We all need and want to feel connected to others and fully validated, especially during the holidays! However, those of us affected by complex health issues know how profoundly this can affect your holiday experience. This article offers effective strategies for voicing and honoring your needs so you can reclaim the connection and joy that you crave during the holiday season.
Please note that these are practical tips from my personal experience with complex illness and as a holistic health practitioner specializing in chronic illness. As such, the tips are a starting point for addressing your situation from a place of hope and empowerment.
#1: Take the lead in expressing your needs
It’s easy to assume that because you’re the one affected by chronic illness, others should meet you where you are. But often those around you are clueless. They don’t know what you need, and they may feel awkward raising the topic. So what can you do to feel validated and connected to those around you during the holidays?
Ultimately, you’ll run into two types of people during holiday gatherings: those who are well-meaning and those who aren’t.
You can confidently guide your well-intentioned friends and family by clearly and courageously articulating your needs. They will follow your lead and will respect your boundaries. These are the people you’ll want to focus on, sit next to, and share the majority of your time with during holiday gatherings.
Unfortunately, you can’t change what ill-intentioned people say and do. The best thing you can do is to limit contact as much as possible. Find ways to set and enforce safe boundaries with these people if you can’t avoid them.
#2: Connect through an authentic expression of differences
If you have a chronic illness, most of the people around you won’t fully see your pain and suffering. A sense of belonging can be fostered through an effective explanation of how your situation differs from theirs.
Everyone’s story is unique, but I’ll share a bit of mine in case it resonates with you. After decades of struggling with a collection of apparently disparate health issues and diagnoses, I found a geneticist who connected all the dots under one comprehensive umbrella. When I learned that my connective tissue — the glue that holds the parts of our bodies together — doesn’t work the way that it’s supposed to, I finally found the words to express how and why my body is substantially different from most people’s bodies.
Finally, a lot of things made sense to me. At this point, I knew not only how and why I’m different from most people, but how to explain to others in a clear and comprehensible way, empowering myself and connecting with others.
In order to explain to others how my body is different from theirs, I also had to learn how “normal” bodies are different from mine. I can now explain to family and friends, through simple examples, how we are different. However, far from being alienating, the clear articulation of these differences is a catalyst for authentic connections with some truly wonderful people.
#3: Decide what, and with whom, to share
Depending on your level of trust in those around you, you can open up to the right people in a way that feels authentic and safe. It is in truly validating connections that you’ll find joy, comfort and support, even when the other person’s perspective and body experience is vastly different from yours.
Putting it all together
You get to call on the shots on how much you share with the people you love and trust. Additionally, don’t lose sight of your needs. Avoid overloading your schedule over the holidays, because you need rest. If you have dietary restrictions, plan ahead, so you can confidently enjoy delicious food that supports your health. And don’t forget to make time for the rest, peace and quiet that you need. Enjoy the holidays on your own terms, in your own time, with the right people!