Christmas is an incredibly difficult time of year for those whose lives aren’t going so well, those who have lost loved ones and those whose health has deteriorated. Adverts showing happy families and magazines full of aspirational homes can be very painful. Add that to the logistical difficulties of mobility problems or not being well enough to attend family gatherings or other Christmas related activities and you’ve got a recipe for a bucket load of misery.
In the absence of a magic healing wand to make everything better, these are a few suggestions on how to enjoy the festivities even when you’re limited by health.
1. Christmas isn’t supposed to be anything
I think most people have the idea in their head of what Christmas is supposed to be, a lot like how people think life is supposed to be a certain way. it might involve lots of family all coming together for a traditional home-cooked meal, gift giving, and Christmas specials on TV. Like me, you might have visions of a beautifully decorated table and Christmas tree, or you might have a family tradition of going ice skating on Christmas eve. Whatever your idea of how Christmas is supposed to be, it doesn’t have to be like that for you to enjoy it and be happy. If you can’t do what you once did, you could make some new traditions that accommodate your limitations. Once you drop the expectation you allow yourself to enjoy the season for what it is, rather than pining over what it isn’t.
2. Identify what matters most to you
What actually is it about Christmas that means the most to you? What is it actually about for you, and what would you feel genuinely upset over if you weren’t able to do it/have it? When you unwrap (hehe see what I did there?) all the trimmings (I’m on a roll!) of Christmas and all the things you associate with it, especially the things you do begrudgingly or out of habit, what do you actually have left? That’s Your Big Thing. Whether it’s seeing your parents or watching your kids open their presents, or going all the way to family overseas. Whatever it is, focus on that.
Once you’ve found what matters most to you, focus on achieving that one thing. If it’s not within what you’re able to do on your own, enlist some helpers like partners, friends, or random elves to help you out. There’s no shame in asking for help but making them wear an elf costume is optional.
4. Pace Yourself
Whatever it is you do over the Christmas season, make sure you’re pacing, factoring in sufficient rest periods, and not over stretching yourself. Good self care is crucial, not just to your health in the following year, but to actually manage all the tasks you’d like to do over the Christmas season. If you try to do too much in early December, you might burn yourself out for the big day and risk missing out on Your Big Thing.
5. Dealing with others expectations
People often have their own ideas about what you should be doing with your life and this is none so evident as it is during the high stress month of December. It’s when people’s opinions that should probably be kept to themselves come streaming out with a little shove from one too many drinks. Whatever the unfortunate comment, it’s a good idea to remember their opinions are a reflection of them and not you. When you’re sick you can’t win no matter what you do, whether you’re working and so you’re ‘not that sick really’ or not working and so you’re ‘exaggerating and not even trying to get better’. As you can’t win, you may as well just do what makes you happy and what you need to do for your health, even if it means missing a party or bringing your own ‘free from’ food. Embrace being the weirdo that leaves early, only drinks sparkling water and has a handbag full of medication.
Helping others gives you the warm and fuzzies and no matter how awful you might be feeling physically or mentally, by helping others have a better Christmas it’ll make you feel better too. It’s a win win situation. It could be something low energy like doing some online research into a gift they were thinking of getting someone or ordering some flowers for someone that might be feeling lonely so they know you’re thinking of them. Or if you have more spoons to spare, it could be cleaning a friend’s house who’s more sick than you and struggling to keep on top of everything. Same rules apply however, pace yourself and don’t take on more than you can handle.
7. Give yourself a day off
It’s tempting to put your life on hold while you’re sick. Avoid doing anything vaguely risky, stick to a specific diet rigidly, never drink a single drop of alcohol. If that’s you, well done, have a medal. I genuinely have respect for those of you who can keep this up, I pretty much did the first year I was sick and then I gave in because I have the self control of a kid with ADHD after a bag of Haribo. Now I’m good roughly 90% of the time, the rest isn’t a free-for-all, it’s just ‘a little bit of what I fancy’ in the food and drink department, and on special occasions like birthdays and Christmas I’ll push what I can do a bit more physically and just accept that I’ll be laid up for a few weeks afterwards. I think it’s very important to still live life as much as you can while you’re sick because you don’t know how long you’re going to be sick for. You don’t want to wake up one day at 70 years old with regrets. So at Christmas, as long as you’re not going to go into anaphylactic shock, a diabetic coma or something else rather drastic and unfortunate; have a bit of cake, have a drink of your favourite tipple. Within reason, enjoy yourself and make some memories.