holiday season

Jingle Bell or Holiday Hell? Part 2: Balancing Act

Holiday cheer, Christmas songs, gingerbread cookies, eggnog, and carolers oh so nice; shopping mayhem, endless baking, non-stop Christmas songs, want to break that CD player, the tenth holiday party of the week, out of town visitors, shows and pageants...when can I get some sleep?

The holiday time is certainly a test of how well people can pace themselves and of managing an overload of expectations. Yes EXPECTATIONS...not responsibilities. During the holiday season, it is easy to confuse expectations with responsibilities. Oftentimes, people experience certain events as things that they must do lest they let down their loved ones. However, when one really thinks about it, is the holiday season really any different from the rest of the year? It is true that there can be many fun and exciting events during the holiday time, but exciting and fun can quickly turn to burdensome or overwhelming if not properly managed.

The holiday season balancing act is something that most people in the western world experience every year; however, this balancing act can be especially challenging for people who live with chronic physical illness. Although most people need to figure out how to manage the numerous holiday parties and events of the year, some people with certain illnesses need to pay even more attention to the amount of rest that they are getting, how much physical activity can be tolerated, and what level of stress is appropriate. The responsibility of balancing one's activities and health makes it very apparent to some people with chronic illness, that their illness is a reality and it can serve as a reminder of some of their limitations or life adjustments. This realization can cause some to experience various feelings such as sadness, anger, frustration, denial, or helplessness, at a time where society sets an expectation of joy and cheer. Sometimes these unpleasant feelings may result in some people with chronic illness wanting to engage in as many holiday activities as possible in an effort to will away the reality of their condition, which can follow with a worsening of one's health. On the other hand, just because a person lives with chronic physical illness does not mean that he or she is banned from participating in holiday activities all together. This is another extreme that can follow from people's loved ones' fears and concerns about the person with the illness, or from the person with the illness him or herself becoming depressed and hopeless, and believing that living with an illness means having a poor quality of life.

The key is different from folks who do not have a chronic condition. Sure, mastering the correct balance for yourself may be trickier than the balancing act of a person without a chronic illness; however it is completely possible. An important thing to keep in mind is that the holiday season is a time for fun, love, and joy. It is easy for these things to be forgotten as the societal message is one of "musts," making the distinction between expectation and responsibility difficult. Attending a million holiday events is nobody's responsibility but it may be expected by some folks in your life. Do not forget that it is ok to not meet everyone's expectations for what you can or cannot do during the holidays. What will happen if you pass on some holiday events for the benefit of yourself? Nothing other than feeling physically good, probably emotionally good, and able to partake in your actually responsibilities. So you balance: you choose what holiday events are really important to you and you take part in them, and the one's that are not on the top of your list you pass on. If anyone else is bothered by this then it is their problem to deal with as it was their expectation that led to their own disappointment, and this is something that you can communicate to them.

The holiday season can at times leave people feeling a bit helpless. Get empowered! Stand up for yourself and your needs, and communicate them when you are not feeling understood. BALANCE YOURSELF!

Happy Holidays!

Jingle Bell or Holiday Hell? Part 1: Inquiring Minds

In the spirit of the holiday season the next few posts will be a series encompassing some of the many scenarios and experiences that accompany the holidays. This series will begin with an account of what family holiday reunions with extended and at times immediate family can be like. Eggnog, Christmas trees, mistletoe, hot cocoa, and many inquiring minds.

It can be overwhelming enough having to explain to "new" people on a daily basis what your illness is, how it affects your health and daily functioning, and what treatments you are currently receiving, but imagine flocks of relatives who have not seen you in a while. Sure most of them genuinely care and are curious to know how you are really doing. On the other hand, there might also be a couple of nosy relatives or family friends who you are pretty sure thrive on knowing the most information that they can possibly gather. As such, holiday parties although joyous can become a bit exhausting. Imagine hearing, "Oh my you look really good," as if implying "given your condition I expected to see a waif with dark under eye circles and bags." Another scenario is interacting with the "google doctors" who decide it is their mission to give you advice about your condition. Such as, "I know your doctor says that your treatment is the best option, and despite multiple additional opinions that you've received, I read on the internet that the best course of treatment for your condition is ..." Or "Are you sure that's your diagnosis? It says on the internet that these symptoms are indicative of ..."

So how does one stay sane within these scenarios? It is easy to forget that most of these inquiring minds simply care and are trying to be helpful. It might be necessary to be assertive and let these inquiring minds know that their input is thoughtful but that you have it covered and that you feel confident in your doctor's actions...unless you don't, then you might want to hear some input. Do not feel trapped! Just because someone may raise the topic of your health does not mean you need to continue the conversation. You can tactfully change the subject, excuse yourself to get a drink or to go to the bathroom, or have a prearrangement with a close friend/relative, whose job it is to steer conversations away from talking about your health. All this assumes you want to avoid such discussion. If you do not mind talking about how your health has been, then this might be a dream situation for you and there is no right or wrong way to feel in this scenario.

Although the discussion of this topic was presented in a light and festive manner, it is in no way meant to belittle what an overwhelming experience this can be for some people who live with chronic physical illness. For others, issues such as managing time during the holidays, not overly exerting oneself physically, or experiencing feelings that may come up when one may not be able to partake in certain holiday activities because of illness, may be more pertinent. As such, the holiday series will continue with discussions of these additional topics. However, comments and ideas about what situations may be difficult for those living with chronic physical illness are most welcome! Happy Holidays!