Living with a chronic illness is hard all year round. During the holiday season it causes unique extra challenges. I knew nothing about this before I became chronically ill myself. I have had many years now living with ME/CFS, some holiday seasons moderately affected and some ruined.
ME stands for myalgic encephalomyelitis. CFS stands for the ludicrous name of chronic fatigue syndrome. But that's another story.
Chances are someone you love is saddled with a chronic illness. There are lots of these illnesses. Arthritis, Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis, many cancers, fibromyalgia, diabetes, IBS, celiac disease, heart conditions, lupus, neurological disorders, are just a few.
Many of these are invisible illnesses, that is, the person may look fine. They may look downright great. But the person who is chronically ill deals with many struggles in ways you may not be able to imagine. Sometimes a lack of energy can be like a lead balloon that hampers everything you can think of, and plenty that never occurred to you.
Would this person you care for like to do some gift shopping? Maybe. But maybe they can't manage the crowds, stores and lists on their own. Or maybe they can't make it out of the house — possibly out of their beds — at all.
Pain can leave a nasty boot print on all activities.
Does the person you care about need help with buttons or tying their shoes? If you can offer before they have to ask, or before they struggle through the ordeal, life is easier.
Does it hurt them to open a car door? Get to that door first, and open the way.
Try to think ahead and be prepared to bridge the gap to protect their fragility. And always feel free to ask if something is hard for them, your concern will be appreciated.
For some, mental fog, which makes it difficult to think or remember things, is a crippling symptom. Some may find it hard at times to talk, or to understand what is being said.
If you can do the talking and take charge at the store counter, you could make the difference between them being able to go out or not.
It would be great to have someone who offers to drive, to navigate through the stores, to keep track of the list, and to stand in line. It can be a lifesaver to have a champion who will make sure their sick loved one has a chance to rest, in the car, in a quiet restaurant, or on a bench.
Many people who are chronically ill can't work. Some are well enough to be able to work part time but that uses up all their energy. In either case, money is often in very short supply all the time, and especially during the holiday season.
It would be great to have someone who gives financial help or eases holiday obligations. For instance, if you can hand over some cash to your friend or family member, they will be touched and their burdens and anxiety will be eased.
Taking over a meal, some baked goods, or coming up with any other excuse to provide in some way would make their holiday experience better. What you bring may be all they have to eat. And on top of that, knowing someone cares enough to do something practical like this will help to keep the fear of being invisible and alone at bay.
If you can let them know that gifts are not that important, that their presence is what matters most, you will be given a gift in return of gratitude and appreciation.
An invitation to a dinner or party may be turned down by someone who is chronically ill. But getting the invitation can often mean a lot, especially when their regretful refusal is met with a gracious smile and understanding.
If your chronically ill loved one is able to come out after all, if you can create a gentle atmosphere, you will make a lot of difference for them.
Keep the music turned down, and no flashing lights on the tree, please! A quiet room with a door they can close, where they can retreat to if they need to rest, is a treasure. Letting them know beforehand that there will be such a room for them will promote a sense of reassurance that maybe they can make it through, and that someone understands.
Don't worry about trying to use my list of suggestions. It's only a partial list at best anyway.
The main thing to keep in mind? Keep it simple, keep it gentle. Be vocal about your love and acceptance. Let them know they are important to you.
A holiday season where love is actively expressed will be one to remember with gratitude for all of you.
Visit Jody's website at http://www.ncubator.ca