious for the hustle and bustle of holiday gatherings with friends, families, co-workers and then some, delivering gifts and checking off every item on your list of gifts to purchase. It’s exhausting and busy for those with normal energy levels, and we know it’s even more exhausting for us. So give yourself permission – allow yourself to sleep in an extra hour, to only drop by the party instead of staying all night, to not go to that party at all, to not eat that dish your aunt keeps pressuring you to eat even though you know you’ll pay for it later. Give yourself permission to take time for yourself and your body without feeling guilty about it or bad about yourself. Our chronic debilitating illnesses don’t take time off; they don’t disappear for the holidays and I swear my symptoms are actually worse, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. You are allowed to gift yourself this season, so do that in any way your heart desires.

2. Plan ahead.

Two words: brain fog. Let’s face it, for one reason or another we’ve all done something and later realized we have no recollection of doing it, or we’ve gotten a call for an appointment we don’t remember booking. Get a calendar – I have a really big one that’s constantly in my face right next to my bed. I purposely made sure it was obnoxiously big so that way, the second I step out of bed in the morning, I see what I’ve planned for the day. It’s saved me from missing a lot of appointments and lunch dates and is my saving grace during busy times. If you’re anything like me you’ll find a deep satisfaction in color coding all of the events you plan. If you’re not into the obnoxiously big ordeal, get a small pocketbook calendar you can look at every day.

3. Be in the moment.

There’s so much that happens during the holidays and I frequently find myself getting overwhelmed with all I have to get through. My solution to this is to remind myself to live moment-to-moment. Focus on playing with your nieces and nephews or on baking cookies with your grandmother. Focus on the atmosphere, how for once people are so happy to be together. This moment is all we’re guaranteed and we know all too well how our health can change at the drop of a hat, so enjoy it. Don’t get caught up in what tomorrow has to bring or what you have to get through in a week’s time. All you can do is get through right now.

4. Remember the sentiment of a handmade gift.

I’m going to talk about the elephant in the room: finances. I have been unable to work for over a year now, and I know that even though my heart is giving, my bank account is not. I’ve always said that if I was a millionaire, I’d only be a millionaire for a day because there are too many people who deserve good things in the ugliness of today who don’t get it. With that being said, I know that I would prefer a handwritten letter from someone instead of a gift any day. We, as a society, need to work on getting the materialistic aspect unassociated with the holidays. Don’t feel guilty about DIY gifting; exercise your crafting ability, write a letter, create a book of the reasons why you love said person. The gift doesn’t need to be worth hundreds of dollars to be memorable, so don’t stress your bank account out by trying to make everyone else happy. The truth is that those who love you don’t expect a gift from you – I know I don’t expect that of my loved ones. Even with the people you absolutely feel inclined to gift, don’t hesitate to take advantage of online shopping and bargain websites. You won’t remember how much the gift was when you look back on the memory, but you’ll remember how the gift made you feel.

5. Gift yourself a nap, or a bath.

Seriously, treat yourself. If you’re tired, take a nap – don’t push yourself to the breaking point because then you will miss out on far more than what you will during a two-hour nap or a soak in the tub. Remember to include days to rest and recuperate. Remember that promise you made in #1: in the season of thinking of those you love, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Who knows, maybe you can make a gift out of it and take your best friend to the spa and tag along for a facial.

6. Bring your safe food to parties.

As someone with mast cell disease, I need to stay on a strict diet of things I’m not allergic to. A lot of the holiday celebrations and traditions are geared towards eating, and if someone is unable to eat, that can lead to a lot of isolation. So if you have foods you are able to eat, don’t hesitate to bring them with you to the party! Try making it a dish that everyone can eat as well and bring it along with you if you’re not looking to draw attention to yourself. The important thing to remember is, even though I am 100 percent supportive of treating yourself to the food you’re craving, just be mindful of the response you’ll get from your body in the days to come. Indulge with caution.

7. Don’t be afraid to say no.

On the topic of food, there’s only so much you can take. If sitting at a table watching people eat or standing around refusing appetizers as they are passed around is getting tiring, then don’t be afraid to say no to the next event. If you know you have a threshold of how much you can take, respect that! Plan events few and far between, unless you aren’t affected by food – then definitely enjoy and enjoy a little extra for those of us who can’t.

8. Start new traditions that are just as great as the old ones.

For me personally, one of the hardest things (or sometimes rewarding, it’s a catch-22) is comparing where I was last year to where I am this year. Sometimes that can bring a lot of pain, sometimes it can bring redemption, sometimes it brings a sense of accomplishment. That’s the thing about time: with time there is change and that change may not always be good. So when this year comes around, the traditions you grew up on or have always done may very well not be able to be maintained, but don’t beat yourself up. Traditions are created every year, and creating a new one to replace the old isn’t the end of the world! Creating new traditions is just as exciting as carrying out the old. So much has changed since last year – celebrate it!

9. Reflecting doesn’t have to be ridiculing.

When the new year rolls around, everyone hops on the resolution and reflection train, but usually the resolutions only stick for a month (if you’re lucky), and then we’re back to the same old. Maybe you can call me a perpetual pessimist. I like to call myself a realist, but I tend to go straight to the negative. I recount all the bad things that happened in the year. I like to think I do that to create a newfound hope for the year ahead, but this year I’m making a point to focus on the positive. Think of all the great things that happened this year, focus on the victories, on the company you enjoyed, the new faces you met, the new hearts you got to know, the adventures you embarked on, the simple things you came to appreciate, the lessons you’ve learned, the gifts you’ve been given, the knowledge you’ve gained…there is so much to celebrate, so much about you to celebrate.

10. Pat yourself on the back.

You did it. You got through another 365 days, another year. You overcame every hurdle that was in your way, you fought every symptom, you got through each day – even the ones you thought you couldn’t. You have lived another year: a year that was filled with laughs and tears, with victories and losses, with hellos and goodbyes. Not every day was easy, not every day was guaranteed; I know there were many where I questioned my ability to persevere, but I was proved wrong. Applaud yourself for that, because we both know it wasn’t easy. The demons you fight are relentless, they are strong, they are willing, they are persistent…but you are stronger, you are more willing, you are even more persistent. Take this time to look at the happiness that’s around you, the love you’re surrounded by, the reasons that you fight…look not at the ugly, but at the beauty that remains despite of it.

Like all things, this holiday season is temporary, so embrace every second, even the frustrating ones. Let this time be a reminder of all of the love you’re surrounded by, the things and people that have remained constant even in a whirlwind of a life that changes every day. You are here for a reason; you are loved for multiple reasons. Your illness may take up the majority of your energy, your days may be more difficult than easy, but you, my darling, you are powerful beyond measure. I hope you spend this season in the company of those you love most in this world.

Happy Holidays, my fellow warrior. Here’s to another year of overcoming the odds stacked against us.

Follow this journey on #SimplySabrina.

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