Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is a body free from AS pain

With chronic illness and pain, holiday activities can be overwhelming

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by Jemma Newman |

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Christmas feels different as an adult than it did as a child, doesn’t it? Especially when you’re coping with a chronic disease like ankylosing spondylitis (AS), the holiday joy is tempered with a daunting list of physically and mentally challenging “should-dos.”

As I sit here typing on my laptop, strong coffee within reach, I can feel utter exhaustion flooding my body from head to toe. I’m so fatigued that I keep making silly mistakes, such as forgetting appointments or leaving the tap running in the kitchen sink until the cupboards below are dripping with suds. December is the time of year when I think many of us look forward to the magic of holidays and Christmas, but we’re easily fatigued by the heavy pull of obligations and tasks.

After last Christmas, in early January, I had one of the worst AS flares I’ve ever experienced. My sacroiliac joints were so stiff and excruciatingly painful that I could barely walk, and simple activities like sitting upright in a chair to eat a meal made me want to burst into tears. I couldn’t pick up a bottle of milk without gasping or bend forward to load the dishwasher.

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The memory of that debilitating flare-up is causing anxiety to nibble away at the corners of my brain as we approach the same season this year. It’s early December, and I’m already daunted by the huge mountain of “creating Christmas magic” work that’s loaded on my plate. My shoulder blades are burning, my sacroiliac joints feel stiff and deeply achy, and I know from experience that these symptoms mean I’m entering the danger zone for setting off another flare.

The kids are tired and irritable, squabbling about inane things and wailing about activities they normally love, including after-school soccer. The list of should-dos feels enormous, and I can imagine many of you feel the same. Teacher gifts. Presents and cards posted to overseas family. Babysitters organized for work parties. Guest beds made up. Trees and houses that need decorating. The list is extensive, but is it all necessary?

How I hope to keep my Christmas flare-free

This year, as we approach the hectic Christmas season, I’m determined to make my health a priority. I know, I know — I thought the exact same thing last year. The trouble was that while I had the right ideas, I didn’t act on them and kept allowing the promise of “just one more activity and then you can rest” to bring me to my knees with exhaustion. Secretly constructing a huge Christmas trampoline for the kids didn’t help my AS symptoms, either!

This is my short, no-excuses plan to keep my AS under control this Christmas:

  • Exercise. Maintain my weekly lightweight exercise routine (a combination of walking, bodyweight exercises, swimming, and daily stretches). When I stay consistent with movement every day or two, it feels easy and energizes me. If I stop regular exercise for even a few weeks, getting started again can feel quite painful, almost like my joints have seized up.
  • Food and drink. I will limit sugar, alcohol, and foods I normally don’t consume, such as preserved meats. I follow the no-starch diet for ankylosing spondylitis, which successfully manages my symptoms, particularly night pain, and I need to stick to it. My body feels fantastic when I eat mostly meat and green vegetables, and I’m pretty sure one of the factors in my last flare was overindulging in sugar and alcohol in those days around Christmas.
  • Saying no. I won’t be attending activities on back-to-back days because lurching from one hectic day to the next is a recipe for disaster when it comes to my AS. I absolutely need a quiet day or two, with plenty of opportunity to rest at home between events or big tasks.

Prioritizing our mental and physical health isn’t always easy, but I’m proud to say that yesterday I took my own advice and canceled an art class that I normally adore. As much as I enjoy it, the hour drive each way is too much when I’m feeling exhausted. Instead, I’ve used those hours to rest, chat with my sister online, and quietly prepare some healthy foods for the week. I feel rejuvenated and can tell that my body is less stiff and sore.

Buoyed by this feeling of achievement, I feel positive that I won’t crumple under pressure and can stick to my simple Christmas plan to avoid a flare. I’d love to know in the comments below if you have any suggestions or goals of your own for managing the busy holiday season with AS.

Note: Ankylosing Spondylitis 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 Ankylosing Spondylitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ankylosing spondylitis.


Susan Learned avatar

Susan Learned

when I was going thru the worst of crps..I learned that nothing is worth getting upset about if it causes a flare..Im now extending that to AS as well. Nothing is worth getting upset about if it causes a flare.

Jemma Newman avatar

Jemma Newman

That is so true Susan! I 100% agree. Overdoing things or getting overly stressed just isn't worth the extra pain it can cause - if you can avoid it of course.


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