Chronic Christmas by Sophie Ward

It is no lie or exaggeration to say that Christmas can be a very daunting time. There is so much to think about, to balance and to sort out and this is not easy when your mind is in a fog. With the long preparation time, it can seem endless. How can we cope better and how can we enjoy this festive time when we have health limitations? How can we organise ourselves better in order to help remove some of the stress surrounding the festive season?

We have seen lots of new members joining LDUK’s Online Community this year and for many, it is their first Christmas dealing with a complex health problem like Lyme. It is tough and isolating seeing people around us filled with joy when we are struggling to see the light. Everyone deserves the best Christmas possible and so I thought it would be a perfect time to offer some helpful tips and advice and also to get the Community involved in offering some insight in the run-up to the festive period.

Let’s break down the main stressors of Christmas:

  1. Socialising: Whether it is a family gathering, a Christmas party, a meal out or drinks, all of these occasions require a lot of energy and in many cases, a great deal of forward planning. Prior to experiencing health struggles, many of us would accept all invitations that came our way and not think twice about an energy budget. Now, we must be savvy. It isn’t easy saying “no” and it isn’t easy having to pace or to leave the fun early. For years I said “yes” to everything and after one or two festive events, I would burn out and then have to cancel the rest. This not only harmed my physical health but my mental health too. After many years of repeating the same vicious cycle, I am finally learning to pace myself. This often involves arriving late, leaving early, and not allowing myself to feel judged for not attending certain things. I am also careful to prioritise family events over work events. This is what has worked for me so far:
  • Keeping a diary of all the invitations received and then prioritising carefully.
  • Ensuring there are rest days in between events.
  • Not travelling too far so that getting home is easy.
  • Contacting the host and being honest about health issues, explaining that it might be necessary to leave early or arrive late and to avoid certain food due to dietary restrictions.
  • Not feeling guilty about saying no.
  • Ensuring not to overbook during the festive period.
  1. Food: GLORIOUS FOOD! It is a tough time of year as there is just so much we want to be able to eat over Christmas. Temptation is everywhere, however, it’s important to be realistic. A treat here or there is good for the soul, but don’t go jeopardising your health to please others or to fit in. I always offer to provide my own food if it makes things less awkward and if it will provide peace of mind that I can enjoy things I like with no adverse reactions. It’s also worth ringing host, the restaurant or the venue in advance and ensure that they know all your dietary requirements well in advance.
  1. Gift buying: We are bombarded with advertising, particularly at Christmas with every advert suggesting something which you either NEED in your life or you SHOULD be buying for a friend or relative. We can’t always get to the shops and for many, online shopping is simply too much as well. People who understand your health issues won’t be expecting anything. Often, just seeing you over the festive period is worth its weight in GOLD. If you do want to give gifts, then little personal gifts often mean SO MUCH MORE.
  • Get creative as it’s also good for the mind. There are so many ideas out there including bracelet making, jam, pudding and chocolate making, candle making,  knitting scarves, making soap and making gingerbread houses to name a few.
  • Vouchers or experience gifts are a straightforward option if you are not creatively inclined or don’t have the energy to make gifts.
  • Don’t drive yourself insane worrying about gifts. The extra stress takes the fun out of the festive season and doesn’t do our health any good. Conserve energy wherever you can.
  1. Christmas day: Often full of family activities and seems to add up to a month’s worth of socialising in one day in terms of your energy budget!
  • Pace yourself. Give yourself little breaks, whether it’s a nap, slipping off to watch a movie on your own, doing some mindfulness activities or anything that helps you recharge.
  • Rest before and after the day.
  • Be realistic and don’t be hard on yourself. Although our friends and family may seem super social, even for them Christmas is an exhausting time.
  • Pre-plan breaks and warn the people you are spending the day with. Tell everyone that you need a break every 2 hours, for however long you need. People then expect you to disappear at regular intervals and this helps to lessen the guilt you feel and any comments of surprise from loved ones.

Advice from members of LDUK’s Online Community:

‘I have the energy to write and post cards. I cook a starter for Christmas day and my family cooks the rest. We have simple stocking gifts from Santa. I prefer to give experiences rather than presents. For example, a visit to a butterfly farm, a zoo, a picnic in the countryside, a camping trip etc. I like to see my family enjoying themselves.’

‘I tell my family I can only do half a day on Christmas day, which is fine as we all have a late lunch at 3pm together for a few hours and it is enough for me.’

‘I ask friends to come around to my house for coffee morning because I am not well enough to go out or sit in a café. I try to organise a date and time to suit most people so that I am not spreading myself too thin. I can plan for that day and make the most of it.’

‘I told my friends and family I am not doing presents, but I enjoy my crafts. It helps me with my anxiety and pain levels, so I usually use October to December to slowly do crafts for everyone so they have a little something. It helps me mentally but also, I don’t have to stress about getting out to the shops, what to buy everyone with different tastes, and the mad rush. ‘

Everyone handles this time of year differently and so it is very helpful to read the tips shared above by those who have been able to make Christmas as manageable as possible for them. However bleak things are, remember that Christmas is all about joy and so it’s important to focus on what might bring us joy at a time of year when there is a lot of pressure for those who are chronically ill and not worry about letting people down, saying no to things or pacing ourselves.

I hope you have found this blog post useful & I wish you all a VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS.

Sophie Ward