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The Holiday Hurdles I Face as Someone With a Chronic Illness

Alex Tomlinson
Busy holiday shopping crowds on Oxford Street.

The holidays are typically a stressful time of the year for most people. Between struggling with finances and squeezing out extra money to make sure your loved ones receive gifts, to the extra time spent with family members you don’t regularly interact with, there’s bound to be something that becomes the icing on the stress cake where we just need a break.

When you are chronically ill, there can be extra hurdles during the holidays that most people would never consider.

One of my biggest challenges on a day-to-day basis is managing the most basic tasks and striving to get through my to-do list without making myself feel worse. This means my highest priorities are grocery shopping and meal prepping. I must ensure I have refills of prescriptions and extra toiletries around in case I run low and end up in a flare. I spend a portion of each week going over my budget, tracking my goals, and analyzing any areas I may have overspent and how I can get back on track in a way that doesn’t compromise my nutrition or medical safety net.

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For the most part, I’d say I’m pretty well adjusted to the new structure that is my daily life and I have a handful of different approaches to each task that allows me to be flexible depending on how I’m feeling day in and day out. However, as Halloween flies by, suddenly the holiday season is in full swing and it is a bit overwhelming.

Gone are the days where the bulk of shopping is done on a hectic Black Friday. Gone are the seasonal displays in a single back corner of Target or strewn across what was the gardening and outdoors section of Walmart. Now, the choice between stopping at the store to grab a few small groceries versus ordering them online and paying a pricey delivery fee gets more complicated. You opt to just run into the store because that $7.99 delivery fee seems to always add up and you’ll be in and out in a few minutes. Except upon entering the store on what would normally be a quiet Tuesday afternoon, you find it is jam-packed full of people.

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The holiday display at the entrance is overflowing into the main walkway. People are having to cut into self-checkout to find an available basket. Carts are crisscrossing every which way and you haven’t even made it five feet into the store. On top of the screaming kids, the impatient toddler hanging on his mom throwing a fit, and the people perusing the dollar decor while talking away on their cell phone, is the louder than normal holiday music.

You have to navigate across the store, past the lengthy check-out lines, to just grab those few items. You second guess if you should have grabbed a cart on your way in. Sure you only need blueberries and some yogurt, but gosh you could really use a few cans of soup and if you fill up your basket it might get too heavy to hold standing in line. Maybe saving almost $10 was worth it in the end, heck your wallet is thanking you, but the rest of the day will be spent doing quiet activities and resting on the couch.

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A few days later, the weather is getting a bit colder. You realize there’s a great sale going on and now would be the right time to replace those socks and leggings that are worn and have a few holes in them. So after a quiet morning, you make your way to the store, only to find that you must have gone out on Black Friday because there’s just no reason for that many people to be in the store – except it’s just another casual Wednesday.

You could barely find a parking spot. The glaring sun made your walk from the far end of the lot miserable. You make it to the spot where the socks normally are, but they are nowhere to be found. The jewelry section has now overtaken the center of the store. There are endless tables of gifts that are “perfect for your loved one” and a bit deeper into the section there are piles of perfume and makeup. Just through the overwhelming scents and the tightly arranged displays, you see the socks.

You don’t even bother trying to find leggings because you can see the line at the dressing room is only growing longer, and the overhead lights are a harsh fluorescent.

Everyday errands quickly become nearly impossible. By the time December rolls around, you can’t even leave your house because everything has become a zoo.

For the average person, all of this is simply an annoyance. Yet, not all of our lives change because it’s the holidays. So many of us can’t adjust to the hectic nature of the holiday season, and we rely on our strict routines to best care for ourselves. It doesn’t matter if it’s the day before Thanksgiving, if I’ve suddenly run out of a staple in my diet I’m going to have to run to the store.

People talk a lot about how mentally draining and physically exhausting the holiday season can be, but it is often in relation to family and friends and the copious amount of gatherings we have to pick and choose from. We often forget about how the mundane tasks are overrun by the holiday season and the impact that can have on so many people.

This season, I have a small ask from the hectic holiday shoppers and our friends and family: when you take time out of your schedule to go run your errands and pick up a few gifts, check on the chronically ill and disabled people in your life and see if there’s anything you can grab for them.

You’re often much more equipped for the chaos, and grabbing those blueberries or a bottle of shampoo for us can make a world of difference. The spirit of the holidays doesn’t have to be solely about gifts and seasonal decor, it can be about extra consideration and care towards those around you.

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