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Erica: Fibromyalgia At Christmas

The article below was written by Erica and we thank her for her contribution to the charity. 

Sometime in November, as soon as it really turns cold, and Black Friday and Cyber Monday madness has died down, Mariah Carey and Wham! signal another kind of madness, and the whole world seems to get caught up in its rush. 

For chronic illness sufferers, the changing season offers up another kind of stressor that some of us could do without. While most are busy thinking about last year’s turkey shortage, and what to cook Cousin Ralph who’s just turned vegan, chronic illness sufferers – particularly Fibromyalgia sufferers - are thinking about how the change in weather is affecting our pain, temperature control and mood. 

We’re dreading the complaints from Mum and Aunty Nora because we’re not wearing the Christmas pyjamas / jumper like the rest of the family, who aren’t grasping the notion that clothing material is literally burning through your skin until it feels like a cheese grater has been taken to your skinless flesh, with vinegar and extra hot peri peri sauce poured all over it and set alight. 

Never the ones to want to seem like we don’t try, too rarely there is never an audience to watch you struggle to wrap presents, write cards, or try to put up decorations you are feeling too rotten to care about. Sometimes, the ‘season of good will’ just doesn’t reach everyone in equal measure, and that mean relative you cannot stand thinks nothing of pointing out everything that you’re not doing, knowing full well why you aren’t, but uses the occasion as an opportunity to stick the knife into more than just the turkey. 

Chronic illness sufferers don’t want to be seen as the ones to ruin the festivities. We want to take part and enjoy ourselves just as much as the rest of the family, but unfortunately, for someone afflicted by illnesses outside of their control, it’s like setting off from the same starting blocks as your able-bodied relatives but blindfolded and spun around three times before the gun goes off. 

We do our best to fake being well for the benefit of others, not for ourselves. There is an unspoken pressure that requires us to ‘grin and bear’ what usually knocks us off our feet – no pun intended. Don’t complain, smile in the face of your pain, stay awake, be energetic, cheer up if you’re feeling down, ignore every symptom your body is constantly undergoing, and act as if nothing is wrong. 


It’s for your kin; put it all to the back of your mind and smile for the family photos – it’s only once a year, you can manage that, can’t you? Don’t be so selfish! Or even more loaded that its for the kids!"


Sound familiar? Almost every chronic illness sufferer will face some degree of the above at some point, because it’s the same story in homes across the globe. What we experience at the hands of wretched illnesses of one kind, or another are so unorthodox, that it never occurs to the rest of the family that Christmas crackers being pulled might sound like gunshots going off right next to our eardrums, or the smell of certain foods may affect us so severely it makes us nauseous at best or relinquish our undigested last meal at worst. 

When you don’t feel up to taking part in the party, you’re only going to set yourself back by forcing yourself to do something that you know your body is not up to. The flare you may end up bringing onto yourself for the sake of one day needn’t occur if you just put your own needs first. 

Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand the pressures of expectation are crippling, but any family member is far more likely to be sympathetic to your needs if you share your load. Equally, if you’re suffering severe bouts of depression – it’s also going to help if you don’t keep your suffering to yourself. You’re going through enough without the added stress of a mental health condition plaguing you when everyone around you is all smiles. 

Alcohol and other substances may also be a big draw when you’re not feeling your best. Sayings like ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ may be really cheesy, but they are also true. Fibromyalgia Action UK have a lively Facebook group with someone – whether moderators or fellow sufferers always available to engage with. 

If none of this feels like ‘enough’, and you’re really at your wits end, never forget that charitable organisations such as The Samaritans, Mind, and Breathe are always there to take your call – but please take care not to wait until you feel truly desperate to get in touch, they are there for a non-judgemental chat if you need it – friends and family will always prefer you come to them and share what you’re going through, rather than letting the pressures of the season drag you down to a point you may not feel like you can come back from. 

The bottom line is, this season is going to be difficult for any chronic sufferer, but it doesn’t have to drive you to the depths of despair. Whether in person, via screen, or telephone – there is always someone to hear you. 


Enjoy the festive season your way, 



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