Feeling Left Out

The holidays are here, a time of cheer, and family reunions, good food, and fun gifts. Holidays are also a time when we all pile a lot on our plates, both literally and figuratively. Our regular lives and responsibilities don’t stop, and we find ourselves pushing our bodies harder in order to get everything done. We get tempted by foods we normally wouldn’t eat, and activities that we know will stress our bodies. Unfortunately, our rheumatoid arthritis doesn’t stop either.

I love the holiday season- during November and December I find myself humming Christmas carols and daydreaming about my nieces and nephews happily opening their gifts from me. I make cookies to hand out to my neighbors and friends and get excited to see my family. During the past few years, though, how I see my family has changed- instead of hugging them in person, I blow kisses over Skype. I do this because I live in a different part of the country, and traveling during the holidays has taken too much of a toll on my body- the last time I flew back to visit family for Christmas I was ill for six weeks when I got home.

Making sacrifices

Sometimes I feel as if living with rheumatoid arthritis is a series of unending hard decisions. Every day I make hard decisions about how to use the limited energy I have, and often this means sacrificing doing something, or something that I really enjoy. At no time is this truer than during the holidays, and this is when the holiday cheer I feel can easily turn into the holiday blues. Feeling left out is no fun, and when my JRA is the cause of this, it compounds the general lack of control I feel about my life with this challenging disease.

The brutal truth we all eventually face is that living with a painful, chronic illness closes doors. The RA robs us of the ability to do so many things that many people don’t even think of as hard or tiring. Often, we have to rob Peter to pay Paul- by making cookies I rarely have the energy to make dinner for myself. Staying up later one night in order to catch up with friends/relatives I haven’t seen in awhile means I’m doubling my pain and fatigue level for the next few days, hoping that sleep will come easily to make up for it. Deciding to lie down in the afternoon is easier when I don’t have a bunch of eager, young faces asking me to throw snowballs with them. So, I throw snowballs, and hope that my body won’t crash before I get home.

I’ve never been a good sport about being left out, and because I know that mental fortitude is a big part of living well with chronic illness I’ve put a lot of thought into how to be okay with the fact that I often am. I can’t say that I’ve gotten good at it, and I doubt I ever will, but for me the key is to be alone without feeling lonely. During the past few years that I haven’t been with my family during the holidays, I’ve created a few traditions of my own. Because I’m not traveling during the holiday rush, I have more time to find thoughtful gifts for the people I won’t be seeing. I’ve spent the holidays with friends, who, like me, aren’t with their families, and I am able to go home to my quiet house before my body is screaming at me to rest. I spend more time on the phone with all my relatives, and friends from across the country, and make a point to spend time with a particular friend who finds the holidays hard. I’ve realized that in order to counteract the inevitable blues, I can do something special for myself- like saving a really good book to read, or working on a craft project that will make me smile whenever I look at it. All of these things help me to be okay with being away from my family during this time. I’m trying to set up a trip to see them during a less busy time of year, and hoping that this can become a new tradition.

Try to make the most of the holidays

Whether you are with your family during the holidays or on your own, there will come a time when the RA gets in the way of your best laid plans. It’s important to figure out a way to be okay with this, maybe by having something special for yourself to do when you are alone in the middle of the busy holiday events you are missing out on. There are all kinds of special memories, and by making the most of the things you can be involved in these memories become sweeter.

This year, I’m meeting my parents for Christmas- they are flying across the country and I’m taking an easy day trip to get to them. This may just be the best gift I’ve ever gotten from them; it's definitely one I won't ever forget.

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