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My Autoimmune Disease Is Helping Me Appreciate the Holidays

This Holiday Season, I'm Aiming For Less Stress and More of What Really Matters

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The holiday season has always been my favourite time of year, but as a busy mom to three boys, it also tends to cause me a lot of stress. There is always just so much to do. Every year, we plan a picture for a Christmas card, deck the halls, and string the lights (and mostly these activities fall on me to accomplish). Wish lists are made, shopping begins, and activities are planned. In short, it doesn't take long for me to get caught up in doing "all the things," which robs me of my joy and causes me to forget what really matters.

This year, I'm determined to do things differently.

Recently, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease. It has caused me to approach the holiday season with a sense of dread as I try to envision doing all that I was doing before with a body that simply won't allow it. There are some mornings where I am so stiff that I can't even walk for a while, let alone start on a to-do list. It gets a little better for me in the middle of the day, but I struggle with daily pain and debilitating fatigue, and if I push my body too hard, everything can flare up.

So I started to reflect on what it is I really value about this time of year and how it has nothing to do with completing a checklist at all. What I love most about the holiday season is how it tends to make people more charitable and kind to each other. I want to teach my sons the value of serving and giving to others. I want to enjoy spending time with loved ones and showing them how much they mean to me.

It's not going to be easy. My boys have come to expect certain traditions and a lot of fun activities throughout December especially, but they are also aware that things have changed for me and have often surprised me with their thoughtfulness and empathy since my diagnosis. My 9-year-old once brought me a bag of Epsom salts because he noticed the bag said it helped to ease aches and pains. My oldest son consistently helps me with his younger brothers and reminds them to be gentle with me. Even my 4-year-old will spontaneously bring me an ice pack or his own blankie for comfort. I want those feelings they have shown me to extend to each other and even strangers as they think about something nice they could gift or do for somebody else.

Having RA has taught me to ask for help more, and that is what I am realising I am going to need to do throughout the holidays. I also know I need to lower my expectations. It's probably not realistic for me to make a complete Thanksgiving meal on my own anymore (my husband does help some), so I'm going to have to cut some corners. Wrapping presents is also going to be a challenge because this disease is brutal on the joints in the hands and fingers. What I am going to be able to do, however, is spend less time being busy and stressed and hopefully more time enjoying the holiday season. I'm going to put my energy toward what's important and let the "fluff" go. Yes, our meals may be simpler and the house may not be as decked out as I would like, but what I truly love about this time of year will remain.

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