Tips for the Holiday Season with Chronic Illness
CHRONIC ILLNESS,  FIBROMYALGIA

Surviving the Holidays with Chronic Illness – Tips and Tricks

Tips for the Holiday Season with Chronic Illness

The holiday season is here and with it comes a collective groan from almost everyone in my chronic illness communities. Everyone seems excited about the holidays, but we are all expressing worry, dismay, and stress at surviving the holidays with chronic illness without flaring.

It’s no fun at all to be sick for the holidays, especially when you’re sick every year. When one year turns into two or three or 10, it’s natural to feel down about the holiday season. Many of us struggle with depression, feelings of self-worth, being a burden, or simply having to accept that we can’t do most of what would normally be a full social calendar with family and loved ones.

The holiday season is stressful on those of us who have limited energy and suffer from pain. We have to manage our health while getting through shopping, cooking, winter events, travel, and much more. Click To Tweet

I’m being honest when I say that November and December are my most dreaded months of the year.

The pressure is always on to do more during these two months. After spending two out of the last four years in the hospital at this time of year, I’m very aware that I should be doing less! I rest and pace as much as possible to end the year on a semi-decent note with my health.

It’s 2021 and this is my 12th Christmas being sick. I’m lucky if I can manage two events: my anniversary and Christmas Eve or Christmas Day with friends. 

New Taipei Christmasland

Surviving the Holidays with Chronic Illness [Updated December 2021]

Here are a few quick tips that I use to get through the holidays with Ankylosing Spondylitis, Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS:

  • Pacing and management are key to getting through the holiday season.
  • Two outings per month is my golden rule all year, but it’s especially important during November and December. 
  • Plan a few rest days before and after each outing or event.
  • We try to attend one or two events during December IF WE CAN. If we can’t, we don’t feel bad about it.
  • My husband does the grocery shopping. I help him unpack, but I let him do all the grocery shopping and remain grateful that he is able to do this for us. I try not to feel guilty about not being able to help him with this anymore.
  • I do all my Christmas shopping online. I never feel bad about sending gift cards.
  • Keep it simple. We don’t go overboard on decorating.
  • Say ‘no’ and don’t feel bad about it.
  • Remember to practice self-care and self-love.

De-Stressing

As I mentioned above, the holiday season is stressful for those of us who are chronically ill. Over the past four years, I’ve made some adjustments to our day to day life during November and December to get through the holidays without making myself worse.

My number one rule for life, but especially during the holidays is to manage my time well.

I have an online calendar that I’m diligent about with upkeep. I pace accordingly and have to allow my time at the hospital to take up some of my precious time during December. 

If I have to leave my house, I make sure I don’t do anything the day before or the day after so I have time to rest.

This really helps with stress as well because then I don’t have to worry about how much energy I’m burning through over 48 hours. I know I have two 24-hour recovery windows before and after each event.

2016 Banqiao Christmas Light Show Photo by New Taipei City Government

Savoring

Right now, I’m savoring the end of this year and looking forward to next year. I have been housebound and in pain for many years now. In 2018 when I wrote this post, I’d started a new medication that allowed me to spend a bit more time on my feet without suffering so much. My goal is to always try and keep my baseline step count from dipping to not moving at all.

Extra call times with my family are precious to me. Unfortunately, we live half a world away from our families, so we don’t have to travel for the holidays, but that also means we don’t get to see our families. Everyone looks forward to these calls and appreciates that we are together even though we’re so far apart. 

I really savor quiet Christmas days with my husband. We stay in our pajamas and we nibble on treats all day. All the things I don’t eat during the rest of the year are allowed on Christmas Day, as long as I eat in moderation.

Simplifying 

I moved to shopping online for everything many years ago. If I’m up to it, I’ll have things sent to my home so I can add some personal touches by wrapping gifts myself. If that doesn’t happen, it’s ok! 

I’ve also changed how I cook for events. We don’t host an event at our home now unless my husband wants to cook. He usually likes to do this for Thanksgiving, so I help him with the easy tasks.

We also limit how long guests are at our house to ensure I don’t overdo it. (We don’t normally have people over throughout the year because this is our space and it’s where I spend most of my time sick in bed. I don’t like having to entertain people in my home unless it’s at my husband’s request.)

We have gone to the Grand Hyatt for their Christmas buffet for the last 10 years for our Christmas meal. In the last four years, my husband has helped by getting my food for me so I can sit and enjoy eating with everyone.

That said, even a measly two hours seated at a restaurant can leave me feeling really ill and itching to go home to bed. It’s a fine balance that I have no control over, so I do my best to accept that it is what it is.


Letting Go Doesn't Mean Giving Up

Simplifying our home has become a huge mission for us. Last year I spent my whole year moving slowly through our home and de-junking each room.

Everything that was a reminder of my old life: party dresses, heels, big bags, and so on, all of it was donated. Clearing out doesn’t mean letting go or giving up. It means making room for new things to enjoy.

The relief I felt at having more room to enjoy without the clutter was amazing, and those reminders of my old life were no longer around to make me feel bad about what I’ve lost.

We also made another massive change to simplify things last year. Sometimes, we don’t put up a Christmas tree because it’s too much work and it’s mostly me doing that work. In the past few years, I simply haven’t been able to do it, so I made a Christmas table instead and saved my energy. 

Surviving the Holidays with Chronic Illness

In 2019, I made a Christmas table. It was just as cheerful and festive as a tree and it was at a height that I can sit at comfortably, so that made all of it quite easy to manage.

It looked nice and we’ll jazz it up a little more this year and add some more lights. It made our Christmas morning much more enjoyable. (Plus we didn’t have to worry about our cats getting into the tree.)

Resting

Rest is the most important thing on my mind at all times.

If I do something, I time it and then rest for the rest of the day. If I know I have something coming up, I rest before I do it.

Given my extreme health limitations, I plan ahead and pay attention to what I have to do and what I'm doing while I'm at it. Click To Tweet

Pacing for and during each activity is also important. I limit how much time I’m out and I make sure I know exactly how much energy I have to get things done. Once I hit the magic number on my FitBit, I stop.

This means that I’ve been ticking things off my year-end to-do list since September and I’m not feeling so anxious to wrap the year up.

Finalising

I’m ready for 2018 to be over. This has been the worst year by far for my health. My switch to a new medication seems to be going well (so far) and I’m really hoping that 2019 will be looking up and possibly give me a little more to work with.

It’s so important to rest. I’m hoping to end my year feeling rested and unstressed, which is how I feel right now.

I don’t have many more tasks to complete for 2018 aside from mailing some packages and finishing our Christmas table.

The only thing I had left that I really wanted to do was finish my year with A Chronic Voice‘s link up party and now, CHECK. It’s done.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

I'm a chronically ill Canadian who has been living in Taiwan since 2006. I'm a bit of a jack of all trades! I love art, gardening, flower arranging, reading (that's an understatement if you've seen my GoodReads profile), and snuggling with my cats. Animal videos make me cry. I hate cooking. Nothing makes me happier than seeing my garden bloom! Learning about new cultures and exploring the world has been my thing since I started traveling at age 19. A self-professed autodidact, I can speak comfortably on many different subjects and hold a special place in my heart for science, technology, law, health and medicine, and history. You can find me nerding out at home most of the time due to being chronically ill and housebound. If I'm not engaged in one of the activities listed above, I'm probably building websites. Check my About page under Carrie Kellenberger to learn why I'm taking you on this journey with me through My Several Worlds. I can't wait to get to know you better!

20 Comments

  • Sheryl

    Thanks for joining us this month Carrie, and so efficiently, too (I love it!). It’s nice to let ourselves go once in a while for sure, without any of the guilt! I hope you have a lovely season x

    • Carrie Kellenberger

      I guess I was great at getting the post up, but terrible at checking my comments. Where did this month go? I’m making the rounds with all these lovely ladies today to say thanks for dropping by.

      A special thank you for you, Sheryl. I am so glad I met you this year and that we have such a great friendship. I’m looking forward to sharing more with you in 2019. All the best!

  • Jen @ The Frozen Mind

    It sounds like we have made a lot of the same adjustments to our lives. I have not done the decluttering and that is on my agenda for next year since we plan to sell our home. I am also looking forward to 2019 because we are going to build a new home that is one story and takes my limitations into consideration!

    • Carrie Kellenberger

      Jen, that is amazing! I live in a one-story flat and it’s awesome. Every time I travel – which isn’t much these days – I’m always concerned about where I’ll be staying and how many stairs I’ll have to climb. It always causes a lot of anxiety for me because my parents and my sister both have homes with three floors. I hope your move goes great and you have a wonderful 2019! (Decluttering is worth it. I’m still feeling the effects of ditching everything last year. It made more room in my home for my indoor garden!)

  • Maya

    I’m sorry to hear it’s been such a tough year for your health wise, but glad that the new medications may be helping to improve things, and that you were able to get out for a walk in the sun! I love the concept that simplifying in areas – like the clothes closet – means making room for new things. I think at times it can be so hard to let go of those things because it does feel like giving in or giving up. But looking at it as making room (a concept I love for life in general) takes it from something that could feel negative to something that offers some hope – room for new things, whatever those things may be. Great post!

    • Carrie Kellenberger

      Hi Maya! Thank you so much for stopping by. Just that one walk in the sun this year made me feel so much better. Yes, simplying and clearing everything out really made this year more bearable for me. There weren’t as many reminders of my old life to look at. Plus I made room for my indoor garden, which I adore. I guess it really is the little things that we depend on when we’re sick. Wishing you all the best for 2019.

  • Rhiann

    Hi Carrie
    A great post and some excellent observations on the difficulties that Christmas can have for those with chronic conditions. I hope that despite all the difficulties and the obstacles to overcome I hope it will still be a very happy Christmas for you and you are able to enjoy the season.

    Wishing you all the best for 2019 and beyond.

    Rhiann x

    • Carrie Kellenberger

      Hi Rhiann! It’s great to hear from you. Christmas was pretty low-key this year. We had a small celebration, but we didn’t make any special visits or decorate our home. We kept it simple and ate what we wanted to eat on Christmas Day. I think this Christmas produced the least amount of anxiety on me this year because we decided not to get into the hype. I hope you have an amazing new year. Wishing you all the best for 2019. I will see you on Twitter!

  • Kathy

    I enjoyed reading this Carrie! I’m struggling with pacing. I overdid it yesterday and now my fibro is flaring and I don’t feel well at all. I hope the last of December is kind to you. Merry Christmas!!

    • Carrie Kellenberger

      Hi Kathy! Happy New Year and thank you for dropping by. I love your posts and your IG. I really hope your flare subsides soon. This time of year is tough on all of us, but I have to say that I’m pretty excited to say goodbye to 2018. I have a feeling 2019 will be a little easier. All the best to you!

  • Alison

    Sounds like it has been a rough year for you, health-wise. I’m so glad you were able to enjoy what you could, and that you were able to go out and enjoy your walk! I aim for a daily walk, but haven’t managed to go out for a decent nature walk for a few weeks, which frustrates me. I can’t imagine having to go over a year between walking adventures! I totally feel you on laying low on home decorating – my partner and I simply don’t bother to decorate at all! We also don’t have children, and are sure the cats are better off without the additional temptation! We do live near both of our families, so do have holiday trees around for our Christmas celebrations!
    Your plans sound great – and I need to do more on the decluttering front – so glad for you that you have! Love that you start your prep for the end of the year in September.
    Hope you have a very happy new year and that 2019 is a better year for you!

    • Carrie Kellenberger

      Hi Alison,

      It’s so nice to meet you! Thank you so much for dropping by and I apologize for my taking so long to respond. Honestly, I thought I’d be blogging in January and I just wasn’t in the mood so I took the month off and hid amongst my books instead and kept decluttering. I’m trying to create an indoor jungle in my apartment. It’s going quite well, but as you can imagine, all the watering is a workout in itself. February will be better and I’m aiming to get my next article up for A Chronic Voice’s February link-up party as soon as possible! I look forward to learning more about you!

  • Claire

    I definitely agree that pacing is so important, and I’ve had much smaller Christmas celebrations the past few years. This year will be the same. And so much yes to online shopping!

  • Katie Clark

    Celebrating with our loved ones is important. I’ve been the keeper of the family memories and traditions since I was a teen. So, letting them go has been difficult. But really, it’s about adjusting them, not losing them. Some, my kids have taken over for us. Some we’ve paired down, and some we just talk about. This is a very helpful list.

    • Carrie Kellenberger

      It’s easier for me because we don’t have kids (at least not in Taiwan). Caleb is with his mom in the US, and we don’t have family here, so the pressure isn’t there to keep up with holiday expectations. We do get a triple whammy with Christmas, New Year’s and Lunar New Year being one after another, but it’s spaced out enough that we can take it easy. Plus our Lunar New Year holiday gives me time to rest fully. The whole island shuts down and everything is closed, so it’s nothing but rest and relaxing for me. It was hard to cut back on certain traditions that we tried to keep going when we first moved to Asia 17 years ago, but it has gotten easier as it has become more necessary to do so because of my health.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Skip to content