It’s been a long and busy year. Winter, spring, summer and fall have kept me busy with work, family, friends, travelling, and, as always, battling the ongoing whims of disease. The beginning of 2018 started out with several goals and aspirations, and although I accomplished some of them, I found life, or more accurately my disease, got in the way and clogged the flow of a few other projects. Before I knew it, winter had come around again.
The winter solstice is about taking a rest, recharging in the darkest part of the season, and preparing for when the light returns with longer days. It’s a time for inner reflection and calm, when nature falls into a peaceful slumber to repair and rejuvenate. It’s a bit of a paradox that this phase of restoration falls amid the feverish rite of a frantic holiday season that gets more demanding every year. There are more family and social obligations, shopping, wrapping up the last bit of work, school or deadlines for the year. Holiday stress encompasses so many aspects of our lives, I can’t even begin to describe it – and stress, inevitably, brings out the Scrooge in RA. The only way we can prepare for it is to plan.
Holidays and chronic illness forces us to review the weight of every invitation, organize our tasks, and choose the ones that are most significant to the moment. The biggest gift we can give ourselves is to diminish the pressure of doing everything and being everywhere all at once. We need to learn how to create our own sanctuary, to take moments out of the day just for ourselves – escape in a hot bath, retreat to a quiet spot to read, breathe, or nap, and allow the feverish heat of the holidays to chill for a few moments in the proverbial champagne ice bucket. It’s okay to say no, even at Christmas. Not everyone has friends or family to spend the holidays with and that brings a new kind of stress. If you know someone who is alone, reach out, offer them a bit of kindness, and let them know they are valued.
2018 was a bustling year and a challenging one for my disease. I’ve made the last couple of months my own personal hibernation. I’ve slowed down, I’ve stayed home more often, said no to invitations. I’ve taken a break from my usual routine. 2019 is already a busy year, and I’ll need as much of myself to get through it. Self care should be at the top of the list for things to do this Christmas. It’s the best present you can give yourself.
The holiday season will come and go as it always does – it will rush up to us like a rogue wave and then retreat quietly behind us as we embrace another year. The holidays aren’t supposed to be about extra stress – they’re supposed to be about celebrating, and whatever that means to you is how you should express it. I wish you all a happy, healthy, pain-free holiday season, for however you choose to commemorate this time of year.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.