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9 tips to survive the holiday season with a chronic illness

That's So Chronic logo with Christmas decorations

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If I’m being completely honest with you all, Christmas is kind of weird. I’m not much of a present person, there are never any big family gatherings for me, and I usually get flooded with the memories that I woke up on Christmas Day in 2014 with optic neuritis. I could put my rose tinted glasses on and say that this time of the year is a good time to reflect on how far I’ve come since that Christmas when Santa delivered yet another MS relapse down my chimney. But if finding your positivity glasses feels excruciatingly exhausting at this time of year, don’t worry! I feel ya.

Here are some tips to survive the holiday season when you’re also surviving a chronic illness:

Eat what makes you feel good

There’s no pressure. You know your own body! And if you happen to see someone politely declining a glass of champagne or the array of desserts on the table, for the love of god don’t say anything and make it awkward. If someone wants to tell you why they're on a specific diet (or lack of!) chances are they'll let you know unprompted.

Jess wears a black T shirt and red and white polka dot pants. She is stretching the top part of the pants out and pointing into them
Here's a photo from the archives! This was me Christmas 2019, the first Christmas back at my parents' place in a couple of years. I was getting ready to eat all of Mum's delicious home cooking!

Don't be afraid to say no

...and if anyone gets their knickers in a twist, you just send ‘em to me (@thatssochronic!)

Just remember that your loved ones love you for you, not for how many end of year parties you go to.

“Hey, I think I need to go and get some apples…”

But if you do find yourself at an end of year celebration... Something I’ve been doing recently is deciding on a code word with whoever I’m attending a social event with, so that if it’s all getting a bit much, I can drop the code word into a conversation and bam. Taxi!

Get your meds and chronic illness essentials sorted before everywhere closes!

I hate not being able to get whatever I want whenever I want (why yes, yes I am an only child, how could you tell?) so it pays to not run out of your essentials in the middle of the silly season! (Also, that reminds me, I need to do this!)

presents wrapped in black and white patterned wrapping paper on a yellow background
I may or may not have been saying to people "I am the gift!" this year 😅

If it’s an option for you… Perhaps consider having a no gift Christmas?

However, I'm not an idiot! I do understand that doing a "no gifts" Christmas isn't an option for everyone and especially not an option if you have kids, so in which case I suggest making a big list and going through step by step. Internet shopping is your friend! nd unpredictable life is, and how ridiculous it is that we wait until the 25th of December to eat delicious foods and give our loved ones presents. Literally, anything could happen at any point, so why wait to live our best lives? If you see something someone else would love, why not just give it to them then? Another idea could be suggesting to a loved one that next year and you go out for a nice dinner and have some quality one on one time instead of giving and receiving gifts.

However, I'm not an idiot! I do understand that doing a "no gifts" Christmas isn't an option for everyone and especially not an option if you have kids, so in which case I suggest making a big list and going through step by step. Internet shopping is your friend!

Speaking of internet shopping…

Do your groceries online!

It speaks for itself really. But also don't feel pressure to cook *everything* yourself. I actually just said to my partner "is it ok if I buy ready made salads this year?" And he (a non-chronically-ill person) said, "yes! It's the end of the year. I can't be bothered making salads any more." Well there we go.

This is one of my favourite New Zealand TV ads at the moment... Let's normalise buying pre made food!

"The trick is to make it not look too perfect"

Schedule in breaks

If watching movies is relaxing for you, then why not pop a Christmas flick on and let two hours pass by. If anyone tries to talk to you and can shush them and point towards the TV screen. I also recommend scheduling a day off either side of your festivities to mentally and physically prepare, and then recover.

Alcohol free beverages

Alcohol doesn’t make me feel amazing, but lucky for me there are so many alcohol free options on the market nowadays! Personally, I have a bottle of alcohol free Geisen Pinot Gris chilling in my fridge, Zeffer 0% apple ciders, and all of the ingredients for some fancy mocktails. Now I know it sounds obvious... But you can also order mocktails while out and about, and no one will ever know! *cue the tiktok sound*

6 drinks glasses on a table with two menus and a sparkly Christmas hat
For a recent Christmas gig I was able to try a bunch of bars around the Christchurch CBD!

And my biggest tip for surviving the holiday season…

Be kind to yourself. You’re doing your best and that’s all anyone can ask of you.

If you have any tips to survive the silly season I would love to hear from you. Feel free to reach out over on instagram, I'm @thatssochronic


That's So Chronic is a podcast produced and hosted by performer, writer and MS-er Jess Brien. Join her each week as she interviews guests from all around the world that are thriving - and sometimes only just surviving - with chronic illnesses, life changing injuries, and potentially disastrous diagnoses, as well as sharing conversational style episodes and everything and anything in our That's So Chronic world. Available on apple podcasts, spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.


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