One December many years ago, I was at my lowest point. I still didn’t have an ME/CFS diagnosis and had just had to drop out of university due to my health. While all of my high school friends were partying and texting me to see if I wanted to meet for the “How’s University?” chat, it was all I could do to even pick up my mobile in the first place.
The holiday season for many with ME/CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome / myalgic encephalomyelitis) can make us feel inadequate. It can highlight the fact that we can’t always do the normal things we might do at this time of year, like going out and buying presents, shopping for the perfect party outfit and really enjoying time out with our families and friends. I remember I’d have given my right arm to be able to battle it out in the supermarket for holiday food and goodies. It seems crazy to others around us who are dealing with this frantic time, but often we’d give anything to be a part of it.
Here are some holiday tips – a few things that you can do to stay focused, healthy and merry during this holiday season – into New Year’s Eve and beyond.
Surviving the Holidays with ME/CFS
1. You’re not letting anyone down.
Don’t feel guilty for taking time out to rest, nap or just to gather your thoughts. Don’t worry about missing out or letting other people down, otherwise you’ll end up letting yourself down by NOT looking after yourself. I know that there are a lot of expectations during this time of year. I remember feeling as though I had to be sociable, because otherwise, I’d be spoiling Christmas. But it’s not your fault that your body isn’t letting you do what you’d like to do. We can accept this for ourselves, but it’s not always easy for others to accept it. However, try as we might, we can’t control how others view us or our condition, so our priority should be to focus on our own health, happiness and well-being.
2. ‘Tis the season to be tired!
Everyone finds this time of the year stressful and tiring, with or without an illness. Even if you’re not experiencing any obvious stress, your body and brain are winding down to rest and welcome in the New Year. If you feel a little more wiped out or all-over-the-place than usual, try not to attach meaning to it. Everyone gets swept up in the rush of the season, but it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re relapsing or getting the flu when actually you’re just feeling a little “off.” I used to do this all the time, especially in winter and around Christmas, but try to catch your thoughts before you fall down the rabbit hole. Give yourself a break.
3. There’s always next year…
Time is not running out for you to heal or be the healthiest version of yourself. We often place a lot of pressure on ourselves to be totally perfect before the New Year. New Year, new you, right? However, this doesn’t just happen before Christmas. As we go into January, we feel as though we’re a total failure if we’re not setting extreme health and life goals for ourselves. Don’t waste your precious energy berating yourself because x, y, z didn’t happen for you this year. There is plenty of time for everything you want to do. It doesn’t all have to happen within this two-month period.
4. Try not to worry about what may or may not happen.
From personal experience, this is one of the things I struggled with the most in my recovery, and it can potentially create a lot of anxiety around this time of year.
If you’re invited to go to a holiday gathering, meal or party, try not to worry too much about whether or not you’re going to be well enough to go. And resist playing out possible scenarios that may or may not happen in your head (my own personal vice!).
By doing this, you’re already sending your body into a state of stress, even if the event is a few weeks away. That’s a lot for your body to take on. It means that you’re depleting today’s energy for something that hasn’t even happened yet and likely causing your ME/CFS symptoms to worsen.
Instead, either explain that you’ll see how you’re feeling closer to the time and let them know, or go ahead and accept or decline straight away. Make sure you’re not anxious about any expectations, and you can just go with the flow. As mentioned in point one, you’re not letting anyone down (including yourself) if you can’t attend.
5. Celebrate wholeheartedly without the guilt.
The holiday season doesn’t come with any conditions – it’s for everyone, including those with chronic illness! As obvious as this might sound, I often didn’t think I’d “earned” any kind of relaxation or celebration because I felt I hadn’t contributed anything because I was ill.
This time of year is for you, and you’ve earned the right to really enjoy, relax, eat and be merry as much as anyone else has. You’re worthy of having fun and pampering yourself, so enjoy this time without the guilt.
Happy holidays, everyone – sending you lots of love and healing for this holiday season and the new year!
This article, originally published on December 10, 2015, was updated on November 14, 2019.
Subscribe to the World's Most Popular Newsletter (it's free!)
Katie Manning is a teacher, mentor, speaker and writer, and the creator of the blog, ‘Conquering Fear Spiritually’. The blog documents the steps she took to completely heal herself of a 10-year illness with M.E./CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). After being free of the illness of over five years and in the best health of her life, Katie inspires others to step into their own healing journey, and live healthy, peaceful lives, free from chronic illness.
With incredible passion, Katie creates products and services which help her clients and readers to remember who they really are without CFS or chronic illness. She endeavours to live by the lessons she has learned during her illness, and investigates how fear plays a part in our lives, whether physically, emotionally and spiritually. Intuitive healing, honesty and love is what Katie lives and breathes.