Lisa Emrich is a powerful advocate who uses her experience living with multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis to educate, empower, and inspire people living with chronic conditions. Author of the award-winning blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA, Lisa writes for RheumatoidArthritis.net, MultipleSclerosis.net, and HealthCentral.com. She is Co-chair of the Engagement Committee for the world’s largest MS patient-powered research network, and has served as a merit reviewer for research proposals submitted to PCORI, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. You can follow Lisa on Facebook, on Twitter, and Pinterest.
Chronic Illness and the Holidays
If not, that’s okay; the season has just begun. We have several more weeks of go-go-go, high expectations, exhaustion, shopping, cooking, gatherings, more exhaustion, chronic illness, and an apparent no-end to the need to have fun, be merry, and celebrate with an overabundance of, well, everything.
Those of us who live with chronic illness, especially rheumatoid arthritis, know that the holidays can be anything but merry if we’re not careful to pace ourselves and be smart along the way.
How can you survive the holidays?
Holiday shopping at the local mall can be difficult, especially when you have a disability. I frequently turn to the internet to shop where I can compare prices, view pictures of items, and read reviews. Stores will often ship to any address you specify which is very helpful if loved ones live far away. I also enjoy giving gift cards that allow others to shop for exactly what they want and to take advantage of excellent post-holiday sales.
Take care of yourself
It may sound cliché, but remember to take care of YOU—eat well, exercise, and sleep. Feed yourself nutritious food and respect your body’s need for movement and rest. Changes in routine can push you mentally and physically and open the door to a flare-up. Balance your desire to partake in all that is offered with your body’s desire to stay inflammation-free. This may mean avoiding temptations such as festive “goodies” that are full of extra sugar, gluten, or saturated fat, or parties that extend into the wee hours of the night.
Simplify and delegate
Holiday dinners can be lots of fun, but tons of work. I’m hosting again this year and plan to take advantage of the pre-cooked Turkey dinner, complete with sides and pie, that can be ordered from the local grocery store. Although the food comes fully cooked, it still needs to be heated which gives me and the kitchen a workout but saves an enormous amount of time and effort to get the meal on the table.
If you are hosting a large group of people, consider going pot luck. Ask guests to bring shareable dishes. Growing up, we had every imaginable food at holiday dinners, but in retrospect we also had 6 or 7 families coming together and bringing at least two dishes each. Of course, there was a bounty of food!! Pot luck is definitely the way to go for a large group, in my opinion.
Anticipate medical needs
Before the holidays arrive, it is good to know your doctor’s schedule. Will the office be closed for an extended period of time? How can you contact the on-call doctor if an urgent need arises? Do you have enough medication to get you through the holidays? What should you do if you experience a flare? Have a plan in place to handle problems before they arise.
Be sure to have enough medication on hand during the holidays so that you don’t find yourself in need of a refill or new prescription only to have limited or no access to health providers. If you frequently need steroids to handle minor flares, request a prescription in advance from your doctor so that you have access to treatment when you need it during the holidays.
Be selective and enjoy yourself
Learn to be selective with how you spend your energy. Be clear about your values and priorities for the holiday season and plan activities accordingly. If decorations and cookies are not as valuable to you as preserving your energy for other things (like spending an evening with friends) or as protecting your painful and often delicate joints from over-use, then do not devote as much time to baking cookies or creating elaborate decoration displays. Learning to say “no” to others and your own inner voice may be difficult at first, but an “imperfect” holiday can quickly become a most enjoyable holiday.
Thank you Lisa for sharing your inspiring story!
If you have a story to share with our readers about participating in a clinical trial, overcoming adversity, or living with a chronic condition, please let us know. We’d love to have you guest blog for us. Guest blogging helps others outside of your disease area learn about your struggles and discover your passions. We will help promote your website and social media accounts, as well as your favorite advocacy group. Contact us to get started sharing your story now!