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Chronic Illness and the Holidays: Finding the Positives

Chronic Illness and the Holidays: Finding the Positives For those of us suffering from environmental illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), fibromyalgia, multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) and gut problems including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), leaky gut syndrome (LGS) and Candida it can be hard to stay positive and enjoy life at any time of year but the holidays can be particularly difficult.

Just when the generally healthy majority are taking time out, indulging and letting their hair down us 'canaries' can often find life even more of a struggle than normal. At Christmas people are told to "eat, drink and be merry" - and most people happily comply but this poses a problem for us unfortunates.

First of all there is the eating. Most of us will have some kind of dietary restriction whether our own bodies have told us to avoid certain foods, we've discovered the "baddies" through our own research, or we've been put on a particular diet by a health care professional. Sweets and candies are everywhere this time of year but are almost universally a bad idea for the canary - they exacerbate hypoglycaemia and feed the bad bugs in our guts such as Candida and unfriendly bacteria. Then there are the snacks and nibbles packed with wheat, dairy and food additives that are highly tempting but no good for the majority of us with gluten and/or casein sensitivity or lactose intolerance. It's a dietary minefield and often it's highly temping to step on a metaphorical mine despite knowing the consequences will be unpleasant to say the least.

Then there is the drinking part. I for one cannot tolerate a drop of alcohol without getting an instant hangover. It might be worth it if I got to enjoy the pleasant relaxing and socially enhancing effects first but no - just a big fat headache (and that's just for starters)! It can be a frustrating time when everyone around you is enjoying their favourite alcoholic tipple and you're "enjoying" a glass of water or herbal tea.

Of course for those suffering from chemical sensitivities things are even worse. Lots of people wearing perfume and cologne, fragranced products bought as gifts everywhere, air fresheners in friends and relatives houses...there's no escape.

So onto the enjoyment part of our familiar phrase. First of all let's give ourselves some credit. Us canaries are a resilient lot and put up with things others couldn't even imagine both in the form of suffering often frightening and unbearable symptoms of illness and the way we are often dismissed as hypochondriacs and treated as if we are not quite right in the head. Still, if we do make it to gatherings and parties during the holiday season it can be pretty rough watching everyone else let go of their self-control and eat and drink whatever is put in front of them knowing that we must resist or risk making ourselves even sicker. And to add insult to injury the temptation is there constantly and people will often offer us food and drink and then greet us with a look of puzzlement and disdain as if we have the Christmas spirit of Scrooge when reality we'd like nothing more than to dive right in with everyone else.

Anyway, I am getting off track here, this was not meant to be a rant - I was looking for the positives wasn't I! I have found writing things down and making lists is a good way to put things in perspective so that's what I'm going to do. First 10 things I wish I could do during the holidays but can't because of my illness. Then 10 things that I am grateful for despite my illness (ah, there are those positives I mentioned!). I hope you will join me in this little exercise and add your own lists using the comments box below.

Ok so here are my lists:


10 things I wish I could do during the holidays

  1. Drink what I like (lager in the pub with family and friends....and I also used to be partial to a glass of sherry or mulled wine)
  2. Eat what I like (I'm not going to lie here - I would eat just about anything! Christmas cake with crumbly cheese would be nice. An English thing I think?)
  3. Party until late 
  4. Play football/soccer in the annual game with old school friends
  5. Go mountain biking
  6. Go on a skiing holiday to the Alps (I was lucky enough to go on skiing trips every year when in high school)
  7. Go shopping without being exhausted by the masses within minutes
  8. Feel relaxed by the occassion rather than drained
  9. Not have to explain myself all the time
  10. Be myself


10 things I am grateful for

  1. I have a great family that loves me
  2. I have great friends who understand and accomodate me as best they can
  3. It still feels like a special time of year
  4. I still get to catch up with old friends
  5. I have not had a reaction to chemicals in years and no longer have to wear a carbon filter mask around people
  6. I am still here
  7. I am not terminally ill
  8. I am still young
  9. I have hope for the future
  10. Last but not least - I don't need to go on a crash diet in the New Year!!


Well I certainly feel better for that. I hope you'll have a go too and get some benefit from it. Feel free to use some of my items if they strike a chord with you but let's see how many other things we can all be grateful for!

Best wishes and happy (early) holidays to all canaries out there :-)





About: Matthew Hogg ("Maff")
Diagnosed with M.E./chronic fatigue syndrome aged only 11 years old and subsequently associated illnesses including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Despite his own struggles he has constantly sought to educate and support others suffering from such "invisible illnesses" through his website, The Environmental Illness Resource. He fully recovered from MCS using his own approach and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nutritional Health.