Anyone with a chronic illness can tell you that they are likely most comfortable in their home while maintaining some sort of routine. When life events interrupt those routines, symptoms of chronic illness can become heightened. Although some of these routine interruptions are unwelcome and unavoidable (such as hospitalizations or doctor visits), many are conscious choices we make for which we must prepare. One such routine interruption I am currently preparing for is a visit from my in-laws. You may think that since I will be staying in my own home I don’t need to prepare for the event. However, even changes in your routine within your home can have negative effects on your health if you aren’t careful.
A visit from family or friends is always a welcomed change for many with chronic illnesses who are often isolated from others on a typical basis. However, this does not mean these visits don’t come with certain challenges. I will outline some of these common challenges, and ways to reduce the stress on your mind and body.
1) The requirement to entertain your guests.
We often feel when we are hosting guests that we must entertain them. This can result in overdoing it causing increased pain and fatigue. Personally, I become fatigued often by simply carrying on conversations in which I normally don’t engage. Having a disease that robs me of energy with any exertion also affects my ability to maintain long, engaging conversations. If I combine this with potential outings, I am looking at a recipe for disaster if I don’t take proper precautions. If this sounds familiar to you, there are things you can do to reduce the risk of overdoing it.
First, you must be open with your guests about your needs. Explain to them that you want to participate in conversations, but there are times when you may be quiet and just listen. Advise them that in these situations you are not trying to disengage with them, and you are not angry with them, but that you just need to rest your body and mind to ensure you have enough energy to last the entire visit.
Second, if there are plans to go out, be sure to rest up prior to that event. Give your guests choices of activities, and choose just one to participate in during that visit. You don’t have to cram everything in on one visit. Make sure to offer options that are accessible for you to attend to avoid any extra strain on your body.
Finally, be sure to take time to yourself. Explain to your guests that this time is important for you to be able to be your best self when they are there. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t have ‘me time’ to decompress I can become tired, sore and cranky, and the last thing you want to provide your guests with is a cranky host/ess.
2) Visitors don’t always understand the needs of chronically ill people.
I am guilty of having trouble communicating my needs to those I love. I don’t know why this is so difficult sometimes, but I have read multiple stories of how difficult it is to communicate our needs as someone with chronic illness. It could be that many of us have had to fight for so long (or are continuing to fight) for validation of our disabilities. The medical community, and society in general, often do not treat those with chronic illnesses well, and we become guarded. We fear rejection to the point that we try to hide our needs and limitations from others. We must learn to trust those who care about us and let them know our needs.
I have learned that honesty about my limitations and needs is generally accepted by my family and true friends, and they are more than willing to allow me to do whatever I need to feel better, as long as I just let them know. By hiding your needs from them, you are putting more pressure on yourself to participate in every activity which will result in setbacks for you medically.
3) Neglecting self care activities before and during visits.
When you know you have a disruption in your routine coming soon you can reduce your stress by engaging in self care activities prior to the visit. If you neglect self care to get ready for the visit, then you will feel worse once your company arrives. You may even end up dreading the visit, or resenting them for disrupting your routine. Take time each day prior to the visit to do something for yourself. Personally, I enjoy long baths and massages. Other self care techniques could be meditation, naps, pampering such as a manicure or pedicure, reading a book, or relaxing with essential oils. Whatever you do to care for yourself…do it!
Don’t ignore self care when you have company. If you like to take morning baths (like I do), then continue to do that regardless if you have company. If you can, include your company in your self care. Of course, I don’t want my mother-in-law to bathe with me, but we all enjoy the hot tub. Instead of a long bath, I can take a shorter one to still have ‘me time’, and later we can all enjoy the hot tub together. Be creative with self care when you have company, but don’t neglect it.
4) The desire to make your home spotless!
I admit I am guilty of feeling as if my home needs to be perfect before my guests arrive. I will clean everything, and in turn I become too tired to enjoy the visit. If someone is visiting you it’s because they care about you. If they understand your medical needs (because you’ve clearly communicated your needs to them as discussed in point #2), then they are likely not going to be inclined to judge you on the cobweb in the corner or the state of your bathroom.
Do some light cleaning, a little bit every day a few days prior to their visit. Don’t push past your limits, and whatever doesn’t get accomplished will just have to be left alone. If your guests refuse to visit after that because of the state of your house, then they don’t truly wish to be a part of your life. I don’t imagine that will happen. We tend to set higher expectations for ourselves than do others. If finances are available, maybe consider hiring someone to clean for you, or solicit help from family or friends.
5) Feeling like you have to feed everyone.
This is especially true when you host larger gatherings, but can be applied to any visit. If people are coming to your home for more than a short visit, there is the overwhelming urge to make sure there is food prepared for every meal. For me, the act of cooking is almost impossible, and a trip to the grocery can be overwhelmingly exhausting.
Ask your guests to bring some items to share so you don’t feel the need to provide everything. Tell them what you will have in advance, and if they don’t want that then they can bring their own food. Use grocery delivery services like PeaPod or Amazon, or do an online order at your local store and have a family member or friend pick it up. Order in for a meal to reduce the amount of food you need to provide, and have a family member or friend help you cook the rest.
6) Having a visit last too long.
We all love having company, especially when we are isolated more than others. However, there is a limit to what we can handle. Make sure to set clear boundaries with your guests, and have a plan for when the visit will come to an end. Allow yourself time after your company has left to decompress. If you plan visits during busy times for you, then you will have no time to rest. If you only have two days off from work, or without appointments and other responsibilities, limit the visit to one day. This will allow you a day to recuperate from the disruption in your routine. If you don’t allow time to recuperate and decompress, then you may wind up going into your next responsibilities with depleted energy and increased pain. This can result in avoidance of future visits because of the negative impact on your body.
While they may seem trivial for people without chronic illnesses, small changes in routines for those with chronic illnesses can cause devastating effects. It’s our responsibility to take care of ourselves to minimize the impact as much as possible.