Merry Sick-Mas: What To Do If You’re Sick At Christmas Time

Christmas in Australia is hot.  Really hot.  A couple of days ago it was 45o C (for you farenheiters, that’s 113o, aka horrendous.)  It’s not the time of year people expect to come down with the sniffles.  But, as we immune-impaired types know all too well, it can happen to the best of us at any time.  Viruses in fact, do not know it’s Christmas (perhaps if we sang them a Band-Aid style Christmas tribute they’d get on board?) and delight in striking down the stressed, tired, panicky masses as they converge together in shopping centres, parties and restaurants.

Thanks to one such virus, both my partner and I will be sick for Christmas, or as we are calling it at Chez-Get Well, “Sick-Mas”.  Of course for me, a cold is never enough.  I have to go that one step further and develop post-viral infections.  This time my innocuous cold has become a sinus infection and, oh it gets better, pneumonia!  Yes, in 45o heat.  I truly am a Christmas miracle.  My partner has fortunately only acquired the cold and knowing his oxen immune system will fight it off in a matter of days, but being a male we must treat this with precaution as all colds in men are dangerously close to becoming man flu at any moment and must be treated as such from the outset.  Safe to say, we’re both pretty sick right now and Christmas is tomorrow.

DON’T PANIC

So what do you do if you’re sick at Christmas?  Ok, first things first: Don’t Panic.  I first took this sage kernel of advice from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (a brilliant read if you need something to do these holidays) but have had it reinforced many times by my therapist.  It feels dreadful now but it’s not the end of the world.  In Hitchhikers it actually was the end of the world and even then panicking did them no good, so there you are.  The point is, whatever happens, we will cope.

Christmas comes but once a year but there will be many more to come.  Christmas is never perfect.  How many times have you tried to make it perfect and it hasn’t worked?  The turkey was dry, the cats trashed the tree, your dress didn’t fit, or your family bickered all day?  It doesn’t matter.  No occasion is ever perfect (whatever that means) and sometimes it’s in those imperfections that a spontaneous thing called fun happens.

There’s an episode of Sex And The City where Charlotte gets married and the wedding she had hoped would be perfect (there’s that word again!) turns into a disaster.  Her husband laughs it off and says, the worse the wedding the better the marriage.  Once Charlotte lets go of her expectations of perfection, she can actually have fun in the moment.  This brings me to my second point, find the humour.

LAUGH IT OFF

When things go wrong it is funny.  It may not seem funny at the time, but next year, you will think so.  Probably.  Look, just try, ok?

Look for the humour in the situation.  You’ve prepared a delicious feast and can’t taste a thing?  How ironic!  Planned a dream vacation and now you have to postpone?  It sounds like one of those hilarious movies!  Yes it’s a bummer and it’s usually funnier when it happens to someone else, but you can do without these luxuries right now and when the time comes that you can have them, you’ll enjoy them much more if you’re fit and healthy.

LOOK AFTER #1

This is actually advice from my Dad.  His birthday falls 2 days before Christmas so I was too sick to attend his party in addition to cancelling Christmas Day.  He wasn’t in the least upset, he simply said, “Toria, you need to look after #1.  Don’t push yourself for anyone, especially at this time of year”.  This is pretty insightful considering how much many of us put ourselves through in December.  There’s present shopping, meal planning, food prep, gift wrapping, card writing, baking, cleaning and decorating, all the while carrying on with full-time work, daily chores and of course, ensuring we look consistently fabulous throughout.  All of this should be performed with an air of effortless grace as though “by magic”.  Well I got news for you, it ain’t effortless- it’s bloody hard work!  And when I fell sick this year a week before the big day, I knew there was no way all those things could happen without me keeling over.

Put your own needs first for once: you need to rest and heal.  If you have a function at your house- cancel it.  These things happen!  People will not die as a result and they will find something else to do.  I’m sure your house is fabulous, but most people do actually have fairly comfortable homes with food and stuff in them.  If you feel particularly guilty, you can offer to donate ingredients from your fridge to your shunned guests (like the roast you won’t be cooking) but tell them to otherwise stay away.  You are not being rude, you are sick and your body does not care what promises you’ve previously made.  Any half-reasonable person will understand and empathise with this.  If they are not reasonable, why did you want them coming over anyway?

Now outsource as much as you can.  If there’s time, order an online delivery of groceries and buy plenty of ready-made food like rotisserie chicken, potato salad, sliced cold cuts, dips and crackers, microwaveable pudding and pouring custard.  Kids are happy with frozen pizza, Froot Loops and lollies, and you can always make like the New York Jewish community and order in Chinese for Christmas dinner.

Engage the services of your family.  If you have little ones and you really need help, get parents, siblings or even friends to help you with gift shopping and wrapping.  You can order a lot of gifts online and have others collect them for you.  Some generous souls might even take the kids for a festive lunch and bring them home later, giving you a rest.  Attention starved grandparents are a godsend for this kind of thing.  It might seem a lot to ask but people love that whole “giving” thing this time of year, so put it out there and see what happens.

Now set yourself up with whatever you want.  Pillows, Ferrero Rochers, kids’ Christmas movies (I recommend Home Alone, Babe, and any of the Santa Paws movies for cute, albeit schmaltzy, festive antics) and chill out.  You are sick, remember?  So relax.  Take this as an opportunity to look up random things on the internet, email your friends, and maybe catch up on a couple of entertaining blogs (wink wink!).

BE GRATEFUL

Now to the sappy stuff.  I know it’s a cliché, but seriously, try to be grateful for what you have.  While it sure does mightily suck that you can’t taste the French brie you splashed out on for the festive season, at least you have food, there are many who don’t.  You might be sick, but guess what?  There are people much sicker than you.  There are people in hospital, people with terminal illness, families with kids in intensive care.  Put it in perspective – you are (I’m assuming) a comfortably well-off (enough to have an internet connection) person in a developed nation with a home, a computer, clean water, hygienic food, and access to medical attention.  I’m not saying don’t feel sorry for yourself (go for it!  You’re #1 remember?) but once you’ve done that, get real.  On a global scale, you’re actually one of the lucky ones.  If you’ve got a little cash to spare, maybe even consider giving some of it to a charitable cause.  Personally, I like to donate to animal charities at this time of year as I know all too well, Summer is kitten season, and the shelters are overflowing.  But if that’s not your thing, look for a cause that’s close to your heart.  Those cats/pandas/homeless people probably needed that money for food, shelter and medicine much more than you needed a giant ham and trip to Bali, and while you might not feel any better physically for having donated, I guarantee giving will make you feel good in your heart.  Unless you have some kind of heart related illness… then I don’t know how it will affect it.  I’m not a doctor!

If you’re not well in the holidays, rest up and don’t stress.  You’re not alone, there’s plenty of us, it’s not that big a deal.  Take care.  Put yourself first and have a Merry Sick-Mas!

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The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same: Why I’m Back On Low FODMAPs

Hi Folks,

Long time no see.  In fact, it’s been nearly 2 years since my last post, can you believe it?!  A lot has happened, yet so little has really changed.  You know what they say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same).

The last time we spoke, I had tried just about everything short of a whole-body transplant to cure my ills, and nothing was working.  I was desperate, disgruntled, and destitute (medical testing is super expensive!).  I was struggling with crippling anxiety, nausea, abdominal pain, bloating, dizziness, and digestive disturbances on a daily basis and had tried everything from yoghurt to yoga, and meditation to medication, all to no avail.  I was on the edge of giving up.

So, that’s precisely what I did.  I gave up.

Well, not exactly.  I didn’t give up on life, but I gave up trying so hard to get well.  I gave up all the diets, the vitamins and the therapies.  I stopped seeing my doctors and naturopaths.  I gave up searching the internet for answers, posting questions in forums and reading medical journals for hours in despair.  I gave up trying to find a cure and decided instead to just plain old get on with living my life.

I embarked on a new “get well or die trying” plan which essentially involved:

  • Eat whatever you want;
  • Buy new clothes that don’t dig in to your stomach;
  • Throw away all your vitamins, minerals, prebiotics, probiotics, and miracle foods;
  • Stop taking any unnecessary medications;
  • Quit your toxic job and find a new one; and
  • Try to accept that your health may be as good as it ever gets and that it’s ok.

Coming to terms with daily pain is no mean feat and have found huge respect an empathy for people with worse conditions than mine who just get on with life.  It is truly tempting to throw in the towel so often, to become a recluse and stay at home crying into your soup.  But I pushed myself.  I forced myself to keep going.  “This is my life”, I told myself, “and I’m not going to let this silly body of mine keep me trapped any more!”  I put myself through some truly terrifying experiences, things I’d never dreamed I could face, just to prove that I could.  I went to job interviews.  I flew on a plane.  I travelled overseas and explored other cities with no mobile phone and sparse language skills!  I admit, I was so scared I thought I would pop, but all along I kept telling myself, sickness is an everyday affair, the most normal thing in the world, and if anyone couldn’t understand that or empathise with it, the problem was theirs and not mine.

I ate bread and pasta and ice cream and cake and all those forbidden foods that were supposedly causing my symptoms, and it felt great.  Yes, my stomach pains continued but after years of enduring endless deprivation diets that did nothing, I didn’t care.

After a few months, I realised my health problems had improved.  My belly hurt less and less often, my reflux had diminished and my nausea had totally disappeared.  A miracle!  But then something happened to trip me up.  I caught gastro.  It wasn’t the worst gastro in the world, it only lasted one night, but it rattled my cage.

The 2 weeks later, just when I thought it was safe to go outside, I caught gastro again!  Though shortlived again, this was a different strain, and it affected my gut badly.

Suddenly I was back at square one all over again.  The sudden, severe cramping pains, the lump in my throat, the burning in my chest, the sensation I was going to explode at any moment, all back!  It wasn’t every day, but it was every week at least and often enough to make me loathe life.  What could I do?  I did what any sane person would do.  I decided to go back on a low FODMAPs diet.

I decided to start my journey again, but this time through totally mainstream methods.  I went to a dietician, explained my predicament, and had her chart out a low FODMAPs plan for me.  Six weeks of elimination diet followed by challenges.  No fructose, no wheat, no lactose, no beans, no pizza, no burgers, no cake.  Aargh!  But do you know what?  It worked!

Six weeks in, the bloating was completely gone.  The stomach pains had almost completely gone away and I was starting to feel like a normal human being again.  Could it be possible that my gut had healed itself, only for the gastro to give me FODMAP intolerances?  I can’t say for sure, but while FODMAPs is working, I intend to continue it!