Originally published last year. Merry Christmas. Happy Hannukah.
I’ve written about the difficulty of being sick during the holidays like this entry, 3 Tips on Celebrating a Holiday Alone. Indeed, avoiding germs, the flu, and living with fatigue (emotional or physical) are difficult during “the most magical time of the year.” However, I also know from living with Bipolar II, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Asthma, and Myasthenia Gravis (MG, my neuromuscular autoimmune disease) that there are unexpected blessings that come from illness. I recently led a Twitter Chat through WEGO and met some resilient people fighting MG, Fibromyalgia, Lupus, Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Endometriosis, and Bipolar Disorder among other conditions. One question I asked was: How has sickness positively changed the way you celebrate holidays?
Being sick has taught us 5 things:
- It’s okay to say “no”—Before MG invaded my life, I was in charge of hosting the games for all the events at my former church including the annual Christmas Party. After MG, this was draining for me. But people still asked me to do it because they don’t know what it’s like to be tired 24/7. Once I started saying no, people stopped asking me and they took greater initiative. People can’t know how we feel if we don’t tell them. When I do host a party, I accept help from guests who offer it. Likewise, you don’t have to attend every event you are invited to. I don’t stay up on New Year’s Eve because of my bipolar bedtime (but if the New Kids on the Block appear on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve again, I’m staying up. Getting enough sleep and going to bed at the same time is important for preventing mood swings.) Besides, every countdown is identical to the one before it.
- Take time to reflect—The holidays are supposed to be about more than sales, deadlines and go-go-go, but somewhere along the way society has lost its way. On Black Friday #walmartfights was trending on Twitter! Since I do fewer things now, I have more silent time to think, pray, and be grateful. The little things matter more like when I’m exhausted and my 6-year old nephew Mikko surprises me with a hug. Some of the guests on Twitter said they make “ me time” by doing things like staying in and watching a movie.
- Maintain healthy habits—People make these New Year’s resolutions every year—most of them are forgotten by the spring and usually revolve around diets and exercising more. As a society, we over indulge during the holidays. So it’s harder to be disciplined after two months of letting go. Sick people know how much a diet and consistent bedtime affect our body and mood swings. I’m still exercising. Right now, I eat some junk food but only in moderation. Consequently, I won’t have to abruptly change my habits on January 1st.
- Spread things out—Many people feel pressured to send one hundred cards during Hanukkah and Christmas. I’ve learned that I don’t have to write to every person I love during December. I spread my emails and cards out between Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, and Easter. And sometimes I send people cards out of the blue with no special occasion—they are pleasantly surprised. One person in the chat talked about how sending e-cards has decreased her stress.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff—Our culture makes people stressed out. One thing I’ve learned to do is focus on people, not perfection. I used to be a great cook. Now, when I host a party, I order out. No big deal. Who cares whether the tape is showing on your gift-wrap? Or whether you bought this year’s “must-have toy”? My nephews are just happy making gingerbread houses with me (even though the projects never look like the picture on the box–see the pitiful sight on the left). They don’t care about the material things that much. It’s nice to show our loved ones we love them but if things go awry (something’s sold out or too expensive), Christmas isn’t over.
How has illness changed you?
–Your Stylist,Jessica Gimeno