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Finding Balance During the Holidays When You Have a Disability

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The holiday season isn’t all jingle bells and sleigh rides when you have an invisible disability. As temps begin falling and your calendar starts filling, the stress and worry about how the hell you’ll make it through it all can rear its Scrooge-like head. Of course this time of year can be stressful for everyone. There is a ton of pressure to be merry and create picture-perfect Norman Rockwell moments, to then post on Facebook of course.

There are gifts to buy without going broke, relatives to please without creating drama, and parties to attend without gaining weight. There’s a whole crap load of stuff to balance during the holidays, whether you have a disability or not. Add various physical and emotional stressors like chronic pain, foot drop, neuropathy and extreme sensitivity to the cold, and the challenge of finding balance during the holidays becomes both a literal and figurative one.

Of course you can stay home from now until after New Years and avoid all uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situations. There would be no risk of slipping on a neighbor’s driveway, or spilling eggnog on the hostess and her winter white cashmere sweater if you RSVP “no” to everything, right?

I understand that for some people with chronic conditions, it’s difficult or impossible to leave your home, or going home would be more stressful than beneficial. This post is not directed towards individuals in that situation. But if you’re like me and can get out and about but find yourself struggling to balance the challenging parts of having an invisible disability during the holiday season, here are a few tips.

Balancing Expectations

You do not need to be a Pinterest queen to make the holidays special and memorable for your loved ones. There are no extra mom points for turning one’s house into a winter wonderland or for spending hours creatively gift wrapping. The truth is, while some people do appreciate the little details, most don’t notice or care. It’s really about you and deciding on which parts of the holiday rigmarole bring you more joy than stress.

Let’s use the whole real vs artificial Christmas tree decision as an example. If you love having a real Christmas tree, by all means, get a real tree. However, if picking up fallen needles and other aspects of having a live tree in your home takes a toll on your body and stress level, then get an artificial tree and call it a day. If mobility issues make shopping in malls and stores difficult, embrace the convenience of online shopping. If you don’t truly love cooking, make reservations or cater in. Believe me, your loved ones would much rather have you at the holiday table present and relaxed than in the kitchen all stressed out about an overcooked brisket. You have choices.

Balancing Your Checkbook

I’m a total over-spender during the holidays. I used to buy my kids almost everything on their list. Ugh, I know. Bad! It’s mostly because they are such great and appreciative kids, and partly due to Jewish guilt. During Chanukah, which really isn’t an important holiday in the Jewish religion, many parents (like myself) try to compensate for not having a Santa or Christmas by giving each kid eight gifts for each night of Chanukah. This tradition worked well when my kids were little, but not so much now that their lists include things like an iPhone X and $200 basketball sneakers.

If you’re thinking, “What does this even have to do with disabilities?” It doesn’t, well not directly anyhow. But similar to Jewish guilt, some parents with disabilities may overspend on their loved ones’ gifts in an attempt to compensate for not being able to physically do everything during the year. Obviously this is not good, especially for your bank account.

I started a new tradition in my family that helps all of us balance our family’s holiday wants and needs with those who don’t get to choose. When making their lists, each kid is given a budget and told to include items for someone their age less fortunate than themselves. We then shop for their picks together (online and in stores) and deliver them to a local charity.

Balancing Outside and Getting From Here to There

It is so cold here in Michigan and winter hasn’t even officially started. In other posts, I’ve talked (and complained) about how to enjoy summer with an invisible disability and wearing  AFOs. But winter, and the ice, snow, and awful freezing rain it brings with it, is a whole different beast.

If your winter weather is similar to mine here in Michigan, a good pair of warm, non-slip, and waterproof boots is an essential. If you wear afos or orthotics, check out my post on how to find fashionable wide-width boots to fit your orthotics or AFOs. If you have boots already, but find them to be slippery, you can always add anti slip pads or spray a non skid coating to the bottoms. This year, I was excited to find a pair of snow boots with removable insoles and a foldable ice gripper on the soles.  Not only are these great for preventing falls outside, they can also be worn indoors without scraping up anyone’s floors. Genius, right?

It’s smart to be proactive and to talk with the host or venue ahead of time about your disability and needs. Ask questions like, what is the parking situation? Are there stairs to get inside or to the bathroom? Will guests be expected to remove their shoes? I know it isn’t easy, but having a conversation beforehand will help others to plan for the accommodations they can provide and it will alleviate some of your pre-party anxiety.

 Balancing At Events

I am a social butterfly trapped in the body of an unstable and uncoordinated caterpillar.

The ability to navigate a party or event with an invisible disability (or multiple ones) is an art, not a science. In fact, I wrote an entire post on how to balance at a cocktail party when you have a disability. Here are a few of the key tips:

  • Upon arrival, do a quick scan of the room or house and assess it for potential fall hazards like slippery flooring, loose rugs, and extra long tablecloths on the ground.
  • Avoid having extra things to carry and wear a small crossbody wallet to store your phone, license and a lipgloss.
  • Try to position yourself against a counter or wall, preferably near the booze. Definitely don’t plant yourself in a busy corner where people wiz by.
  • Eat a bowl of cereal or something ahead of time so you’re not starving and don’t have to balance an appetizer plate along with a drink.

 Balancing Calories

I used to be able to gain a couple pounds during the holidays and have it off by mid January. Now, at age 48, it isn’t so easy. A week of binging on spinach dip and crackers can take months to get rid of. If you read my post on having a positive body image when you have a disability, then you already know about my issues with weight and self-esteem. When I stay in my “happy weight” range, I feel better, move around easier and am generally nicer to be around.

I stay mindful by writing everything I eat down using a free diet tracking app called My Fitness Pal which I listed in my life changing apps for people with disabilities post.  For me it’s all about planning and balance. If I know I’m going out at night, I try to be careful about what I eat during that day. Of course I also try to do the basics like reducing carbs, drinking water and exercising. I like to have a drink or two (sometimes three) at parties and pick low-calorie combos like vodka and club soda. When I get the, “Lainie, you’ve reached your limit,” look from my hubby, I switch to the “fake-tini” (club soda with lime) so I can feel festive but avoid looking even drunker than I look normally without even a sip of alcohol.

While it’s good to be mindful of what you’re eating, the whole point of a party is to relax and enjoy yourself. I try not to talk about what I can or can’t have, as I find this is super annoying to others. I take small bites of everything I want and that I can manage to hold and eat without dropping.

Balancing Self-Care

Doing the holidays differently this year is OK. Saying no is OK. Plugging in a light projector instead of setting up your Christmas display is OK. Using dollar store gift bags instead of wrapping paper is OK. Not going to Midnight Mass when you’re exhausted at 8 P.M. is OK. Saying “screw it” and booking a last-minute trip to Turks and Caicos is OK.

When we remove all of the shoulds and put our needs first, the holiday season tightrope widens and becomes easier to balance and cross.


Getty image by Gpoint Studio.

Originally published: December 3, 2018
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