Chronic Illnesses do not take Holidays

As I flipped over the calendar to December I smiled thinking of the fun Christmas stuff ( we celebrate Christmas in our house) that was coming up, my tummy flipped thinking of all the stuff I had yet to do to prepare then my heart sank. December 25th is the day my next injection of medicine for my Chron’s disease, then December 27th is a scheduled colonoscopy- which means the 26th is prep day…(maybe good online sale shopping as I won’t be leaving the house). That is 3 days in a row where this disease gets to be front and centre. The 3 days my kids have been waiting for since last year. The 3 days where I am usually visiting family, eating foods that I enjoy and visiting places I want to see. 3 days that I am off work (hence the scope being scheduled) to spend time with my loved ones. And this disease, that has clung to my body like a heavy backpack, has decided to visit again this holiday. I will have to rearrange eating times and remove usual foods (I usually have to prep for 2 days by going to clear fluids 2 days before the scope…hey Dr. M can’t say that is going to happen!) and not do some of the things we might traditionally do. But this is life. This is my life. I am not the only one that will be carrying a backpack this holiday season and even if you can’t see a single backpack at your holiday functions I guarantee they are there, sometimes so well hidden, so that you do not have to “feel bad” for them during the festive season.

Food is such a staple of all holidays. Sometimes I think we can pick the holiday based on the smells coming from the kitchen. Every house has their holiday “favourites”. I have written in the past about how my mom would puree the same foods for me at Christmas when my stomach was really bad so that I could experience the usual tastes and smells. Now we make sure to have gluten free versions (although NOT AS GOOD!) of everything so that I can still eat. I am also really open about my chronic illnesses. However we should not expect this of others.

I have started spending the last 2 months of the year talking to clients about how to manage the holidays with whatever it is they are seeing me for- whether it be an eating disorder, trying to build a better relationship with food and their body or sports nutrition. The holidays can be very difficult for many, for various reasons and I think we need to acknowledge that those reasons do not take days off. A person with a restrictive eating disorder is going to struggle the same on the 25th as they do any other day and will need the same, if not more support. A person with diabetes might appear to be asking a lot of questions about the food on the buffet table about the carb amounts or serving sizes, don’t assume that they are worried about their weight- they are likely trying to figure out how to dose their insulin with a variety of food they are not used to without going sky high or bottoming out. A person who is trying to improve their relationship with food might leave conversations that are diet or body focused because they are trying to be social and setting boundaries at the same time. Any person that has a chronic illness does not get a pass that day. Their body does not transform from “the holiday magic”. So the struggle that they have everyday is still there: compounded with the attempt to not show everyone what they are going through.

So what can you do if your loved one has a chronic illness. Well to be honest I think it goes right along with what I say most days. One thing is to not comment on what they are eating- do not comment on what anyone is eating….ever…..like truly never ever. I will likely just eat mashed potatoes and turkey on Christmas Day for dinner. Too much fibre will make me cry the next day during prep- but I also do not really want to talk about the finer details of cleansing the colon at dinner either when I pass on the veg. So, it would be a great thing if nobody talked about what I put on my plate. A person with diabetes might pick and chose between the stuffing and the squash to account for the dessert they want because they want 1 injection of rapid acting insulin at dinner and they might not want to give a dose over a certain number of units. And that is their decision for choosing what makes them feel best. And really that is what it is going to boil down to, everyone should be choosing what is going to make their body and their minds feel the best. If it is December 25th or July 25th, eating the foods that make us feel the best and are nourishing our bodies is one of the most important things we can do. If you are following a meal plan in eating disorder recovery you need to still follow the meal plan- irregardless of whatever different eating patterns you had on that day in the past. (ummm….can I just ask WHY?? do people not eat all day to “save room” for dinner?? your body doesn’t work that way!! and people on the internet please stop saying it does!!)

So this holiday season, if you have a chronic illness (or acute) I see you, I hear you and I respect all the decisions you make to take care of you. And for everyone else remember, we can not throw tinsel on a body and make it holiday appropriate. So try something (possibly) new this holiday season- do not talk about the food (other than to say OMG THIS IS AMAZING (or terrible…you can say that…I think or maybe keep the do not talk about food rule there). Do not ask why someone is eating what they are eating. Do not comment on how bad (sinful, indulgent, guilty, other negative work) the food is or how “good” you were to skip dessert (random reminder you do not get medals for skipping a food you deem “bad”…nothing happens other than you miss out on the yummy food!). Just let everyone eat in the way that nourishes them.

So after all the gifts are opened, and I have tucked my overtired children into bed (they still wake up soooo early) I will come downstairs to the kitchen and give my injection, thankful that my body was here for another year, that is was strong enough to be with the ones I love and that it will make it through the next 2 days because I did what I needed to do to take care of it. That is the Christmas gift I give to myself- that I will do what I need to do to have my body continue to exist in a way that brings me joy.

Until next time be Unapologetically you while I be Unapologetically me…