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When Chronic Illness Means You Can't Celebrate Christmas Like You Used To

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It is December and a cold rain is beating against my window. The clouds are thick and gray. The weather matches my mood today, a mood that says, “Meh!” There is a running list going through my head. I need to finish the Christmas shopping and plan the Christmas Eve party I am supposed to be hosting this year. I haven’t even baked a single cookie.

This past weekend I decorated my home for the holidays, also known as putting up the Christmas tree with my family. Even though I knew I would most likely have a huge flare-up afterwards, nothing prepared me for the intensity of the fatigue that has settled in like an unwelcome guest.

This fatigue is all-encompassing. It makes me feel like I have been drinking poison. I have fought with it for the past several days, pushing through the exhaustion and hoping that if I ignore it long enough, it will just go away.

To be quite honest, I should have known better.

I have always loved Christmas, everything about it! The lights, the music, the time spent with family and the holiday baking. Christmas has always had the ability to fill my heart with joy.

I love the light and life of the season. But I have not been able to truly enjoy it for the past several years due to the sickness that has almost literally tied my hands behind my back.

woman curled up on the couch holding a mug of tea with the words 'christmas with a chronic illness'

Christmas With a Chronic Illness

It feels a bit like being on the outside looking in. I can see the beauty of it, but I just cannot get close enough to actually be a part of it. In years past, I would take an entire day and spend it baking cookies and candy with my children. I can remember those days as if they were yesterday. But now, I cannot even spend one hour in my kitchen without feeling totally wiped out.

Every year my baking list has dwindled to almost miniature proportions due to my struggles with chronic illness. Old favorites that have been a part of our holiday season for at least 20 years have fallen by the wayside. All of this trimming down falls on the alter of chronic illness, more specifically Lyme disease.

I am stubborn. I love family traditions. But I have had to come to the terms with the fact that I can no longer do what I used to do! It literally breaks my heart.

Several years ago, I felt that winds of change were on the horizon when it came to what I could actually manage during the holidays. Then last year, my health took a mighty turn for the worse, and what had been persistent sickness became worsening sickness. I became weaker and more fragile.

Frequent rest breaks failed to recoup my flagging energy levels. Like a thermometer in January, I watched my health drop lower and lower until I was left to look back on the battlefield of my life and realize what had been lost. All sense of normalcy is gone. I do not even have the energy to sit at my little piano and play Christmas carols.

The joy of spontaneity has been taken away.

We were driving through our neighborhood last night and there were so many beautiful Christmas light displays. I immediately thought how lovely it would be to take a moonlit walk all bundled up to see the lights with my family.

My next thought was, I barely have the strength to walk from my kitchen to the couch. How would I walk around the neighborhood? Maybe someday…

If I am not careful, I will waste my life away waiting on someday. So I had a new thought: why not plan something I can handle? It is a small list to be sure, but it is filled with promise.

The Chronic Christmas “I Cans”

I can watch a Christmas movie with the kids while they drink hot chocolate.

I can put some pre-made cookies in the oven to bake for my family.

I can sit by the fire and listen to old Christmas records with my husband.

I can do some Christmas shopping online.

I can enjoy time with my family in small doses.

I can count my blessings and be thankful for the joys that do remain.

In this season of commercialism and being overly busy, I can be glad I have a home, a family who cares and the privilege to just rest and heal.

I can find joy hidden in the simplest places.

Happiness is a frame of mind. Christmas should be a season of counting our blessings. I just need to learn to find the hidden joy in simple things.

To dwell on the “I cans” of my life and not to wait on someday is a necessary part of accepting and living with a chronic illness.

Has chronic illness changed the way you celebrate the holidays?

Embrace that change and find the good in it, however small.

I wish you joy for the journey and peace in your heart.

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Lead photo by Thinkstock Images

Originally published: December 15, 2016
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