As most people are looking forward to Christmas and the Holiday period with the promise of plenty of festive cheer with family and friends, the mere thought of it can send those of us affected by chronic illness into a panic. As a child and teenager suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) I still throughly enjoyed Christmas and New year's celebrations, after all what kid doesn't love opening gifts and gobbling down festive feasts? As an adult things are rather different and dealing with the fatigue, pain and other symptoms of chronic illness during the Holidays can cause a lot of stress and really get you down...if you let it.
This year however, I am determined to find as many reasons as possible to be cheerful and to enjoy the next few weeks to the fullest!
I know everyone has different health concerns and different circumstances but I hope you can all apply at least one or two of my reasons to be cheerful to your own lives and have a genuinely enjoyable festive season.
So, let's get down to it and look at ways in which we can make our lives easier during the Holidays and increase our enjoyment levels!
1. Drop Everything That's Not Essential
I'm sure I'm not the only one who has a tendancy to take on more than I can handle and attempt to do too many things at once. So let's start by dropping everything other than those things we absolutely need to do. In my case I work from home running this website and in March next year have my first gig as a lecturer at a nutritional medicine college - so I have a ton of research to do and slides to prepare. But do I really need to work over the Holidays? Not really. So other than writing another blog post or two for you guys to read as you are (I hope) relaxing over the next couple of weeks, I've decided all the technical website work and my lecture preparation can wait until 2015. Ahhh, I can feel a weight lifting from my shoulders already!
Obviously I appreciate we all have different commitments, maybe with work or keeping the kids entertained, but try to stand back for a moment and take an objective look at things and I am certain you will find things on your to-do lists that you really don't need to do. If it's not essential then scrub it off that list right now! Even the things that do need to be done - think about whether it's you that really needs to be doing them. You can always delegate tasks such as gift shopping and writing greetings cards to partners, family or good friends. Better yet, get the kids to take care of things where possible! With less on your plate, so to speak (I'll get to actual plates shortly!), you may already be feeling less stressed out and more cheerful!
2. Accept Your Limitations
On a personal note, I have been chronically sick for 24 years now. Being somewhat stubborn (an understatement if ever there was one!) it has taken me this long to finally accept that due to the fatigue, aches and pains, cognitive dysfunction and all of the other symptoms that ME/CFS brings with it - I simply can't do everything that I'd like to or that my healthy friends and family can. On the face of it this might not sound like a reason to be cheerful but what I'm talking about here is true acceptance, the kind that all those self-help books are always banging on about. I think I finally get it! If we can genuinely accept what we aren't able to do (through no fault of our own), then we can really focus on enjoying what we are able to do! Maybe you can't be the one to host the big family gathering and cook the Christmas dinner, who cares? Let someone else do all the hard work and you just sit back and enjoy! So what if you don't have the energy to write greetings cards to every single person you know, they'll understand, you're chronically ill after all and they know you're thinking of them!
I have had somewhat of an epiphany during a difficult 2014 with regards to the true meaning of 'acceptance' when it comes to coping with chronic illness. I plan to write a lot more about this in 2015 so I will leave this subject here for now. What I will say is once you're able to let go of the expectations you had for your life when you were 100% fit and healthy and focus on all the great things you can still do - things that may even bring more fulfillment and happiness into your life than your original plans - than that is undoubtedly a reason to be cheerful!
3. Enjoy Time With Friends And Family
When we live with chronic illness we often find ourselves isolated and feel cut off from social circles, particularly if unable to work or be involved with old hobbies. We may not see close family as much as we'd like either. We humans are social animals so it's only natural that this situation does nothing for our sense of well-being. The Holidays give us a great opportunity to spend quality time with our loved ones and catch up on what everyone has been doing over the past year. The great thing about the Holidays for me is that everyone is generally getting together anyway so I don't need to expend what precious energy I have and stress myself out planning to see individual family members and friends here and there. So try to look on this festive season as a time to really enjoy the camaraderie of just being around people and have a laugh and a joke. Sure, we might not be the last one at a party, staying up to the early hours but we can certainly make the most of the time we are able to spend in the company of our loved ones!
4. Give And Receive Gifts With Joy And Gratitude
This one speaks for itself really, we all enjoy receiving gifts don't we? Equally, there's a lot of pleasure to be had from giving presents. I am very lucky this year as I have become an uncle for the first time with my younger sister (chronically ill herself) giving birth to my beautiful, healthy niece Isabella in August. She's already quite the character and very precocious. It will be amazing for me just to see her cheeky little smile as she opens the gifts my fiancée and I have bought for her. The same goes for all family or friends though. Isn't it great just to see peoples' faces light up when they open that special gift you got for them, whether it be your children, your partner, parents, grandparents or best friend? The gift of giving is certainly a reason to be cheerful for me and chronic illness can't get in the way of this one in any way, shape or form!
5. Enjoy Food & Drink (Within Reason)
Although many of us (myself included) have dietary restrictions that are doctor-prescribed in the case of diabetes or hypertension (for example) or self-prescribed in the case of foods and drinks that just don't seem to agree with us. It's very easy to become obsessive with diets however and depriving ourselves entirely of things that give us enjoyment can actually be more detrimental to our overall health and well-being than allowing ourselves a treat now and then. As someone who has studied nutrition at degree level I am not saying we should go on a binge but if someone offers us a tasty indulgence, let's allow our taste buds a treat for once (I told you plates would come into it again!). When you're chronically ill you often have many of the things you enjoy in life taken away from you so let's give ourselves a break and another reason to be cheerful during the Holidays!
Finally, if all else fails and you're worn out and in pain - why not get that old Christmas hits CD out or put on that DVD of your favourite festive movie. Home Alone cheers me up every time, thanks Macaulay...
Happy Holidays everyone and best of health to you all in the New Year!