Tips for Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic Illness
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, or some other midwinter holiday, this time of year is the worst for those of us with chronic illnesses. Pacing goes out the window as we push ourselves to “get it all done” and not “ruin the holiday for the rest of the family.” (Some have even heard that from family and friends. “If you don’t ______, you’ll ruin the party for the rest of us.” “We can’t leave now, we’re not finished with the shopping.” “You can’t lay down and rest, everyone expects us to ______.” “It’s not Christmas without a tree.” “You’re ruining it for all of us.”)
Family and societal demands double and triple, insisting that we must decorate, shop, cook, attend parties for every social group we belong to; and give, give, give. We’re expected to give our time, give our money, and give our energy; and after it’s all over we pay dearly in higher pain levels, more exhaustion, and fewer financial resources to apply to treatment.
It’s hectic and exhausting, but there ARE ways to ease the strain, so here are my favorite ways to save myself time and work during the holidays.
- There are several options for this one. Sending “ecards” is quick and easy, especially if you don’t personalize them much. Choose your favorite, and email it to everyone.
- For a more personal touch, you can use one of the programs for making your own cards, then turn the card into a .pdf file and email that. (I know MS Publisher allows you to save files as .pdf, or at least they did the last time I did cards.)
- Eliminate cards entirely. (I worked my way up to this one over several years.)
- For those who have a family member who insists that individual paper cards MUST be sent, tell them, “okay, you want paper cards, go right ahead and do it yourself.” (This is tough, especially if you have problems with setting limits, but stick to your guns, it’s worth it.)
- The “family newsletter.” This can actually be fun to write, and if it’s something you’ve been doing, some small changes can save you some work. Traditionally, the family newsletter includes the dreaded “holiday photo,” either as an insert, or as part of the newsletter itself. Instead, why not use pictures taken throughout the year to illustrate your stories? It’s easy to use a template in most word processing programs to create a newsletter, and inserting a photo into documents is easy. For real savings in time and effort though; don’t print it out and go to all the work of folding, addressing envelopes, and mailing it. Most word processors now either include the option of “print to pdf” or have a plugin you can get. Turn your newsletter into a pdf and email it. You’ll save yourself some time, energy, and expense; and you may even save a tree or two. After all, most of these get read and thrown away anyway.
- Simplify, simplify, simplify. I know you have computer access, if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this. USE the computer. Do your shopping online. If you’re nervous about using a credit card on the web; buy yourself a prepaid card the next time you’re in the grocery store, load it with your gift budget, and shop to your heart’s content.
- Take advantage of the extra services available on many shopping sites. Have the gift wrapped and shipped directly to the recipient. (Yes, it costs a bit more, but think about how much it costs you to buy all the wrapping paper and supplies, do the wrapping, repackage and ship it again. Then add in the cost of the extra pain medication you have to take after wrapping it, taking it to be shipped, and standing in those long lines. Believe me, it works out.)
- Gift cards. (I know, some folks call it the “lazy” way out, but I LOVE them whether I’m getting them or giving them. What could be bad about knowing I’m going to actually get something I want or need, or that the person I’m giving it to will actually ENJOY whatever they get?) You do have to be careful with this one though. Cards for specific stores can be problematic if it’s not somewhere they shop on a regular basis, so if you want to make certain your recipient gets to use it, get something for a store you know they’re in all the time or that they can use online. Otherwise, get something like a prepaid credit card that can be used anywhere. (Please, please, don’t buy them a card that’s only good in one place if they never go there. You’re wasting your money, and they aren’t getting a gift at all; or they’re being forced to go somewhere they don’t want to be, and what fun is that?) Oh, one more thing, check expiration dates, you don’t want them to try to use it only to find out it was only good for 30 days from the time it was purchased, and you bought it 25 days before you gave it to them.
My choice for decorating was to opt out entirely, but that doesn’t work for everyone. Especially if you have younger children, you’ll at least want to do a little decorating, but keep it simple and you’ll thank yourself later.
- There are a lot more options out there than there used to be, like pre-lighted trees, and using a small tree to minimize the need for bending and stretching to hang decorations ( a 3 foot pre-lighted tree set on a tabletop will cut the pain and fatigue to a minimum, since you can easily reach the whole thing to add garland and decorations.) There are also small ceramic trees available, if you just want a little something to look at without having to do more than set it out and plug it up.
- With older children, you can “delegate” the decorating chores as long as you’re willing to allow it to be “not quite perfect” and can supervise without being drawn into the decorating process.
- Outdoor decorating should be left strictly to someone else. If the outside HAS to be decorated, and you don’t have someone to do it for you, hire someone. Outdoor decorating is much too physical for most of us, and really isn’t worth the risk. (I have the best of both worlds actually, because we rent, and the landlords decorate the main house.)
On this one, you have to prioritize. There are likely to be more parties than even a healthy person should try to attend, so pick the most important ones. It’s more than reasonable to limit parties to no more than one a week, or to do one “work” party and one family party (if you’re in a long term relationship, you may have to do two family parties, one for your family, and one for your partner’s family.) The response to all other invitations should be a polite, “I’m sorry but I already have an obligation on that day.” (They don’t need to know that the obligation is to take care of yourself so that you can survive the holidays.)
This one is especially tough, since no matter what else is going on, you still have to eat, and many parties will be a potluck style where you have to bring a dish. Whenever possible, purchase a prepared dish from the grocery store, put it into your own nice serving container and relax.
In some cases, this isn’t possible because you’re responsible for a particular item that isn’t available in a prepared version, but don’t lose hope. Check out new recipes for it and choose the simplest, or get someone to help. Older children can peel potatoes or eggs, can use a potato masher, can stir things and open cans, and can do the post-cooking cleanup. Even smaller children can do things like hand you things, get things out of the pantry, reach into the lower cabinets for pots and pans, and just generally fetch and carry to save your back and legs. If you have a child that’s old enough (and responsible enough) to learn to cook, let THEM do the heavy lifting while you simply show them how to do it and supervise.
For your own meals, this is definitely the time of year to keep it very simple. Take out is a lifesaver, but if it’s a bit more than your budget (or your body) can handle, there are tons of quick and easy recipes online for you to choose from, as well as a wide array of heat and eat or prepared meals available at the grocery store. (A frozen dinner may not be the best meal in the world, but when you’re exhausted and in pain; it’s better than not eating or having a package of cookies for dinner.)
Sorry, I wouldn’t touch this one with a 10 foot pole, so you’re on your own here. Religion is too personal, too intimate, for me to try to tell you how to manage. My only advice is to do the minimum you are comfortable with.
Finally, even with the extras, be sure to maintain medication schedules and stick as close to your usual schedule as possible. Adding all the additional activities of the holidays is hard enough on your body, don’t make it worse by skipping meds and neglecting necessary personal care.
- Procrastinators Unite: Stonehouse Collection.com Offers Ways for Truly Busy People to Send Christmas Cards this Holiday Season (prweb.com)
- The psychology of gifting: What type of holiday gifter are you? (metroamerica.com)