It will soon be the “season to be jolly.” The holiday season is especially challenging for those who are living with a chronic illness. You may be too ill to participate as you have in the past. Financial difficulties can add to the stress. As the days become shorter at year’s end, the iconic holiday symbols offer light. The glowing menorah and twinkling Christmas tree can represent hope. Using the word “LIGHT,” here are some ideas for surviving the December holidays:
Let go of expectations. I spoke to therapist, Penny Page, LCSW, about the pressure we put on ourselves to have a “Hallmark” holiday: perfect gifts, perfect decorations and food, a joyous time when everyone loves each other. When we’re unable to make that happen, we need to set aside the guilt and be realistic.
Identify what’s really important. Ms. Page suggests that the family sit down early on and talk about what is most important to each person. Challenge everyone’s view of what the holidays are supposed to be. Then pick and choose what you feel you can do. For example, maybe a potluck meal can replace the traditional feast. Can you shop online or give gift cards? Keep it simple.
Get help. Plan ahead. Formulate a “to do” agenda. Ask yourself, “What is the easiest way to accomplish this?” Ask each person in the family to take responsibility for some part of the holiday plans.
Have a conversation with your loved ones. If you “don’t look sick,” you need to help them understand what your life is like and what to expect from you at the holidays. “Put it out on the table,” says Ms. Page. “Speak to the fact that you may not be able to give people what they’re asking for.”
Have one ally in the family who “gets it” and enlist help in speaking to the rest. Explain what your limitations are, i.e., “I get tired easily, so I’ll only be able to stay for about two hours” or “I’ll do my best to attend your party but if my illness flares up, I may have to bow out.” In the end, recognize that some folks may refuse to accept that you are disabled.
Take care of yourself. Your health comes first. It’s tempting to abandon healthful living routines around the holidays. Be sure to get the sleep you need, eat right, and avoid toxic people.
Here’s wishing you a bright and peaceful holiday season.
Penny Page is a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in West Deptford. Her phone number is (856) 848-6330.