Christmas is well and truly upon us. It seems to have snuck up from nowhere like the little festive pest that it is. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Christmas, but I have learned over the last couple of years that it is quite possibly the least M.E friendly time of year. The cold, damp weather often causes a huge flare up of symptoms and makes it even harder to get out of the house. Add to that the never-ending shopping list, decorating a tree, writing and sending Christmas cards plus the expectation to join in all the festive fun and Christmas often becomes a one stop trip to Crashville.
Of course, Christmas is a busy and tiring time of year for everyone but when you are physically limited it can feel so overwhelming and often acts as a stark reminder of the loss of independence that this disease often brings. It can be so frustrating to have so much that you want and need to do at this time of year, but be physically unable to just go out and do it. If you know someone who suffers with a chronic illness like M.E, chances are that you often feel equally as frustrated that there isn’t more that you can do to help. But the fact is that so many of us would benefit from some extra help at this time of year, so I’ve compiled a short list of simple, easy ways that you can support your chronically ill friend this festive season.
1. Gift Shopping
Giving thoughtfully chosen gifts to our loved ones is something that most of us like to do at Christmas, however brain fog and lack of energy can make Christmas gift shopping a near impossibility for many people with M.E. It can be extremely disempowering and frustrating not to be able to go out and do something like this for yourself, and many of us have to do our shopping online. I usually like to support smaller, independent businesses to find more personal, unique gifts but even on the days that I have a little energy for some shopping, I would still need someone to drive me and push me in my chair. This can make shopping for one’s partner very tricky when they are also your carer because you are rarely out of the house without them.
If you have a friend in a similar situation, there are several things you could do to help. Ask them to write you a list or send photos of the things you had in mind and offer to do their shopping for them, or if they’re able, offer to drive them into town and, in my case, push them around in their wheelchair for an hour to help them get a few things ticked off the shopping list. Or finally, on a slightly grander scale, you could help them to fight for better accessibility in public spaces.
2. Christmas Cards
I know that not everyone is into sending Christmas cards, but I personally find it a really simple but lovely way to let people know that you’re thinking of them this festive season. Particularly long-distance friends who you don’t get to see very often. Unfortunately, even sitting up and writing Christmas cards can be exhausting for people with M.E. Just last night I sat at the table and wrote five cards, then had to lie down for half an hour because my arms were aching, and I was getting a headache and shaky hands. Again, this can be so frustrating because often these simple Christmas traditions can mean so much to us.
If you have some free time you could help by offering to come over one evening and write your friend’s Christmas cards for them, or do them together. Ask them to write you a list of names and get to work helping them get through their list. You could be extra helpful by then offering to post the cards and, if you’re going for friend of the year, you could even bring mince pies to enjoy together while you write. Writing and delivering Christmas cards may sound like a small thing, but it would mean one less Christmas job for your chronically ill friend to worry about and would save them some valuable energy.
We all know that one of the best parts of Christmas is the food, but food shopping and cooking are such high energy activities for people with chronic illnesses and when you’re already suffering from a flare up of symptoms during the winter months, it can make this task extra difficult. Simple things you could do to help are, again, offering to do some food shopping for them to make sure your friend at least has plenty of food in. Or you ask them when they are having their online shopping delivered and offer to come over and put it away for them, which is another high energy task that many people with M.E simply can’t manage.
If you wanted to go the extra mile, you could offer to batch cook a few healthy, filling meals that can be kept in the freezer so that all your friend has to do to get a healthy meal is ping it in the microwave. I know that Christmas is an expensive time of year for everyone, but if you can afford it this would be an amazing gesture to show your friend that you care. Many people with chronic illnesses can’t cook for themselves and often have to rely on microwave meals or quick, easy snacks just to make sure they eat something. We all know that eating rubbish makes you feel rubbish, so having easy access to healthy, home-cooked food would be such an incredible act of kindness and love for your chronically ill friend. Not only that, you’d be saving them precious energy that could be used for something else a little more festive and fun.
4. Gift Them Your Time
I’m sure that most of us are aware that Christmas can be an especially hard time for those who don’t have a lot of family or friends around them and for those who are suffering from loneliness, which many people with chronic illnesses do. Everywhere we turn at this time of year we are bombarded with images of large family gatherings, Christmas parties with friends and an abundance of gifts, decorations, food and fun. This is sadly not the reality for many chronically ill people, and all of these messages can make this time of year exceptionally emotionally difficult.
The best way you could support someone with this is to simply gift them your time and attention. I know that Christmas is a busy time for everyone, but when you’re housebound or bedbound and everyone else is busy with shopping and parties, it is very easy to feel forgotten about and left behind.
It’s so important to let people know that they are not alone at this time of year. Offer to come over one weeknight and watch a Christmas film together or set aside an hour on a Saturday morning to call in for a quick coffee. Making time for your chronically ill friends is so important. It shows them that they haven’t been forgotten and that they are still valued. Of course, not everyone with M.E is able to tolerate company but even just checking in via text or a quick email can mean so much at this time of year when so many are suffering loneliness.
Please remember that this really is the best gift you could give to a chronically ill friend who may be finding this time of year especially difficult. When you’re stuck inside your house or in bed all day, it can often feel as if everyone’s lives are just carrying on without you and you are being left behind, alone. By carving some time out of your busy Christmas schedule to just simply be with your friend you are showing them that they still matter to you, and that you haven’t given up on them.
If you are finding this time of year difficult, here are some useful links to organisations you can turn to for support in a crisis:
• Shout website: https://www.giveusashout.org/ Or you can text ‘Shout’ to 85258
• Samaritans website: https://www.samaritans.org Or call 116 123
• Mind website: https://www.mind.org.uk/
•You can call or email M.E Connect via the M.E Association: https://www.meassociation.org.uk/information-and-support-line/meconnect/
If you are someone with a chronic illness who is suffering loneliness, then try finding a community online. There are hundreds of forums via different charity websites where you can chat to people in a similar situation, and you’ll always find support in the chronic illness community on Instagram. Social media has been a life saver for me. If you’re unsure where to start, follow me (@creamcrackeredblog), send me a message and I can connect you to some wonderful accounts where you’ll always find someone who understands what you’re going through.
Take extra good care of yourself and others this festive season,