The Holidays Are Upon Us: Some Things To Remember About Your Friends And Family With A Chronic Illness
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Profile photo of Devin Garlit

It’s nearly Thanksgiving in the US as I write this, which means that the holiday season is almost upon us. For many suffering with multiple sclerosis, this “most wonderful time of year” as they say, can be a total nightmare. Travel, crowded situations, and increased responsibilities can all make this time of the year a living hell for someone with a chronic illness. I’m not writing this to vent some scrooge-like thoughts, but rather as a little warning to those of you who know people with MS or other similar diseases. While we don’t all have these problems, there are certainly many of us who do.

For many, the holiday season can mean increased travel, something that can be very tough on people like me. I personally have a lot of issues when traveling. Being in a car is a very rough experience for me, the longer the drive, the worse off I am. My spasticity and pain are huge problems when I’m cramped up in a vehicle for a long period of time (I can’t even begin to imagine a plane flight). If I’m just sitting on the couch watching TV, I have to constantly switch into different positions to attempt to find a sliver of relief, so being confined to one seat can be especially problematic to me. The pain, spasms, and stiffness take their toll by the time I arrive at my destination in the form of increased fatigue. That fatigue can seemingly make the entire trip worthless and I’m not able to do too much.

Of course traveling isn’t the only issue. The holiday season is typically full of gatherings. From family dinners to work parties, for many of us, there will not only be an increase in the amount of activity we experience, but we’ll also be in much larger groups of people than normal. That can pose a couple of issues. For one, it increases the chance that we contract some other sort of sickness. If I’m around a lot of people (and kids in particular), I know I am probably going to come down with something. This is a pretty common issue for many of us this time of year. In addition to that, many of us will struggle with the increased crowds because our senses become overloaded. This can be a nightmare for us and can also make us appear anti-social. We already tend to cancel and avoid a lot of activities, but that can seem even more apparent during the holiday season.

For many, whether you have MS or not, the holiday season can be exceptionally stressful. Stress can be a massive issue for folks with MS. Not only are many of us more susceptible to stress, but stress can dramatically worsen our symptoms. When I get stressed, all of my symptoms get amplified. I have literally encountered some stressful moments and have had my legs no longer work, my ability to speak become impaired, and my body become riddled with numbness and searing nerve pain. That will usually clear up when I calm down but I have also known people who have ended up having full-blown relapses due to stress. Traveling, attending parties, buying gifts for people, sending cards, etc. The list of responsibilities that can contribute stress is quite long.

So what if we avoided all this? Trying not to travel or attend parties can create its own issues though. Many will avoid what they can but they’ll still have nagging guilt and depression because of it. Making it even worse is when friends and family can’t understand why we aren’t available to attend or why we have to leave early. It’s never because we don’t want to be there. I think that’s something that a lot of folks don’t get. I’m sure it’s easy to be disappointed in someone who has an illness that prevents them from doing the normal activities that everyone is enjoying. Believe me though, we want to be there, and badly. If I can ask for anything this holiday season, it’s to please bear with those of us with a chronic illness and try to understand.

Thanks for reading,

Devin

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