This year, I will celebrate my eighth Christmas with my MS diagnosis. I choose the verb celebrate very carefully as it is not the first one that springs to mind when I consider how this unwelcome guest affects the way I mark the festive period. In Christmases past I have stubbornly battled to ignore the fact that I have a chronic illness. I grabbed every party invitation December threw at me just to prove that I still had it. I pulled out all the stops and did my level best to swing from the chandeliers. This ended in exhaustion and tears of frustration at my altered self. On one occasion, I paid for it dearly with a January relapse.
I have also tried another approach whereby I assumed the role of the Grinch at Christmas and cut myself off from the people I love, the very people who genuinely wanted to spend time with me- despite my MS. The people who accepted my limitations and were willing to find a middle ground where we could still enjoy ourselves. The people who didn’t constantly harp on about how much craic the old Joan was. This led to a lonely time where some of these lovely people eventually stopped making the effort.
As time passes, I take good advice from wise companions who have travelled the MS path for longer than I have. I am learning to strike a balance, the right balance for me which strangely enough is also the right balance for my friends and family! I now think carefully before I accept an invitation. If it is feasible, I accept it but make it VERY clear that sometimes- because of my illness, I need to cancel plans at the last minute. If the invitation is not realistic, I explain why and suggest a compromise.
Things have changed. The thought of the traditional meander down thronged shopping streets on Christmas Eve now seems like the opening scene of an Indiana Jones movie BUT the prospect of a hot-chocolate in our favourite coffee-shop a few streets away (where we know we will get a table) ticks all the boxes. The frantic dash around department stores to snap up last-minute gifts has been superseded by on-line shopping where the parcels are delivered right to my door. A trip to a jam-packed restaurant has been upgraded to a take-away in front of the fire where we don’t have to worry about making swift exits due to my unpredictable bouts of fatigue.
This blog is titled ‘Having a Stress Free Christmas’. I’m afraid that I don’t have all the answers but I know that as the years pass I am learning how to help make Christmas less stressful and hopefully, more enjoyable for me and those around me.
What do you find works for you? I would love to hear your suggestions.
And most of all- I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2018.
Blog originally published December 2016