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5 Tips for Making Holidays With Chronic Illness More Enjoyable

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The holidays can be a fun and exciting time for many people. You get to visit family and friends you may not have seen in a long time. There are tons of foods you don’t get to enjoy on a regular basis. You may get to travel and people give great gifts. Though what sounds like a great trip or a great reason to have a feast for some can seem daunting and possibly dangerous for others, especially those who are living with chronic illness.

Traveling can be difficult and cause car sickness, stiff legs and back, migraines and many other ailments or symptoms. The idea of being around so many people at once can be enough to cause a panic attack. And that delicious looking spread of food could mean illness or a life-threatening reaction for those with food allergies. When you add in the fatigue that comes with many chronic illnesses, it may seem like the best idea is to cover your head and sleep right through the holidays.

But you can enjoy the holidays, even with chronic illness – it just takes some strategic planning. Here are five ways I plan ahead to make sure I can enjoy the time with my loved ones during the holidays.

1. Learn to say no and carefully choose which holiday invitations you accept.

This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it is not always that easy, especially with combined and blended families. I know in my family we are invited to events on my side of the family as well as on my girlfriend’s side of the family. If you have step-families and work parties, the number of events you are invited to can reach up into the double digits. To make the holidays work for you, pick just one or two events where you are likely to see the most amount of people, or at least the ones you don’t get to see as often as the others. You could also offer to get together with those who are in town at another time if you have to decline their invitation. It’s easy to not want to let anyone down, but the bottom line is that your health is a priority, and if you aren’t careful you could be spending the holidays in a hospital room instead of your in-law’s living room.

2. Plan your travel route and times in advance, allowing for the unexpected.

Expect the unexpected to happen, regardless of whether you are traveling across the country or across town. Life with chronic illness is hardly predictable and your conditions do not care if Aunt Lucy insists that everyone arrive at 1 p.m. sharp. You know your body better than anyone; allow for the extra time that getting ready or getting to your destination may take. If that means scheduling in a 30-minute nap after you shower, do that. It may mean you even shower the night before to save precious energy for visiting with your nieces and nephews, or scheduling in extra bathroom and stretching breaks if you are traveling long distance. Whatever this means for you, do that and stick to it.

3. Pack a personalized first-aid kit.

It’s a good idea for anyone to have a standard first-aid kit stowed in the car, but for those who depend on medications to function every day, this is a must. Make sure you pack any routine medications you will need to take while you are out and any as-needed medications you may need while you are out as well – especially if you have a food allergy that would require emergency medication. You may think your family knows your allergies, but many are not as careful about reading labels as we may be. As someone who is allergic to cinnamon, I have learned the holidays can be very dangerous the hard way. If you are traveling out of town or by air, it’s a good idea to have a least a whole day’s medication on you — not in a checked bag — or as much as you would need to hold you over until you can get somewhere to get refills in an emergency.

4. Let people know how they can help you and what your limitations are.

Depending on your relationship with who you are visiting, they may be completely willing to accommodate your needs, but they need to know what your needs actually are. If you can share with them your food restrictions, they may know how to cook so you don’t have to worry, or you could even volunteer to bring a dish you know is safe. If you get overwhelmed easily, ask ahead of time if there is somewhere you can lay down or take a break from the main festivities – same thing if you struggle with fatigue. Many people who host do so because they love to be good hosts. They want to make sure people have a good time and are willing to do most things (within reason) to make sure all of their guests have a great time – and that means you, too. 

5. Be kind to yourself. 

This may be one of the hardest things to accomplish. We don’t want to disappoint people or be an inconvenience. We want so badly to be “normal” and so we try to act like we don’t have our limitations. We try to do everything – even more than we were able to before we were sick. In the end, we end up hurting ourselves and others. We end up becoming too sick to function, we feel terrible and then we are breaking promises and commitments. The best thing we can do is acknowledge our limitations, adjust our expectations and really enjoy the holidays knowing we are doing what is right for our bodies and minds.

This is nowhere near an exhaustive list of ways to make the holidays work for you; it’s just the start of my list. What are the ways you work the holidays to your benefit? Which of these tips resonated with you and which wouldn’t work for you? Do you have your own list of tips or tricks? I would love to hear your tips – I am always willing add a few more to my Spoonie Arsenal. Let me know below in the comments!

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Originally published: December 5, 2016
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