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6 Ways to Have a Fun Holiday Break When You're Sick at Home

Having a chronic disease impacts your life year-round: it’s difficult to commit to plans, go to school or work every day and participate in fun outings and social events when you are never sure what symptoms are going to plague you on a daily basis.

I have had severe idiopathic gastroparesis for two years now, and the only things I can 100 percent commit to attending are appointments with my gastroenterologist.

The unpredictability of my disease is particularly difficult this time of year because the festive season tends to lend itself to frequent gatherings and parties. I end up stuck between turning everything down just in case I get too sick to go at the last minute (always backing out at the last second is embarrassing, so sometimes I decide to bow out from the beginning) and saying yes to everything, then crossing my fingers and living in fear I’ll end up in the emergency room the morning of a road trip with friends or get halfway through a white elephant party and have to leave to throw up.

There’s no reason to be stressed about the limitations of your chronic illness. I may not be able to go ice skating or eat Christmas cookies after decorating them with my cousins, but there are still plenty of ways to have an enjoyable festive season at home when you’re too sick to go out. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Festive movies! 

I feel like everyone, healthy or not, can agree there is nothing that can put you in the holiday spirit quite like a Christmas movie. My favorite holiday movies are “Elf,” “A Christmas Story,” “Home Alone,” “Eloise at Christmastime” and “The Polar Express,” and every year my best friend and I have a Harry Potter marathon. There are plenty of holiday rom-coms if that’s more your thing, and if all else fails you can just watch “Die Hard” and call it a day. Movie marathons are perfect if you’re home sick or at the hospital for a few days, and they’re super fun!

2. Read a good book. 

I’m an avid reader, so picking up a new series and marathoning it over Christmas break has been a tradition of mine since I was in grade school. I used to reread the “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” books each Christmas, but if you’re home sick and want to commit to a new series then I say go for it! Being in bed with a good book and my trusty heating pad helps me from getting too bored, while also soothing my abdominal pain.

Some of my favorite Christmas-y books are: “Letters From Father Christmas” by J.R.R. Tolkien, “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, “The Night Before Christmas” by Nikolai Gogol and “My True Love Gave to Me,” edited by Stephanie Perkins.

If you’re looking for a new series to try, obviously I recommend the “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” books. “The Mortal Instruments” (or any of the “Shadowhunters” novels) by Cassandra Clare are also excellent.

3. Send out holiday cards. 

Now, I get this can be stressful for some people, but personally I love sending out season’s greetings cards, mainly to family and friends, but also to people I’ve met in gastroparesis support groups online. It’s fun to get creative and do some drawings or write fun cards featuring inside jokes, and I love including little surprises like jewelry and stickers for my gastroparesis friends.

It’s a time-consuming activity but it’s actually productive – plus, it will make you look very organized. Hopefully you’ll get some cards in response!

4. Bring the festive spirit inside. 

Malls, restaurants, grocery stores, even the emergency room at the hospital I frequent, all have festive decorations this time of year. Half of the fun of going out is seeing all of the Christmas lights and holiday decorations everyone has put up.

To help get me in the holiday spirit and keep me from sitting at home, wallowing in self-pity, my family and I go a little overboard on the decorations. We’re the family that wraps pine garland around all of the bannisters and has four different sets of snowmen salt and pepper shakers to put on the dining room table.

I even put flannel snowflake sheets on my bed and get a new pair of festive fleece pajamas each year to bring the holiday spirit into my room. It’s nice for days when I’m practically bedridden.

5. Invite friends over to decorate cookies. 

I have mixed feelings about this suggestion since I can’t actually eat solid food at the moment, but having a cookie decorating party or building a gingerbread house is a great way to lure your friends over and bring the fun to your house. You can bake sugar cookies, gingerbread men and cupcakes, get a bunch of different icings and sprinkles and go wild.

6. Talk. 

Here’s my biggest piece of advice to keep from getting too down during the holiday season when you miss party after party, can’t eat Christmas dinner or haven’t been able to see your friends: talk. Let your friends and family know how you’re feeling, why you’re upset and what they can do to help you (visiting you, just hanging out and talking, having a long Skype call, etc.).

If you don’t have anyone in your life right now who you feel you can talk openly with, I encourage you to turn to online support groups to make connections with people who are going through the same thing as you. Not only will they understand what you’re feeling, but they will be able to offer you the comfort and support you’re looking for.

Do not let your disease and the limitations it places on you force you to feel isolated this holiday season!

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