The Ups and Downs of December
I can handle November all right. The air is chilly and the sky is gray, but I stay busy and content going through the motions at a manageable pace.
December is different. It sweeps in right after Thanksgiving in a manic holiday frenzy, ready or not.
Between busy schedules and the emotional whiplash of the Christmas season, I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. When I’m healthy, I can handle the bustle, but on days that I’m not feeling well due to vasculitis symptoms or fatigue, December is overwhelming and stressful. The calendar flips, and it’s off to the races. “See you on the other side,” I tell myself, meaning Jan. 1, when I can finally rest.
Fortunately, a joyful celebration awaits me at the end of the first week. Each year on Dec. 6, I mark Happy to Be Alive Day. This is the anniversary of the fateful night I was rushed to the emergency room with a pulmonary hemorrhage, forever changing my health profile and my life. Though a somber occasion, I spend the day practicing gratitude that I’m in remission, and reflecting on the beautiful things I’ve experienced since my diagnosis.
Then, the chaos resumes.
As a full-time musician, December is the busiest gig month of the entire year. Orchestras are in full swing, usually with extra holiday performances on the schedule. Churches all over town hire instrumentalists for multiple rehearsals leading up to their Christmas concerts. Even my students have more obligations than usual as we trundle off to the assisted living facility for an evening of caroling for the residents.
Usually these obligations take away from weekend recovery time, which means I hardly get a chance to take a breath before it’s time to grab the violin case and go back out for the next service. So holiday season, while lovely, can be hard on us musicians. Most people enjoy relaxing with their family during the holidays, but we are hustling, striking while the iron is hot.
Working virtually nonstop and being exposed to the winter weather is not a good combination for someone with vasculitis. I’ve been in remission for several years now, and do my best to avoid a relapse by taking care of myself. It’s this time of year when I worry most about those pesky inflammatory symptoms popping back up, right in the midst of the holiday hustle.
However, there are also elements of December that are good for my soul. Comforting food. Cheerful music. Opportunities to meet up with loved ones. And the beauty in Christmas decorating! Who doesn’t love a brilliant lights display twinkling atop a beautiful home? Here in downtown Kansas City, the Plaza decorates annually, inviting visitors from all over Missouri and Kansas to visit for Instagram-worthy holiday pics. The burst of festive color lifts our spirits even on the darkest evenings.
Then comes Christmas week. And as anyone knows, that can be a roller coaster of feelings in and of itself. The holidays may put us in close proximity with loved ones and not-so-loved ones, sometimes causing ruffled feathers, anxiety, and stress. On top of the emotional toll, there are also the complications of travel that many of us must consider.
As with any element of life, chronic illness patients tend to weigh the weeks leading up to Christmas on a scale of spoons, a term referring to energy levels: Do I have the energy for this? Should I rest more? Will this excitement be a catalyst for inflammation? What is healthy to eat? Questions of how to manage our illness during the holidays are seemingly unending.
Going out in the cold and working long hours puts extra stress on my body, so it helps to be prepared. I eat well and get lots of sleep, as a preemptive method of battling the common cold and other maladies that attack so frequently this time of year.
Finding peace in December is difficult, but it can be done. Remember to carve out time for yourself amid the plethora of activities and tasks that demand attention. For me, that means taking a week off between Christmas and New Year’s to give myself space to breathe and mentally reset.
For the time being, I’ll enjoy the dazzling Christmas lights, warm evenings with festive desserts, and time with friends and family. These are memories I can preserve whether or not I’m sick — and they’re the moments in life truly worth savoring.
Note: ANCA Vasculitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ANCA Vasculitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ANCA vasculitis.