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Coping with the Holidays
Audrey Kron, MA, CGP
Holidays can be a real source of joy but they can also cause concern for those with a chronic illness. Here are answers to some of the questions I have been asked about coping with the holidays.
Q. How can consumers work with friends and family to minimize the stress of preparing for the holidays?
A. Give yourself more time to prepare. Start long before the holiday actually arrives. Realize that things don’t have to be perfect. Consider your expectations. Often we lose sight of the fact that the most important aspect of the holidays is celebrating with loved ones.
Everything doesn’t have to resemble Better Homes and Gardens. Learn time management techniques such as prioritizing, delegating and most importantly, saying "no” when necessary. Make the meal preparation easier. Order in, use frozen food or have others help with the cooking. Remember it’s not what you eat that is important, it’s celebrating together.
Q. A person who isn’t feeling well may worry that their illness could ruin the holidays for family and friends. If you’re going to travel to a big get-together with family or friends and are concerned about having a flare-up, what are the best ways to explain your concerns to the people you’re visiting?
A. Communicate ahead of time. They will feel more comfortable if they know your needs. Let them know if you are on a special diet or have special requirements. If your strength is limited at the time, make sure that plans allow adequate time for rest.
Do as much as you can for yourself in advance. Have your doctor give you the name of a doctor and health care company in the city you plan to visit. Make sure you have a letter from him or her, telling about your condition (see travel packet pages 1, 9-12). If you fly, it’s also a good idea to carry your nutrition, supplies and medications on the plane and not risk their loss. (Call 800-776-OLEY for travel tips.) The most important items to pack are a sense of humor and a pleasant disposition, so that your host and hostess won’t mind any inconveniences that may ensue. Be prepared in case, but go expecting to enjoy yourself.
Q. How do you deal with your own disappointment during the holidays?
A. People tend to expect more on the holidays. Movies, books, TV and advertising always depict the so-called perfect family gathering. Even without an illness, most people have difficulty in accepting reality. Our memories often fail us, and we only remember the good times. For some, just being with family is a cause for anxiety. In that case we’re disappointed before anything happens because we feel our family doesn’t measure up to the standards that we see in the media.
Instead of looking at your limitations during the holidays, look at what you can do. For instance, you’ll feel much better if you focus on what you can eat rather than what you can’t. Help someone less fortunate than you are. It’s not hard to find someone whose situation is worse than yours. It might just be a phone call to someone shut in, but it will make you feel better as well.
Make sure your expectations are realistic. Remember everything is "time-limited.” Consumers should plan ahead to try and prevent situations that may cause depression. Modify plans to suit your requirements. Above all, do not leave having company around to chance. Make plans to be with someone. If worse comes to worst, at least use the phone to make contact with others. Again, remember others are lonely on holidays when they can’t be with their families. If you can’t find ways to relieve the depression, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. If possible, try to find someone that has some understanding of the special needs of the physically ill patient.
Q. How can consumers cope with being hospitalized during the holiday season?
A. Nobody wants to be in the hospital for a holiday. However, if it’s necessary, make the most out of a distressing situation. Decorate your room. Have your family help. Arrange for your family to visit and perhaps share a holiday meal with you. If you’re on I.V.’s and can’t eat, use your imagination and sense of humor and pretend it’s your turkey dinner. It will be something you’ll remember long after you will have remembered any particular meal. If you want to exchange gifts, use the phone, mail or lap top computer to buy the gifts and have them delivered. Buy yourself a gift too. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive, but it’s okay to pamper yourself a little. If celebrating the holiday is very important to you, arrange to have a celebration when you get home. Take control; you decide when and how you want to celebrate. Consider how much more you will appreciate celebrating the holiday next time when you are feeling well.
Audrey Kron, MA, CGP is the former director of the Center for Coping with Chronic Illness. She passed away in September 2002. She had spoken nationally and internationally on various aspects of chronic illness, and is best known for her books, Ask Audrey and Meeting the Challenge: Living with Chronic Illness. In addition to her professional credentials, Ms. Kron had first hand experience with chronic illness, having battled Crohn’s disease for most of her life. She was on TPN for 17 years.