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Holidays With an Unwanted House Guest

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I don’t know where all the snot comes from. One minute you’re chugging along, feeling proud you have your Christmas cards addressed, and the next, you’re blowing your nose every 10 minutes, wondering how in the crap your body instantly manufactures so much yellow mucus.

It may be the only process my body does effectively anymore.

And those Christmas cards? They’re still tarrying on the hall bench, waiting to be deposited in the mailbox. I’m too stubborn to ask my husband or teenage driver to swing by the post office.

This is living with a chronic illness. For me, it’s Lyme disease, but there are oodles of auto-immune diseases out there, sometimes making what should be the happiest time of the year the hardest.

The bustle and stress of the holidays creates an open invitation to a flare, a reoccurrence of exaggerated symptoms, from joint pain to extreme fatigue. The worst part is thinking you have this thing under control, only to be sucker-punched by it at the worst possible time.

I guess any time feels like the worst possible time, doesn’t it? If I could schedule a Lyme flare, actually write it in pen on my calendar weeks in advance, it would be considerably be tolerable.

But Lyme is far from tolerant.

Rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, POTS, you name it. They don’t care that it’s the holidays and we have long to-do lists.

For ten days, I’ve fought the flu, a mean-spirited bug brought home from school and shared by my daughters. They were all better in two days. Me, not so much. Lyme, along with the barrage of medications I’ve consumed in the last year, has weakened my immune system.

Okay, weakened isn’t the right word. Obliterated is more like it.

Still, when I first realized the body aches were a result of the flu and not a relapse, I was relieved. If you have a chronic illness, you’ve probably thought “thank God, it’s the flu” before, too. I begrudgingly canceled my weekend plans and focused on healing.

I rested, but not in bed as instructed by my homeopath. I continued to eat clean and take my supplements. I even started the recommended garlic protocol, a full teaspoon of freshly chopped garlic swallowed daily. The cold was kicking my ass, but on the upside, there wasn’t a chance of vampires coming anywhere near our home.

I didn’t leave the house for four days. Then I did what most chronically-ill people do. I sucked it up. I didn’t want to disappoint my family, so I continued with our planned overnight outing to visit my oldest son. An hour and half away, I could do this.

My daughters and I helped assemble and decorate a Christmas tree, something significantly more important to us than to my college kid about to enter finals week. We made quesadillas together and watched Christmas movies. The next morning, we went out to breakfast, visited the local pet store and watched Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur.”

(As a side note, anytime the word “good” is used in the title, the movie will be gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking and your 5-year-old will sob, loudly, the entire last thirty minutes.)

It was a sweet little overnight trip. The girls had a blast and their big brother had clearly missed them. Sure, I had pain. The flu was triggering a Lyme flare, creating debilitating pain in my ankles and wrists. A wheeze had developed in my lungs, and my chest and back hurt constantly. I was the kind of tired no nap can fix and in too much discomfort to sleep anyway.

But it was worth it.

I thought.

With chronic illness, what you suck-it-up and do today, you will ultimately pay. The day you make the lapse in judgment you’ll think you’ve gotten away with it, but punishment is inevitable. Five days later, I’m still paying.

I’m now officially resting in bed, a sure sign that I feel miserable. It’s inexplicably difficult to shut yourself away in your bedroom when you have children who need you….

…when it’s the holidays and two of your trees are still naked.

…when there’s Christmas shopping to do because, sick or not, you have to get presents under one of those naked trees.

…when you just want to be part of all the freaking merriment.

…when all you want for Christmas is a day without pain. An hour without Lyme. A minute of just being me.

Yet, those children who make bedrest challenging, also make it doable. They rush to my side as soon as they get home from school, nestling into the warm bed and the crook of my arms. Gracie tells me about how today was “the best day ever” because she made up a game that everyone played during recess. We talk about her classes, which boys like which girls and what she’ll wear to cheerleading practice.

We play Candy Land, then we transform the game into Christmas Land. We stack the deck and invite their brother to play. We laugh. Amid the blankets and pillows, we eat chicken noodle soup and watch cooking shows. We snuggle.

This isn’t the life I’d pictured or the holidays I’d planned, but it’s enough.

And every night I fall sleep with the conviction that tomorrow will be better. Surely, the pain will ebb, breathing will get easier and I’ll be able to walk to our mailbox to send those stinkin’ Christmas cards.

Cuddles and hope.

I remind myself that‘s what this time of year is all about anyway, right?

Playing “Christmas Land”

Follow this journey on A Broken Crayon

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us one thing your loved ones might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness during the holidays. What would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: December 27, 2015
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