UPDATED 12/23/21 (Kind of): I originally wrote this article years ago–first in 2013 and later modified in 2017. Now with the pandemic and Omicron surging, I wanted to update it but I don’t have the energy. (Hooray for fatigue!) So I decided to repost the article instead. Context: I wrote this article as an immunocompromised person who has spent many Thanksgivings alone, which has been difficult. During the holidays 2021, many of us (including people who are not immunocompromised) make sacrifices both to protect ourselves and others. When you read it, please keep in mind it was written years ago before COVID. I haven’t attended any holiday gatherings during this pandemic and I won’t be–but that’s not new for me as a person with many autoimmune conditions.
ARTICLE FROM 2017
In time for Thanksgiving, I’m posting an update of my popular 2013 article, “3 Tips on Celebrating a Holiday Alone.” What I’ve learned in the years since is there are a wide variety of reasons people spend holidays alone like breakups, barriers like distance, or protecting their *mental health* if family gatherings get toxic. Also some gatherings are held at places that are not accessible for people with disabilities. I’ve also learned additional tips for celebrating the holidays alone. Next month, I’ll be hosting my 5th Annual New Year’s Eve Twilight Zone Party–all you need to attend is a Facebook account so you can join our group. For three years, I had to spend Thanksgiving by myself to protect my compromised immune system at the height of cold and flu season. In my case, I missed my uncle’s large, fun Thanksgiving get togethers, one of my favorite traditions, because I have myasthenia gravis (an autoimmune disease).
Like many people with myasthenia gravis (MG), lupus, and other illnesses, I have to weigh the joys of being with loved ones against the risks of getting a cold or the flu, which can lead to relapses, hospitalization, and weeks (or months) bedridden. This leads me to today’s WEGO question as I continue blogging for National Health Blog Post Month:
It’s the Holiday Season: Give us some tips you use to balance the holidays and your health. How do you stay within your own boundaries and make sure you follow your health regime/plan?
Learn how to celebrate a holiday by yourself: Please don’t think I’m suggesting that chronically ill people lock themselves up from their family and friends. What I am saying is this: 1 in 7 people have the flu. And 1 in 4 people don’t cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough. The chances that a person with a compromised immune system can get sick from a holiday dinner or become hospitalized from getting “the common cold” are great. In 2013, it took me two weeks (that included a hospital visit) to recover from a cold. Twice in 2012, I almost relapsed because of the flu.
Some of us have to set boundaries with family. I asked my myasthenia gravis group about this and seven members said they have missed holiday gatherings to protect themselves from the cold, flu, and pneumonia. One MG warrior said the risks of getting sick were worth being with family, especially her aging mother. In some cases, a person might have traumatic experiences associated with relatives. Protecting your sanity from toxic environments is important. Of course, there are other reasons people might abstain from gatherings such as breakups, distance, and finances.
5 TIPS ON CELEBRATING A HOLIDAY ALONE:
- Always have a program: One year, the now defunct SOAPnet (rest in peace, SOAPnet) had a General Hospital marathon where they aired Thanksgiving episodes from five decades of GH. I watched the marathon after I prayed and read my Bible, which is what my family does at celebrations before eating. Another Thanksgiving, I stayed at home and watched Carol Burnett’s Greatest Hits on DVD. Creating an agenda gives you something to anticipate.
- Dress up a little: One year I was in pajamas and congested, but I did shower, put on makeup, and brush my hair. And it made me feel good. Never underestimate the power of a little eyeliner.
- Set boundaries—Sometimes, we feel pressure from people or traditions to do things we don’t want to do. But ask yourself: Can my mind and body handle this? In some cases, the joys that come with the risks outweigh the negatives. You know your situation best.
- Be creative with social media–It’s easy to get depressed on social media if we get lost in people’s colorful holiday pictures. In 2013, on New Year’s Eve, I had an idea that no one should be alone that holiday. Almost every New Year’s Eve, I have found myself bedridden with a painful episode of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS insists on ringing in the New Year with me! In the past, I would lie in bed crying in pain while watching SyFy’s Twilight Zone marathon. But the past four years, I’ve created online parties during the two-day marathon so people could post comments on Facebook while watching at home. During the first party, fifty people came. While I did cry because of the pain, I also had a lot of fun and wasn’t all alone. We started out as a motley crew of strangers — some of us with disabilities or illnesses (ranging from Parkinson’s to bipolar disorder–another disease I have) and some of us healthy — but we became friends. One year, 200 people came including Anne Serling, the daughter of TZ creator Rod Serling. We have kept in touch through Facebook, calling our group the “Twilight Zone NYE Posse,” which we use to plan every year’s party. I am hosting the party again this New Year’s Eve. Join our Posse if you’d like to attend!
- Cry if you have to: Let it out. Most people don’t like celebrating holidays alone. It sucks if you have a breakup right before the holidays. In my case, I know it’s not normal to get an infection from a paper cut. I make peace with the situation by acknowledging the absurdity of it.
Have you ever been alone on a holiday? Join us; like our Fashionably ill community on Facebook here.