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How to Cope with Chronic Illness During the Holiday Season

December 10, 2020

Donna Oram MSW, ACSW

The holiday season is upon us, a time to be happy and joyous, right?  At least that is what all the commercials show and tell us on TV.  It is the time to shop, purchase, and wrap presents for those we hold dear. It is the time to put up the tree or take out the menorah and decorate the house with glitter and sparkle.  It is the time to bake and decorate cookies, cakes, brownies, and pies.  It is the time to take out the family’s old recipes and make scrumptious meals.  What a fun and busy season the holidays are from Thanksgiving to the New Year.

But what if a chronic illness is thrown in the mix?

The Reality of Added Worry and Stress When the Holidays Hit

As much as those of us who have chronic illnesses such as lupus, want to do all of the above; for many of us, we physically cannot.  And because we cannot, even though we really, really want to, many of us feel sadness and guilt during the holiday season.  It can be a difficult time for us.  It is not always joyous and happy.  We live many days with symptoms such as joint pain, swelling, muscle stiffness, and overwhelming  fatigue that impede our ability to function normally.   We worry about organ failure and rashes and purple fingers and toes.  We worry so much of the day.  Many of us are very adept at worry.

Our friends talk about how they have so much to do, how will they ever get it all done; yet we know they will, because they always do.  But will we?  We do not have the energy or the stamina that our friends do.  We try, we try so hard, but cannot always get everything done.  When we do, we pay the price the next day.  We pay in spades.  We look healthy to our friends and relatives so they have difficulty understanding, and yes, even sometimes believing us, when we say how we really feel.  They do not understand when we say we have an invisible disease.

We worry that our children will not have a complete holiday filled with toys and games and much wanted presents.  We worry that we will get a flare and not make the cookies our family expects.  All of this intensifies our feelings of guilt and sadness and brings on terrible stress.  So what do we do?  What do we do? 

How to Handle the Holiday Hoopla in Increments

We do what we can do in smaller increments.  We complete our tasks in percentages.  We must internally grasp we will do the best we can do over a period of time and not necessarily in one or two days.  We must become organizational and accept that something will have to go.  That something may be the dishes or vacuuming.  This is when we must learn to delegate and ask for help. 

Asking for help is a hard thing for us to do. 

We are so used to wanting to do every single thing by ourselves.  We must learn to say “No” and turn down a friend who wants us on a committee or at a Zoom meeting.  We have to organize our priorities.  We must allow time on a daily basis to rest or nap.  We can nap or rest when our children do.  If that is not possible, we must set aside some “me” time.  “Me” time is finding the time to journal, read, watch a favorite program, meditate, mindfulness exercises, yoga, tai chi, or whatever relaxes you. Even if it is for a short time, daily, find the time, from 20 minutes to longer. 

You are worth it. Your health is worth it.

Have discussions with yourself.  Make attitudinal changes regarding your feelings of guilt.  Change your negative thoughts into positives.  Instead of focusing on what you “cannot do”,  convert those thoughts into “can do’s”- positive thoughts.  “Look at all I am actually doing.  I am doing a good job.” 

Everyday begin to give yourself a positive affirmation of how great, strong, and resilient you really are.  It will take you time to believe you are a good person, but your guilt will decrease and your self-pride will increase.  When you learn to let go of some of your must-do’s for what is really important, you will feel so much more relaxed and happier.  When you become happier, your frustration level and anger will be reduced and you will treat your circle of support nicer and more loving. 

None of what I have written is easy.  You will not change overnight.  But if you internally believe in the importance of making yourself a happier and less guilt-driven person who in turn will make those around you more content, this will be well worth the effort.  I guarantee it.  Your happiness is well-deserved as is your support system.  I hope this will be an improved holiday season for each one of you.

Donna Oram, MSW, ACSW is a Lupus thriver and the author of “When Lupus Throws You For A Loop” available on Amazon. It is about learning how to live with the complexities of lupus, learning to cope, and accept your illness into your very being.  Donna has a passion for writing, and for volunteering and advocating in the lupus community. She has been a Lupus Warrior for thirty years and is a retired master’s level social worker.  She and her husband of 56 years are blessed to live near her children and four grandchildren.

Here at Lupus Chick, our mission is to help you live a thriving Autoimmune Life

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