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16 Constructive Ways to Communicate Your Health Needs During the Holidays

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From holiday-themed  television shows and Hallmark movies filled with families embracing one another, to love songs heard on the radio, society lets us know these are the things we’re “supposed” to be feeling and experiencing this time of year: togetherness, smiles, love and empathy.

However, what most of these shows, films and songs don’t recognize is that the #holidaysarehard for many of us – especially those with chronic conditions. It can be a struggle to balance our own health needs or our child’s. What many don’t realize is that this time of the year also increases stress, which can lead to flare-ups, and difficulty in managing our physical and mental health. This makes it even more important to be able to communicate our needs to others, but it can be frustrating to even know where to start. That’s why we asked our Mighty community “What’s one tip you’d give others who want to communicate with family and friends about their health-related needs?”

Here’s what our community told us:

  1. Be honest about your limits. Make it clear that you want to enjoy your holidays to the fullest, but that the ‘fullest’ may look different for you. Food is an issue for me. I’m living with chronic pancreatitis and there are restrictions on what I can eat and how much. So before any gathering I ask the host/hostess what food options there will be, making it clear that I’m happy to bring my own food so I can enjoy the event safely, while not expecting everyone to cater to my dietary needs.”—Stephanie L.
  2. “Most people know by now that I’m more likely to accept an invitation if there’s a place for me to lie down because I can’t sit for more than 10 minutes without having pain. My close friends try to arrange this and let me know who else will be there so I’ll know if I’ll be comfortable lying down in front of them. Sometimes I have to ask about this myself or explain that I’ll have to stand a lot while everyone sits, and I admit it’s embarrassing to do so, but probably much more embarrassing to leave early due to unbearable pain.” – Hind A.
  3. “I explained the ‘spoon theory’ to my parents and friends and it’s really helped. I let them know that everyone in the world wakes up with the same amount of ‘spoons.’ However, for people with chronic illnesses, both mental and physical, it takes more spoons to do things than for someone without these issues. I told them that I just don’t have the ‘spoons’ for certain things.” – Audra
  4. “When I tell people about my wife’s condition, I explain it by saying it’s like having the three stages of the flu all the time. The initial aches of the flu, the full-on flu and the ‘coming out’ of the flu while you are still weak. I explain this is what my wife deals with every day, except the flu never goes away. Imagine feeling like you have the flu and it doesn’t go away. I am trying to relate to them in a way they can understand. The ‘spoon theory’ is awesome, but some folks still don’t understand, so they need something they can better relate to. I have had the best results with the flu analogy.” – Richey J.
  5. “It’s so important to have support from family and friends, especially during the holidays. I myself don’t have a lot of that, therefore it makes life harder. However, what I do have is great. I believe as long as you’re honest and they are honest about all things, it can really make a difference.” – Ana T.
  6. “I really wish [family and friends] would listen and understand. I also wish they would think to include me in things in case I am up to doing them, instead of talking about the things they are going to do in front of me but excluding me. That hurts. I want to have fun too, when I can. I don’t put expectations on anyone, because not everyone will understand — and they don’t really need to. It’s a very personal journey. At the end of the day, each of us must live for ourselves.”  — Lisa
  7. I’ve learned to say ‘no’ politely. I know my limits and know when I’ll be able to handle a big crowd and when I won’t. We got two invitations this year and I’m going to the smaller one. Much more manageable.” – Susan M.
  8. “The holidays are not the time for well-meaning friends or relatives to tell me that I need to ‘do yoga, colonics, drink and eat more matcha, turmeric, have my chakras cleaned, get rid of karmic debt and pray skyclad under a full moon.’ I simply don’t want to hear one more suggestion or hear that my doctors are ‘quacks’ and I should really be going to someone else. I’d like to tell them to talk to me like you used to before my diagnosis. See me for who I am. Don’t talk to me like I’m 5 and I don’t know what I’m doing, please. (And I won’t look pointedly or comment at that second piece of pie you are grabbing). – Nadia C.
  9. I would like to tell them to please be patient and not pressure me to eat, play or talk if I am not up to it. Allow me a quiet place to sit if needed.” – Andrea K.
  10. “I just hung out with my youngest son the other night and we ended up talking about bipolar disorder and what it means to me. I tried my best to explain to him how I feel. I told him that spending time with him and his siblings is always the best and most cherished times of my life, even though I always end up overwhelmed and agitated. He commented that it must be why I don’t like people in the kitchen by me when I’m cooking and why I go somewhere to sit by myself after I’m done and everyone is eating. I need the time to regroup and get my bearings. I explained to him that even though I get so off kilter, I love cooking for them. It’s my favorite thing to do. What ruins it all for me is when he and his siblings explain me away with ‘that’s just mom being mom’ when I get agitated. The ‘you know how mom is’ statements are hurtful. I told him I’m not ‘crazy’ and bipolar disorder is not who I am, it’s what was forced on me. I didn’t ask for it. He got up immediately and gave me the biggest, best hug ever. He told me he’s sorry for hurting me like that. If I didn’t have my children, I honestly would have never known love. I love them so much it sometimes feels very painful. That day was a very good day.” – Cheryl V.
  11. “Honesty with loved ones is the best. Once in a while I need to remind my adult son that I’m not being lazy by staying in bed. If need be, I will simply say, ‘Don’t judge me. I work hard, pay bills and if I’m hitting a low, I’m not going to beat myself up about it. Things will get better; I just need time to ride this out.’” — Nadya
  12. “This is something I’ve been struggling with navigating in the recent weeks (especially as holidays approach). Something I’ve been learning is to just be open and honest with the ones you can trust. There’s no need to share with everyone what you may be going through, only the people who you feel will understand and help support you. The beautiful thing is that it’s your choice on who you will let be apart of your journey. Be true to yourself and the ones you love. It also just feels good to talk it out and allow your tribe to build you up!” – Duprise J.
  13. “I tell the host my needs ahead of time, so they don’t have to scramble when I arrive. I tell them not to worry about me. If I need something, I’ll ask. That seems to put them at ease.” – Jennifer B.
  14. “I use the phrase ‘Terra friendly’ or ‘not Terra friendly’ a lot in regards to activities and events my friends and family suggest. I’m also super open to saying ‘I think I will be able to do…. but I can never be sure of how I will feel at the time.’” – Terra D.
  15. I try to make sure to set realistic expectations up front, such as ‘I would love to come to dinner, but I can only stay for three hours before I need to leave. Sometimes the fatigue and invisible symptoms need to be addressed, but since friends and family can’t see [these symptoms], they forget how difficult it can be.” – Jules NP.
  16. “This is something I struggle with on a daily basis, and not just during the holidays, sadly. As family and friends tend to do, there are celebratory get-togethers and these may or may not be filled with people who aren’t in a position to know or understand how you feel at any given moment. I’ve tried to be sincerely open and honest with those around me. When asked how I’m feeling, I am informative — but honest and not overbearing. It’s a lot to take in, we know this. With my spouse, I have started showing him articles, photos of others with symptoms similar to or the same as my own, and this seems to help him understand, and as a result be much more supportive. Another important thing I’ve learned is not to downplay my pain. I definitely do not need to exaggerate it, but downplaying it only makes things worse.In the end, those who love and care for you will take the time to listen and support you to the best of their abilities, and hopefully you can have a joy-filled holiday as you so greatly deserve. Don’t forget to keep in contact with others who are in similar situations. Knowing you aren’t alone during those darker moments of angst and hopelessness and pain is so helpful and starts you back on the track of being strong again. At least it does for me. A weak moment doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you’re human. Remember that.” – Jessie T.

If you’re struggling or feeling lonely this time of the year, download our app and follow #HolidaysAreHard to share and connect with others who understand. 

Originally published: December 20, 2018
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