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Chronic Illness at Christmas

Chronic Illness at Christmas

While most people are buzzing about with holiday cheer and busy making Christmas preparations, living with a chronic illness at Christmas can look very different.

My Experience

While this is not my first holiday season unwell, it is my first holiday season with a chronic illness diagnosis.  Going into Christmas, I had a plan for a healthy and relaxing holiday season.  My “plan” was working beautifully.  Then, real life happened.

My family and I went on a sunny dream vacation a couple of weeks ago, and too much sun exposure triggered an autoimmune flare in me towards the end of our trip.  I usually identify the first signs of a flare, take immediate action to feel better, and can successfully keep the flare at bay.  This time, I was fighting a losing battle between the travel home, unexpected work stress, and my husband fighting a terrible cold.

Despite my best intentions and my hard work, life happened.  So here I sit during yet another holiday season, feeling unwell. 

What does chronic illness, at Christmas, look like for me this year?

In my case, it looks like:

  • Shopping online – doing 95% of my Christmas shopping online to try to conserve as much energy as I can.
  • Forgetting presents – brain fog from my autoimmune flare causing my clear thinking to become cloudy.
  • Trying to think outside my pain – If I am not careful, muscle pain, joint pain, and physical challenges can consume my mind when I am not feeling well.
  • Feeling the true meaning of Christmas by leaning on my Savior every day.
  • Navigating the rough waters of chronic illness, with my Savior as my guide.
  • Finding peace only felt through Him. 

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

John 14:27
  • Canceling the few holiday parties I planned to go to because I am in a flare and my body needs rest.
  • Praying I feel well enough on Christmas day to watch my kids open their presents, and make their favorite breakfast.
  • Looking for quick and healthy treats to make with my kids because I am not physically up to making our traditional homemade sugar cookies.  Trying to not let it break my heart.

“For the chronically ill—which includes those who suffer from chronic pain—the holidays can feel like a no-win situation. If we participate at all, there’s likely to be payback later. On the other hand, if we don’t participate, we’ll feel isolated and risk other people not understanding why we haven’t joined in the festivities.” 

Toni Bernhard, J.D., Surviving the Holidays When You are Chronically Ill

Finding Comfort

As I look around and see what seems like everyone else having a “normal” Christmas, I keep in mind that I am not alone.  There are millions of us.  I find comfort knowing that I am not alone.  I hope you know that you are not alone.  My heart breaks for you as it breaks for me.

I want you to know you are not the only one in bed today resting, and praying that you feel well enough to enjoy Christmas day with your loved ones.

I want you to know you are not the only one who looks “fine” on the outside, but is battling debilitating symptoms on the inside.

I want you to know I love and support you.  Our chronic illnesses may look different.  We may look different.  Our beliefs may be different.  Our families may look different.  The truth is, we are really not that different, you and I. 

Our chronic illnesses tie us together, not just at Christmas, but all year round.  Please know you are not alone.  I see you.  I feel you.  I support you.  I pray for you.  I am cheering you on. 

The Challenge

As we rest up in an effort to feel well, I challenge us to stay positive, to focus on the good and to see the beautiful.

So maybe we are not up to going out shopping, or to baking homemade sugar cookies and frosting them, but there are ways that we can still enjoy the holidays.

Here are just a few ideas:

  • Call or FaceTime loved ones
  • Write letters of gratitude and encouragement to those in the armed forces
  • Look up memes that perfectly show what it is like to live with a chronic illness during the holiday season, and laugh!
  • Envision you healthy, and dream up goals for 2019, then make a plan to accomplish them
  • Watch Christmas movies
  • Work on a Christmas puzzle
  • Read scriptures about Jesus Christ, and try to think of things in your life you can do to be more like Him.

This may not have been the life we chose, but let’s make it beautiful.  This may not have been the way we chose to spend Christmas, but let’s choose to find joy.  We are stronger than our chronic illness.  It may not feel like it at times, but we are.  It only breaks us if we let it.

Merry Christmas, my fellow chronic illness warriors. 

I love you.  I support you.  I am here for you.

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