Surviving the Holidays with Chronic Illness

The holidays are lovely. From Halloween through Christmas, I enjoy this season so much.  But as much fun as it can be, I have an added complexity when it comes to my celebrations.  I have chronic illness and an eating disorder.  Traveling and being surrounded by food gets to be very difficult for me.

As we approach the holiday season, I start to dread the thought of riding in the car for long hours. Don’t get me wrong, I love visiting family.  But this is the one time a year where I have to travel over an hour several times per week to go to all the gatherings.  If you have a physical impairment like I do, you know where I’m coming from.  Riding in a car can be one of the worst things for my physical wellbeing.  It’s stressful for me and my husband.  We can’t travel simply; we have to travel with my condition in mind.

We have worked out a little bit of a system with our longer travels. When we arrive, we find a secluded room and Matt helps decompress my spine.  I’ve shown him where to do trigger releases and how to apply pressure and force my muscles to relax.  Someone once explained Ehlers-Danlos to me by saying that my muscles and connective tissue switched jobs.  Because the connective tissue is too lax, the muscles tighten up to try and do the connective tissue’s job since they’re slacking.  As I understand it, this is what causes big, knotted muscles that don’t want to release.

So often, I feel like nobody besides my mom understands. It’s so easy for someone to say “you just need better pain tolerance”, but that isn’t what this is.  The holidays are a time when the family you see a handful of times a year gathers together and with that comes a lot of uncomfortable or awkward questions.  Or they come at you with quick fix methods.  Recently, someone told me that I’m only sick because I’m not vegan.  That becoming vegan will fix my problems.  Let me reiterate: somehow switching to veganism, changes your actual genetic makeup…  Ummm…..?  Nothing against the diet, but google educated doctors need not apply.  I just find that sort of back and forth to be exhausting.  I don’t need opinions on how to cure my condition because there aren’t cures for your genes.

To add to the top of the chronic illness holiday problems, my eating disorder likes to rear it’s ugly head this time of year, too. I’ve had a pretty good handle on it for the last couple of months through therapy.  I haven’t prepared for the inevitable talk of food at family gatherings though.  The guilt I feel when I hear someone else say they will pass on dessert or they can’t have this or that is very hard to deal with.  It makes me feel like I am failing if someone else is refusing and I partake.  Like I’m not strong enough with my willpower.  Offering me seconds or commenting on the amount (whether it’s a little or a lot) of food I have is also quite taboo for me.  It’s best to avoid talking about diets and quantities with me at all.  My guess is the conversation will be more engaging if we scratch beneath the surface and talk about our real interests and not just “What do you think of the stuffing?”

This year has been the year of me prioritizing me and my health and wellness. My goal this holiday season is to be frank and honest with people if I’m confronted with an uncomfortable question or comment.  I intend to tell people what I need from them.  I usually let my own feelings get hurt before I challenge what has been said or done to me.  So if someone comments on my plate of food, I intend to speak honestly about the way that question or comment makes me feel.  If someone asks an insensitive question about my pain, I also intend to be vocal about my feelings in regards to these things.  And finally, I’ve promised myself to be open about my physical limitations.  Not to comply with activities that might injure me for fear of looking weak or wimpy.  I’m prioritizing myself for my own health and wellness and that aspect alone is how I will survive the unknowns of this holiday season.

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