By Annaben Kazemi
Our family loves the holiday season! Everyone in our family is excited, running around decorating, shopping, planning and making their Christmas wish lists. Truth be told, it’s our favorite time of year. But all that hustle and bustle comes with a price. This time of year can be exhausting for my healthy teenagers, so just imagine what it’s like for a teen battling a chronic illness!
My daughter, Arianna, has an invisible chronic illness. Because she doesn’t look sick, out-of-town guests and friends often have unrealistic social expectations. While I want the holiday season to be fun and memorable for Arianna, I constantly worry about the toll of all the festivities on her health. Sometimes the holidays end up being more memorable than fun. Take last year for example…
My daughter went Christmas shopping at the mall - and was only out the house for a few hours - but came home exhausted. Her arms were aching, her head throbbing and her back was in agony. “All I want for Christmas is a new body!” she moaned. I held my breath and glanced at the calendar. Her IG infusion was only a few days away. But I knew our holidays were taking a different turn when we headed in to urgent care two days before Christmas. She was diagnosed with walking pneumonia and spent the rest of the holidays lamenting: “All I want to do is curl up and never move off the sofa again!”
Scenarios like that have an impact on our whole family as we all struggle to reprioritize and restructure a holiday with an unexpected added sickness. It can feel disappointing and frustrating to everyone. And while there’s no guarantee for a holiday free of illness, we’re going to try. So this year, there are 10 things we’ve started to do to try to survive holidays with family spirits and Arianna’s health intact:
- First, prioritize infusions. We schedule events around Arianna’s infusion, rather than the other way around.
- Decide what’s important. Figure out what’s OK to let go of and what’s not, and scale back. For example, instead of attending the big game, we invited a small group of friends over for a game night.
- Remain flexible and make new traditions. Instead of braving freezing weather to attend the annual downtown parade and tree lighting, we roasted s’mores indoors and sipped cocoa while watching our favorite Christmas program.
- Keep expectations low. We let our friends and family know that we probably won’t make it to their holiday open house/party/event. And, if we do, Arianna can only stay for a short while. That way, we’re not leaving anyone hanging at the last minute, and the pressure is off if we need to skip because Arianna’s too exhausted.
- Wear warm winter clothes. Sounds reasonable, but teen girls have their own ideas about fashion. So, put on that hat, those gloves and the scarf even if it’s not a fashion statement!
- Don’t wait to be told to rest; instead, consciously take time out. In the words of Arianna: “Just take time to chill.” It’s easier said than done, but not a bad thing for us to strive for during this cold, yet festive time of year!
- Avoid people who are sick. This has to be done, even if it means cancelling plans with the cousins we haven’t seen in ages or having someone not come over.
- Wash our hands consistently. Especially during this busy season, everyone in our family carries and uses hand gel when we’re out.
- Get flu shots.
- Don’t stress. We try to focus on what we can do and not on what we’re missing.
What does your family do to cope with illness during the holidays? What strategies are successful for keeping the holiday free of illness? Share your suggestions.