It’s the Holiday season, that magical time that rolls around once every year. Cheerful twinkling lights, Santa’s, snowmen, candles, platters of baked goods and candies, cards for every relative, friend and business contact, miles of ribbon and bows, toy drives for children, food drives for families, bell ringers collecting for those less fortunate, programs and pageants, gifts and parades, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, indeed!
For a normal healthy person, it’s a stressful time of year. The rates of depression are higher than other times. While many of us dream of that idyllic family holiday eating a nice meal, sipping hot drinks, playing games around a fire, and then exchanging gifts, the fact is that it takes real work, time and money to achieve just that even if you skip the commercialism of the season.
So what about those of us with chronic illness like arthritis and IBD? Decorating for the season and making handmade gifts, cards and candy used to be things that I looked forward to most. Now, the pain involved with bending and reaching to decorate has me in tears before I start. I still want to do all those things but my body has betrayed me. Feeling guilty for not being able to do what I once could, and still want to do, becomes an endless carol playing right alongside We Wish You a Merry Christmas. I have endless recipes for cookies, cakes and candies. I look at those now wistful and wishing. And the dinners and feasts! All those foods we just can’t tolerate or are tempted to try only to suffer in pain later.
What can we do? How can we make it a more joyous time and not feel guilty, depressed, in pain or worn out? For starters, we need to speak up, especially those of us who are mothers. We are not the only ones who can put up and/or decorate a tree. It doesn’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to decorate the whole house.
The baking and candy making, what do we do about that? Pick a favorite and enlist help. Make one or two, one day or evening and that’s enough. It’s nice that Aunt Sally can still make 22 different kinds of candy and deliver them to everyone in the neighborhood and family but you aren’t Aunt Sally.
Do what shopping you are capable of doing and that’s enough. One gift really is enough and it really is the thought that counts. Get it wrapped. Use gift bags and boxes. That pretty paper and bow is just not worth the ache.
Do you have IBD or an ostomy like me? Don’t go overboard at the dinner no matter how good it looks or smells or what anyone says. It is just not worth it later. Ask what is in it if you don’t know instead of taking a chance. When you are being pressed to try something and you know you just can’t, ask to take a little home for a later instead.
Mostly importantly, say no. If you know that you just can’t do something and it’s going to cause you pain, say no and do not feel guilty about it. It’s your holiday. Say no, reduce, pare down and stop feeling guilty until you are having that idyllic family time one morning or evening with a meal, games and a gift or two.
For those of you with normal, average bodies, please give us a hand if you can. You don’t even have to literally help out with the tree or baking if you don’t live in the same house with us. Just please cut us a break expecting the same that you would do. Addressing cards hurts many of us, so you may get a card with a printed label, an e-card or no card. It doesn’t mean we didn’t think of you or didn’t enjoy your card.
We loved those cookies you sent us and we’re sorry that we were not able to bake 12 dozen to reciprocate but making a small batch with our children is really all we were able to manage this year.
When we turned down your famous casserole, we really didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, honest. A few bites of vegetables from all those casseroles is really that offensive to our insides.
Forgive us for not being able to accept the invitation this time but please don’t stop inviting us or our family. Next time, it might work out that we will feel better, not have a commitment 2 days in a row (which our bodies won’t allow) and we will be there.
Most of all, just love us, no matter what we can or can’t do. Because gathering around a fire or tree with family and friends and no pressure, only smiles and laughter really is the most important thing this season. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays!