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Chronic Illness at Christmas

by Megan Clark

Megan lives with several conditions including Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), POTS, Chronic migraine, Hemicrania Continua, Chronic angioedema and urticaria and several allergies. Her doctors agree that there is likely an overarching condition but this remains undiagnosed. Megan recently graduated from Bishop Grosseteste University with a first class honours degree in Education Studies and SENDI. She can usually be found curled up with the family dog Teddy, a blanket, and a book.

Every year I simultaneously look forwards to and dread Christmas. The child inside me loves it, decorating the house, baking Christmas treats, walking light trails, singing carols. The chronic illnesses inside of me hate it. The carols and lights flare my migraine until I can’t see straight; every Christmas treat baked is another chance that my throat will swell up; decorating the house is so energy consuming that I start to wonder if it’s really all worth it.

Nevertheless, the pain and migraine and chance of reactions still can’t quite take the magic away. So, with help, and pacing, and all the extra meds and ice packs and naps, I do Christmas. The house is decked in tinsel and twinkly lights. Christmas treats are baked and bought - there’s nibbles for me in between everything else that’s off limits. I sing in a Christmas concert with my choir and that’s when Christmas finally, fully hits. I can feel the Christmas buzz, tangible in the air, and that same Christmas magic that started when I was much smaller wraps itself around every sore joint, even as I rest between Christmas activities.

Yet, I still can’t help but compare this year with each Christmas past. Eight years before I didn’t have Christmas in pain. Five Christmases ago, I didn’t need my wheelchair to go see Christmas lights. Two years ago, I could eat the same Christmas dinner as everybody else. Last Christmas I could set the dinner table for Christmas dinner, trimmed with crackers and tinsel and servettes, without exhausting myself.

Christmas time is the one time of year that we do everything on repeat. The same traditions, the same family gatherings, even the same to-do lists. It’s far too easy to look back and see what is different. So on Christmas day, surrounded by family, festivity and gifts, I felt that little trickle of grief seep in. That no matter what kind of magic Christmas Day brings, it still can’t stop my pain. It can’t gift me a new body for Christmas, no matter how many times my doctors joke that I need one. Chronic illness never gives breaks, not even for Christmas.

Each Christmas is a marker for another year almost gone. But even with all the pain, there is still hope and joy. This year, I am a university graduate- something I believed would not be possible last Christmas. For every battle I faced, there was a reason why I fought. If Christmas didn’t serve as a reminder of where I have come from, I could also never see all the progress I have made. Whilst the holiday season looks a little different now, I can still find the joy despite the sadness and feel the magic alongside the pain and let the little girl in me marvel at simple delights of Christmas.



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