As is true every year at this time, I’ve received several holiday cards from family and friends that have also contained a letter in which they share their news from this past year. I enjoy these letters, although sometimes it’s hard to read about the places people have visited and the things they’ve done since I was virtually housebound all year. Reading these letters made me wonder what I’d put in a holiday letter were I to send one out to family and friends. Here’s how it would read:
Dear Family and Friends,
I hope this year has been a good one for all of you. I decided I’d like to write my first-ever holiday letter but then realized that, being virtually housebound by ongoing pain and illness, I don’t have news about travels and other exciting outings from this past year. That’s not a complaint. It’s just the way my life is.
So, I thought I’d write a different kind of holiday letter, one in which I share with you what it’s like to be chronically ill during the holidays. I hope that, by doing this, you’ll better understand what the season is like, not just for me, but for other people you might know who are struggling with their health, be it physical or mental health.
Let me start by saying that I know how stressful this time of year can be for everyone. People often feel overwhelmed by everything they need to get done. Others may have such fond memories of past holidays that they find themselves feeling blue this time of year (this can happen to me). What I’m trying to say is that I recognize that I don’t have a monopoly on stress and frustration and sadness simply because I’m chronically ill. That said, I’d like to share some of my thoughts about what this time of year is like for me so, here goes!
First of all, if we’re able to visit during the holidays, I want you to know that, although I’m thankful for the time we’ll have together and will do my best to be good company, I may be in pain or feeling quite sick—even if I’m smiling and laughing. This is the nature of invisible pain and illness: what you see does not necessarily reflect how a person is feeling.
I’m sharing this so you’ll understand that if I suddenly become quiet or leave the room to lie down, it’s not because I don’t want to be with you. There’s nothing I’d love more than to be able to participate fully when I’m in the company of others. This limitation is a particular challenge for me this time of year because it brings into focus just how much my life has changed since I became ill over 17 years ago.
I also wish I could participate in typical holiday activities, such as shopping for special gifts, cooking holiday treats, even cleaning up after the festivities. I’m afraid that gifts may come in the form of gift cards (which may be welcome news to some of you), and cooking may come in the form of deli food (which, given my cooking skills, may also be welcome news!).
I’d also like to share how good it feels when family and friends acknowledge that it’s hard for me to be chronically ill during the holidays. I don’t need much of an acknowledgement—just a hug or a brief comment, along the lines of: “I’m sorry. I know this must be tough for you.” I’m sure you know how wonderful it is to feel understood. Well, the same is true for me with this illness. And if I’m aware of some difficulties you’re facing—with your health or something else—I promise I’ll try to remember to reach out to you in the same way.
Bottom line: I wish my health weren’t an issue during the holidays. Just for these few weeks, I’d love to be as active as most other people are and simply ignore my health problems. But I can’t. This is why I wanted to share some of my feelings and limitations with you—I don’t want you to think that the reason I don’t participate fully in the season’s festivities is that I don’t care enough about you. That’s not the case at all. I care deeply, but I’m just not able to do most of the things I’d like to this time of year.
Finally, I want you to know that I’ve worked hard to overcome feelings of envy and resentment about my limitations during the holidays. One result of having done this is that I genuinely want all of you to have a wonderful time, as if you’re having fun for me.
With love and the wish that your holidays are a perfect mixture of peace and joy,
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