Surviving (and Enjoying) Christmas Parties When You Have AS
A couple shares their game plan for attending social events this holiday season
The busy Christmas season can be overwhelming, even when you don’t have a chronic disease like ankylosing spondylitis (AS). Because both my husband and I have AS, sometimes we find it hard to enjoy socializing as we used to before our diagnosis.
In the past few years, there were times when I buckled under the pressure to have a good time during the holiday season, especially the year that we hosted a big Christmas lunch at our house. Even though I used to love entertaining and cooking delicious foods for my family and friends, now that my spine and sacroiliac joints are affected by AS, I struggle with all the extra work. Cleaning the house, big grocery shopping trips, and long hours of cooking made the Christmas lunch feel less joyful and more painful. I was so tired and sore that I found it hard to chat and laugh with our guests, which defeats the purpose.
This year, I’m determined to enjoy the upcoming holidays without crippling myself.
There have been plenty of invitations for all kinds of events this year, and though my husband, Dave, and I would love to attend them all, we had a chat and decided to carefully choose the events that will improve our lives and strengthen our relationships with friends and family.
On a recent Friday, Dave got home in the evening after his work Christmas party looking both exhausted and happy. It was lovely to see a sparkle in his eyes, because I was worried that he might come home in more pain than when he left. The work party was a cocktail event at an oyster restaurant, which meant hours of standing and small talk.
That might not sound too bad, but when your pelvis feels like it’s breaking, or your spine feels as though it’s made of molten lava, or aches and pains mean you haven’t slept well lately, it’s not particularly enjoyable to keep chatting away with a smile plastered on your face.
As Dave threw himself on our couch after the party and unlaced his work shoes, we talked about the difficulties of attending a party when you have AS. I was interested to know why this had gone better than he expected.
“I never know how to answer when people start a conversation with ‘How are you?’” Dave mused. “I could tell them the truth and say, ‘I’m surviving,’ but I don’t want to bring the conversation down by talking about my struggles. But on the other hand, if I just say, ‘I’m good,’ it’s not the truth.”
Dave shared the story of how he admitted he was having serious health struggles to a peer in his industry. This person was incredibly sympathetic and spent awhile listening and asking questions. Having an unexpected ally made Dave feel supported and helped to raise his spirits, instead of feeling that he had to hide his struggles to meet people’s expectations of “having a good time.”
In a different way, he cemented another good work relationship at the Christmas party. Because Dave lives with a chronic disease, he has extra empathy for people who are experiencing life problems. When a different colleague confided news of challenging health issues, Dave felt good about being able to spend time listening to his friend and offering support.
For many people, parties are simply about having a good time, throwing back a few drinks or canapes, and letting loose. But as Dave explained to me, the part of the work party he enjoyed most was creating deeper relationships with important people in his life.
Because we live with the physical pain of AS, as well as the fatigue and mental strain caused by chronic pain, it’s often easier to stay home and forgo socializing. The couch is comfy, we don’t have to make any extra effort or risk extra pain, and it’s safe at home.
But by passing on all opportunities to socialize with friends, family, and colleagues, we miss out on human connection. It’s uplifting to realize that you aren’t alone with your problems, and that you can make new friends or deepen connections with people you already know. Christmas parties might seem too difficult, but if we choose the right setting and people, they provide wonderful opportunities for adding joy and happiness to our lives.
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