The word “enjoy” when it comes to the holidays and having Lyme disease seems like a misnomer; after all, if you struggle to enjoy your day-to-day life with Lyme, because fatigue, depression, pain and other symptoms make it difficult to do so—why would you enjoy Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s or any other holiday? Especially since holiday gatherings are often a painful reminder of the life that you’re missing out on, since loved ones tend to talk about such things as their new job, the car that they just bought, the vacation they just took, or other subjects that you can’t relate to. Or, they might complain about seemingly insignificant things such a hangnail or the fact that their kids have too many extracurricular activities to attend.
Holiday gatherings can be difficult for other reasons. People ask you how you are feeling, and you may find yourself either lying and replying with, “fine” to avoid further questions, or sharing about your battle with Lyme disease. Answering with the latter generally gets you quizzical looks or well-meaning but unhelpful comments such as, “But you look so good” and, “Well, at least you get to stay home and rest.” If only staying home and doing nothing was a great thing!
In addition, if you’re like me, you probably follow a super healthy diet that few, if any of your relatives are able or willing to accommodate at family gatherings. So you either watch as those around you gobble down stuffing, gravy, pumpkin pie, creamy sauces and canned vegetables, or indulge in these foods a little yourself and suffer fatigue, brain fog, pain or whatever a symptom flare looks like for you—afterward.
Or, perhaps getting to family gatherings and staying upright for several hours is the greatest challenge you face, and having to smile and be social around others, when your body is screaming at you, just isn't enjoyable.
Or maybe the holidays mean being alone, and not having anyone around to love and celebrate with you. Indeed, this may be one of the most heartbreaking challenges some of us with chronic illness face, since Lyme disease often fractures families or isolates us, either because we don’t feel well enough to get out and about, or because our loved ones fail to understand and support us, and the battle that we're going through.
For these and other reasons, some of us with chronic illness may find little to enjoy about the holidays, but I believe that if we reframe our expectations of the holidays and what they are “supposed” to mean, we can still find plenty of reasons to experience them as enjoyable.
For instance, what have you enjoyed doing that you can still do, even with Lyme disease? Is it watching a good movie, pampering yourself with a hot bubble bath, sitting out in the sun reading a good book (if the temperature is warm enough), listening to some uplifting music, praying, or talking to a fellow Lyme warrior on the phone? Give yourself the best of the best during the holidays, whatever that looks like for you.
When it comes to food, how about a tasty holiday treat like SO Delicious dairy and sugar-free ice cream (which is actually quite good!) or sugarless fudge, made with unsweetened chocolate, stevia and coconut oil? Or how about indulging in some fish tacos, made with cod fish or shrimp, cilantro, lime, tomato, and guacamole—all wrapped up in cassava or almond tortillas? Or, if you are more into traditional holiday dishes, the Wahl’s Paleo and GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) cookbooks and some others contain healthy turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie recipes that you can prepare, so that you can still enjoy traditional foods without all the sugar, dairy, gluten and other allergy-provoking ingredients. Make some extra if you will be attending a holiday event.
Make it a point to do those things that feel good to you on the holidays. If you are alone, consider spending the day with God. I believe that we have a loving and kind Creator who wants us to get to know Him, and that He can bring us joy and peace during the difficult times. There have been many occasions when I’ve been alone throughout my battle with Lyme disease, and I found God to be a great companion for me during those times. Once, I even prepared Him a holiday meal and set Him a place at my kitchen table, which, as odd as it may sound, actually helped me to feel like I was dining in His presence, as I chatted with Him and felt Him respond with warmth and love.
Another way to approach the holidays is to simply determine to celebrate them in your own timing, or not at all. After all, whoever said that Thanksgiving had to be a big deal? Why can’t you be thankful any day of the year, and celebrate a great meal with loved ones anytime you feel up to it? When I lived in Costa Rica with Lyme disease, I was actually relieved to not have to spend Thanksgiving or the 4th of July with anyone. After all, nobody in Costa Rica celebrated it, so it didn’t matter as much to me. I took that attitude home with me and decided I would no longer make a big deal of holidays that I didn’t feel like celebrating or which I couldn’t celebrate because I didn't feel well.
Then, allow yourself to let go of the guilt and shame of not attending social gatherings with loved ones, who may expect you to show up at every event, even when you feel half-dead. Do everything out of a spirit of love, not fear or obligation, as the latter always tends to breed resentment. Take care of yourself, even if that might mean letting others down from time to time. It’s good to try to see friends and family if you can, but not at the expense of your health or happiness.
By re-defining what the holidays mean to us and reframing our expectations, we can be better equipped to enjoy them in a different way—even if that means not celebrating them at all, or celebrating them in a way that is completely outside the norm.
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Connie Strasheim is the author or co-author of 11 wellness books, including the recently released New Paradigms in Lyme Disease Treatment: 10 Top Doctors Real Healing Strategies that Work. (October, 2016) and Beyond a Glass of Milk and a Hot Bath: Advanced Sleep Solutions for People with Chronic Insomnia. (March, 2017). She is also a medical copywriter and an editor at ProHealth.com, as well as Editor of the Alternative Cancer Research Institute (ACRI). Her passion is to help people with complex chronic illnesses find freedom from disease and soul-spirit sickness using whole body medicine, and she collaborates with some of the world's best integrative doctors to do this. In addition to Lyme disease and insomnia, Connie’s books focus on cancer, nutrition, detoxification and spiritual healing. To learn more about her work, see: www.ConnieStrasheim.org.