Spare a thought for the chronically ill this Christmas

I really enjoy Christmas, but I learnt a very important lesson this week when preparing for this years celebration.

Christmas (and any other major holiday) is a really tricky time for anyone who struggles with a chronic illness such as endometriosis.

The reason being that despite the original meaning of the celebration, Christmas is usually a time of celebration and excess. Unfortunately for those who are in chronic pain, it becomes harder to get into the idea of celebrating and excess precisely because of how much extra energy is expended this time of year.

The time I write this is timely, last week I was surrounded by complaining, hungover people, struggling through a working day after a Christmas party. I was unable to attend this party yet again due to illness and exhaustion.

So it’s very hard not to be hurt by people complaining about flippant illness that will pass, (particularly when it is self-inflicted) but the important thing to remember is that these sorts of thoughts are par for the course for those of us who are chronically ill, and we’re only going to hear more of it throughout Christmas and the New Year.

Remember the importance of pacing

People who don’t suffer with chronic illness, the idea of a holiday or a short period of time to relax is a no-brainer. Things aren’t as simple for someone who’s unwell. Even a holiday means a substantial amount of work. This is my fundamental problem with holidays. Just getting to the point where I can relax at Christmas or any time of year still takes a good amount of work that others take for granted.

For example:

  • Many days spent buying and carrying presents
  • Wrapping presents
  • Writing cards
  • Meal preparation
  • Decorating your home
  • Parties and celebrations

These are all tasks that are mildly fiddly for most people and are probably tasks that everyone struggles to find time and energy for. But when you’re struggling with something like endometriosis, it’s a bigger ask, a harder list of things to wade through when you’re already finding things hard. At this time of year my energy amount is particularly low, I’m feeling extremely burnt out, and I have more than ever to do. Hardly seems fair.

Pushing myself at this time of year almost always makes me miserable, particularly when when my body is screaming: REST, PLEASE REST. I often find myself teetering on the line of feeling well and spiraling out of control from doing too much. It’s a very finite balance that I am only just (after many years of illness) starting to properly master.

Before we were ill we were often taught to push on through difficulty, that as long as we worked hard or kept going everything would be okay. The opposite is true for chronic illness.

I need to repeat the fact that pushing yourself too far rarely results in anyone but you noticing your efforts, and it almost always leads to you feeling worse. Very few will spare a thought for how difficult the Christmas period is for you, so be rude if you have to and spare thought for yourself. Push back on the work that is unmanageable and ask for help frequently and often. Be extremely selfish this Christmas, after all you deserve a little bit of excess too.

Pushing back on pushing yourself

I often hear the same platitudes from people at this time of year also. As those who aren’t sick try to persuade me to do more so I feel better. Ideas that actually make things worse. For example:

  • “When you come out, you’ll start to feel better”
  • “Have some coffee, then you won’t feel as tired”
  • “Have a drink and you’ll forget about it”
  • “Oh you have to come, I’m sure you can find a way”

They are only trying to help, but it’s very difficult to explain that my body doesn’t work like their body. There isn’t a quick solution to the way that my body has betrayed me. The idea of excess is a great metaphor for this. Having a bit too much to drink feels wonderful in the short term, but leads to a longer period of time spent feeling unwell.

Life with a chronic illness means you have to be very measured and extremely careful with how you manage your body. You don’t spring back as easily as someone who is well. A bad decision can lead to us feeling extremely unpleasant for a week or more. I know from experience that pushing myself particularly hard has lead to months of ill-health in the past, a few weeks of excess or over-exertion that led to months of careful untangling and unravelling from the results of pain and fatigue.

In my mind it’s just not worth it anymore.

So those of your who celebrate Christmas should do so, but do so in your own way, with a firm knowledge of what’s comfortable for you, and what your body can tolerate and enjoy. Spend the holiday trying to relax as much as possible rather than chasing other peoples expectations of what you and your body can and cannot do.

I wish you all a healthy and pain-free Christmas, and I’ll have some new updates ready for you in the New Year.

2 responses to “Spare a thought for the chronically ill this Christmas

  1. This is exactly what I’m feeling at the moment. It is so difficult at this time of year. I agree with everything you said and would like to add something extra – because I have pushed a little too hard (I’m still learning), I’ve ended up with a bout of thrush and a UTI. It’s hard when you not only have to manage pain and fatigue, but also your body’s response to that through the immune system…

    • It’s a constant juggling act yes, I really hope that you have managed to have a relaxing and comfortable Christmas and New Year despite a very trying battle with your body’s energy levels and fitness.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

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My name is Michelle and I've been living and working with endometriosis since diagnosis in 2010.

I hope to provide some hope for this illness through practical advice and discussion of this awful disease.

My other sites

Pioneer Project - Video games, UX and sustainability