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How To Navigate The Holiday Season While Chronically Ill

by Ly H Kerr

Christmas is joyous and lovely and incredibly hard for the chronically ill. On top of keeping up with everyday life, there are a million other tasks to contend with—not only is there shopping, wrapping, and cooking, but there are a multitude of festive social events. Oh, and we’re all expected to stay merry and bright.

When you’re chronically ill, you don’t get time off for Christmas. Keeping up with seasonal demands when you are in pain and exhausted can be impossible. Here is my spoonie guide to surviving Christmas. (Plus, a little advice for friends and family of the chronically ill.)

Make a list, check it twice. 

The only way I can keep track of what needs to be done is making a ton of lists. Lists help combat so many issues, and if you’re dealing with brain fog, anxiety, impaired cognitive function, fatigue, and so on, lists are lifesavers. I usually break things down into categories and try to assign a time scale to each list. The trick is to be realistic about how much you can do each day and not to freak out if you don’t complete your list. Simply roll over any outstanding items. Accept that sometimes you will have to make cuts. You cannot do everything. The world will not end if you don’t send the Christmas cards this year.

Start early and manage expectations. 

I always start Christmas prep super early. The longer you have to get organized, the more you can spread the workload. Getting a jump start on the shopping also really helps if you have a tight budget.

Be honest with yourself and others about what you can manage. If you have to trim the gift list or swap a meet up for a phone call, do so. I believe Christmas is about embracing the ones we love. Try to work out in advance which parties and get-togethers you can comfortably manage, and communicate that. 

Obviously, this year we might be consigned to FaceTime, but the same principle applies. If you need some quiet time, it is okay to miss a call. Float the idea of Secret Santa-style gift exchange rather than individual gifts for everyone in your group; expensive presents don’t matter. An enjoyable phone call or quick outdoors coffee can be much nicer than forcing yourself to suffer through social engagements that cause you distress.

If you must cancel, make your apologies, but be firm. You didn’t choose to be ill. You are not intentionally disappointing anyone. Remind yourself of this and try your hardest not to feel guilty.

The internet is your friend. 

I do most of my Christmas shopping online: it is much less stressful and physically taxing to order from the sofa. Busy shops are not safe during a pandemic, not to mention the weather is awful. 

Stay warm and safe and get your festive haul delivered. This goes for food, too. You can order in advance and have the Christmas groceries delivered as and when you need them.

Allow yourself to enjoy what works for you.

Christmas comes with a variety of traditions. Everyone has their own variations and seasonal essentials. It’s lovely to uphold family traditions, but only if they work for you. This is your life and your Christmas; you are entitled to enjoy the festivities. If something will negatively impact your health, do not do it. There is no joy in activities that hurt you.

Establish your own Christmas customs, whether that means embracing existing rituals or just making up them up from scratch. Deck the halls, wear an ugly jumper, stick cinnamon on everything—or don’t. Suit yourself. Celebrate in style, but make it your style.

Don’t be a dick.

This is for our loved ones. If someone in your life is dealing with chronic illness, be kind. We know we disappoint sometimes. We get that we’re not the easiest to accommodate, but please be patient. Spoonies are likely to be extra cautious this year: COVID-19 is no joke. As inconvenient as our symptoms can be to others, trust me—dealing with them every single minute of our lives is harder.

Top photo via Pexels

More from BUST

How To Support Your Chronically Ill Friends During The Holidays

What It’s Really Like To Date While Managing A Chronic Illness

How The Medical System Is Failing Women With Chronic Illness

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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