When the ‘Holiday Season’ Is No Holiday at all for Those With ME/CFS

Candles at night, laid out as in a vigil.

by Jody Smith 

The holiday season just doesn’t live up to the hype, especially for the chronically ill and their caregivers. You people with ME/CFS know all too well what I’m talking about.

I am one of the lucky ones, and I know it. My symptoms are generally mild and while they keep my life small, I’m able to do more than many who have ME/CFS.

Today I drove for 20 minutes to a shopping plaza and picked up a few things for Christmas, then drove back home. For some people, this sounds like no big deal but for many in the ME/CFS community, such short jaunts are not possible.

Maybe there’s no car, or you aren’t able to drive it. Or you’re too ill to even be a passenger. Maybe there’s no money for gifts — maybe there’s no money for food or bills either. Maybe you’re finding it a major challenge trying to lift your head off the pillow.

Lots of us are isolated during this holiday season. This can be because our friends or families have drifted away and we are alone in the world. Or maybe friends and family are around, and as involved as our illness allows them to be — but sensory overload from too much noise, too much visual stimulus forces us to keep them at a distance.

Conversation — speaking or understanding — may be difficult or even impossible. And unless you have ME/CFS, you have no conception of just how utterly draining this can be. I could go brain-dead in about five seconds flat under the right circumstances — if “right” is the correct term here.

A lack of money — so often a close companion for those with ME/CFS — is stressful any time but it weighs even heavier this time of year, bringing with it an extra serving of guilt to someone who is already severely overtaxed.

Parents fear that their children will be affected by a lack of holiday cheer or food or decorations. And — forget about presents — how much worse will it be in homes where their parent can’t spend time in their presence?

Being behind a closed door is terrible for the person who is ill. It isn’t any better for the child or other loved one who must remain on the other side of that door. No mom or dad? Yeah, that’s an awful scenario. And it happens. Oh yes. It happens.

It’s a tough season, in so many ways. And sometimes your impulse may be to just pull that pillow over your head and wait till all the supposed joyful celebrating is finished with. And, just maybe, that might be the smartest thing to do when things are too painful.

I have been fortunate to have family that loves me, through all the years of sickness. But I also had a number of years when I couldn’t really be part of things. Often I spent most of the family visits in my bedroom with the door closed, trying in vain to rest. I knew I was missing out on everything, but it was more than I could physically and neurologically handle.

Sometimes preparations before the holidays sent me plummeting over the edge, and I’d be vibrating and dragging myself in full crash mode through several days of “festivities.” And I would pay dearly for the attempt over the next couple of months, crawling up out of my Christmas crash.

This year, I am dealing with some mild(ish) symptoms — I feel shaky, my breathing is labored, I’m dealing with some vertigo and my brain is … lumpy. Slow. Feels stunned.

Something weird settles in my chest when I try to focus very hard or work out details. When I walk I am a bit slow, with a tendency to veer a bit left or right if I’m not concentrating on it enough. Doing things with my hands is awkward, and leaves me for some reason wanting to gasp for breath.

Yay December, right?

After I came across Phoenix Rising, things changed for the better during this time of year. I’d like to be able to say that Phoenix Rising helped to alleviate some of my symptoms — but that wouldn’t be true. It did however alleviate much of the loneliness and isolation, and hence some of the gloom.

During times when I couldn’t be with those I loved here in my “real” life, if I could read with any kind of comprehension and type with even just a few fingers, I knew there were people waiting for me at Phoenix Rising. Knew they were waiting because hey — they were at home and isolated too.

When the rest of the world was busy with festivities, I could drag myself to my computer knowing I’d be welcomed by friends who understood what I was going through, knew how I was feeling, and who went out of their way to bring healing and reassurance and light.

The first December that happened for me was eight years ago, and some of the friendships formed back then are still important even yet. We know how hard this life is. We know how hard this month can be for so many of us. And that makes so much difference. That sense of community fills in so many of the empty spaces in so many of our lives.

I wish I could ensure that every one of us could have a time of joy and love and security. I can’t make that happen. But I can thank you all for being part of this global community, for bringing all kinds of light to its members, and for warming hearts and easing fears.

Thank you for being such an important part of my life, and of the lives of so many around the world. And in any and every way it might be possible, I wish you a peaceful, prosperous, healthy and happy holiday season.

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Photo: Pixabay

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