Homebody for the Holidays

Homebody for the Holidays

The holiday season can be wonderful, giving people an excuse to decorate their homes with color during the dreary winter days, give gifts to loved ones, show appreciation to those who help us, demonstrate generosity or service to those in need, eat favorite foods, share traditions, and spend time with family and friends. There is a lot to love about December.

Holiday anxiety

Of course, there is also a lot of stress during the holiday season, as all of those special activities require time, effort, and often money to pull off. I recently saw a meme that said, “It’s time to switch from my everyday anxiety to my fancy Christmas anxiety.” Indeed, many people are feeling stressed as they struggle to fit in holiday shopping, card mailing, cookie baking, concert attending, school celebrations, hosting, gift wrapping, and other activities into already-busy lives.

While holiday stress is common, those of us living with a chronic condition such as rheumatoid arthritis/rheumatoid disease (RA/RD) often experience a whole other level of emotions during the holiday season. The pain, inflammation, and fatigue that come with RA/RD can make keeping up with everyday life a struggle. Therefore, while adding extra activities can be anxiety-producing for a healthy person, this can be flare-inducing and even downright impossible for a person with RA/RD. Sometimes, we just can’t do it all.

Holiday season guilt

This is a harsh reality for me, as I am often guilty of setting expectations for myself that can be dangerously high. When it comes to the holiday season, I want my children to have the wonderful traditions that I benefited from participating in as a child, I want to help those who are less fortunate, I want all those who help me throughout the year to know how much I appreciate them, I want to open my home to friends and family, and I want to give meaningful gifts to the ones I love most. That’s a pretty tall order.

Over the nearly two decades I’ve been diagnosed with RA/RD, I haven’t gotten much better at lowering my expectations. Instead, I’ve found ways to share the work. For instance, I host our extended family for Christmas Eve, but I order prepared food so that I don’t have to cook. I also pay to have the house cleaned so that I’m not putting extra pressure on my joints by sweeping and vacuuming in preparation for guests. I enlist my husband’s help in giftwrapping (and deal with the fact that he and I have different standards when it comes to wrapping presents), and I have my children put address labels and stamps on Christmas cards. I prefer to shop at local stores when possible, and have found that many of them have websites from which I can shop online and then just pick the items up, without having to spend all that time on my feet in the store selecting gifts. I also request gift wrapping services whenever they are free of charge.

Setting boundaries

More important than sharing the work, however, has been setting firm boundaries. When we first moved into a house large enough to accommodate our extended family, we hosted both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. While it should have been fun to fill my decorated house with loved ones, I was miserable. I was able to have the house ready and food heated (again, I order prepared food to cut down on the work) for Christmas Eve, and we had a lovely evening. However, early the next morning we awoke to excited kids anxious to discover what Santa had brought them. Far worse than a lump of coal, I realized I’d been given a terrible activity hangover from hosting the night before. Yet I had to push through the fatigue, inflammation, and achiness to get the discarded wrapping paper and bows picked up, the tables set, and Christmas dinner ready. It was hard to experience much holiday cheer.

The next year I told our extended family that we would love to host Christmas Eve, but that Christmas Day my husband, kids, and I would enjoy a quiet day at home. Every year since, that’s just what we do. We stay in our jammies as long as we like, we make a simple brunch when we feel like it, the kids play with toys all morning while I enjoy a mimosa, we watch a Christmas movie, take a nap, and if I’m feeling up for it, we go for a walk. It’s a relaxed, unplanned day that enables me to recover from the weeks of frenzied Christmas preparations.

Having a quiet day in the midst of the holiday hubbub has been so enjoyable, we’ve extended it to New Year’s Eve as well. Several years ago we attended a New Year’s Eve party. As I was getting the kids dressed, trying to get my covered dish travel-ready, and sticking bottles of champagne under my arms to head out the door, I felt exhausted, swollen, and slow. I love all the people who were at the party, but I couldn’t enjoy being with them because the fatigue was overwhelming. The following year, we declined invitations and instead spent New Year’s Eve in. Our new tradition is that we buy favorite finger foods (shrimp cocktail, crackers and cheese, etc.), set the table with pretty dishes, dress up as we see fit (my daughter often opts for a dance costume while last year my son was Zorro), and we celebrate the new year with sparkling grape juice (for the kids) and champagne (for us) while having a quiet night at home.

While these relaxed holidays at home are just what I need to survive the festivities while contending with RA/RD, it wasn’t easy to carve them out. I had to tell our family and friends that we wouldn’t be seeing them, and I have had to repeat this over the years. It can be uncomfortable, and sometimes people are disappointed or vexed. However, it’s worth getting to rest so that I can actually enjoy the holidays, while creating some special traditions with my husband and kids in the process. I’ve found that living with RA/RD means I can’t always do all that I want to do. However, every once in a while, coping with this disease helps me create something even better than what I’d thought I’d wanted.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (13)
  • Kathleen Pimlott
    12 months ago

    Well, your post is certainly well timed. We had a wonderful Christmas, but I am currently having a record-setting flare. While I would hope that I learn from this and make adjustments for next year, the ongoing progressive nature of RD makes it clear to me that I am not actually in control at all. Why I am offended when a degenerative disease progresses will remain a mystery, but I found myself disappointed that I am so much worse. However, your post helped me gain a little perspective, and helped me hope that I will return to pre-flare normal after some rest and self-care now that the company has gone home and the bustle is over. I always love reading your blogs. You often speak right to my heart.

  • redthread
    11 months ago

    And you have spoken to mine, Kathleen. ‘Why I am offended when a degenerative disease progresses will remain a mystery” fits me to a tee. Thank you for your post.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    11 months ago

    Hey Kathleen,

    I’m so sorry to hear that you had a post-Christmas flare. I hope that it has simmered down since you shared your comment. I am glad that this article was helpful to you during a difficult and frustrating time. It’s so important for us to be kind to ourselves, but that can be easier said than done, so I’m glad we have this community so that we can remind one another not to be hard on ourselves.

    I hope you’ve been able to get some rest, and I wish you a 2018 that is as flare-free as possible!

    All the best,
    Tamara

  • Richard Faust moderator
    12 months ago

    Thanks for writing Kathleen. Don’t know if you saw this recent article form one of our contributors on having what she refers to as having “grit:” https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/on-grit/. She writes “For me, grit has also involved a resolve not to accept a situation at face value. This may sound ridiculous—how can I not accept a reality? But it’s really about deciding that while that may be the current reality, it doesn’t have to be the future. For example, I may be having a flare today but that doesn’t mean it will be with me tomorrow.” Hopefully your flare will not be with you tomorrow. Best to you. Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Rals52
    12 months ago

    This is the first year that I have had to adjust my own expectations and my families too. I now worry that they may exclude me or choose to spend less time with me out of concerns that I’m not able to keep up. I’m still trying to balance my new realty with my previous life.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    11 months ago

    Hey Rals52,

    I’m sorry about your diagnosis and that you’re having to adjust to the often-harsh reality of living with RA. I wish I could make this disease go away for all of us! In addition to the articles Richard shared, here’s another one about the common experience of having to cancel or change plans due to RA: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/pencil-me-in/.

    This is a tough aspect of the disease. I’ve been diagnosed for 17 years, and I can tell you that my closest friends have all stuck by me. There have been some people along the way who have not stuck by me or who did not become good friends because RA got in the way, but at the end of the day people who aren’t compassionate and understanding aren’t going to be the close friends I need (regardless of RA).

    After these many years navigating life with RA, I actually feel that more so than disappointing friends and relatives, it’s my disappointment with myself that is the biggest obstacle when it comes to breaking plans or postponing projects. Being kind to myself is an ongoing challenge, but an important one. The kinder you can be to yourself, the better you’ll be able to adapt to the unpredictable flare ups of RA.

    Please know that we are here any time you want to share questions, experiences, or concerns. This is a hard disease to have, but many of us find that it is easier to contend with when we know we’re not alone and that the emotions and experiences we’re having are common for those with similar circumstances.

    Wishing you all the best,
    Tamara

  • Richard Faust moderator
    12 months ago

    Thank you for writing Rals52 and know that you are not alone with the concerns about how others will deal with your RA. In fact, one of our contributors wrote in this article about dealing with friends who don’t understand what RA does and the limitations it can create: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/invisible-illness-invisible-friends/. It is important to do what you need to do to take care of yourself. While some may not understand, others will surprise you with their understanding and support. In this article one of the contributors writes about being thankful for her support network: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/counting-blessings-support-network/. Know that you can always come here for support. Wishing you the best. Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • btcavanaugh1720
    12 months ago

    Perfect time for this message I parked down my activities but it became apparent that it wasn’t enough. I have resolve toads more adaptations now and throughout 2018

    Happy healthy New Year to all.

  • btcavanaugh1720
    12 months ago

    Clearly my autocorrect doesn’t know what I mean. …resolve to do more adaptations!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    11 months ago

    This is a great resolution, BJT – I think many of us can benefit from similar resolve. Happy New Year, Tamara

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    12 months ago

    I think that erecting some boundaries is important for any family. Erecting these boundaries is often on of the skills that a young couple has to develop. While we cannot always do what we want, I have learned that with some deliberate choosing we can usually do what is best.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    12 months ago

    Hi Rick, Thank you for sharing your perspective, which is reassuring. I wish you a wonderful 2018 with as little pain as possible. All the best, Tamara

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    12 months ago

    Wishing you a wonderful holiday as well Tamara !!

  • Poll