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What It Takes to Enjoy the Holidays With a Chronic Illness

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Many people look forward to the festive season. However, when you have a chronic illness, the holidays can be a difficult time for many reasons. Everyone’s illnesses affect them differently, so here are a couple of the ways my health can taint Christmas for me:

I have a stomach condition called gastroparesis. This means that my stomach is partially paralyzed and this can cause issues including sickness, fatigue, loss of appetite and food intolerances. Almost every holiday is focused around food, and this can make it difficult for me. A lot of the time I cannot eat without throwing up everywhere, and when I can eat, I am limited to small amounts of specific foods in the hopes they don’t make me sick. I can also be sure that if I eat I will be plagued with abdominal pains for hours afterward. As a big foodie, this causes me enough problems on a normal day; at the holidays, it’s downright awful.

All of my illnesses cause me fatigue, but the fatigue from my myalgic encephalomyelitis is on a whole different level. Over the festive season, there are so many different events I want to attend – Christmas markets, nights out, parties, family gatherings etc. Add this to the fact that everywhere is so busy that you cannot get a seat anywhere and a lot of venues are not very accessible, and I have to miss out on a lot. The cold, damp weather makes the pain from my fibromyalgia worse, complicating things further. I love festive events and celebrations, especially as Christmas is my favorite time of year, and missing out on them is awful (try FOMO x100!). Most people don’t understand why you are canceling either, and so they think you are rude or do not want to spend time with them, which is not the case at all.

This New Year’s Eve, I am doing something I have never done before, and am going out for the bells. There are a few reasons why I haven’t done this before. There is always a lot of drinking involved, which I can’t do with my medication. It is so busy that finding a seat is near impossible. It is a lot of money to spend beforehand planning when you might be too ill anyway. I am normally still recovering from Christmas Day. And finding a taxi home after the bells is difficult, and I can’t walk or stand for ages waiting.

Given all those challenges, you might be wondering why I am going out this year. If I’m being honest, the main reason is that I want to. I am 20 years old and I have never been out for the New Year. I have never spent New Year’s Eve anywhere other than my couch or my bed, wrapped in blankets. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy snuggling up with my dogs and my favorite pajamas, but this year I wanted to experience what almost everyone else my age already has. I’ve had to put lots in place to ensure this – arranging a dropoff, finding a good venue that has lift access and a disabled toilet, paying a lot of money to reserve a table for the entire night, and putting preparations in place in case I cannot get a taxi home.

Maybe it seems like too much effort just to enjoy one night out, but for me this one night is special. Maybe it wouldn’t all be worth it to someone else, someone who could just go out and have a good night without worrying about these things, but to me (and a lot of others with chronic illness) it is.

So this festive season, be kind to those around you who may be struggling. And if you are struggling, just remember that these holidays are for you too, so enjoy them in whatever way is best for you.

Getty image by Shansche.

Originally published: December 2, 2019
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