Chronic Lyme Disease & the Gifts of a Minimalist Christmas

_frameXmasfirst75We almost didn’t get a Christmas tree this year. For two very simple reasons: we are both exhausted and broke. Pretty food pictures and colorful blogging aside, this is our Lyme reality. All the optimism in the world doesn’t change the fact that healing serious illness is tough. Tougher than most people could ever imagine. It takes it’s toll, and it’s certainly taken its toll on us.

Increasingly, one of the hardest parts of treating my Chronic Lyme Disease is the mounting medical costs.  Wonderhubs and I put everything thing we can towards my out of pocket expenses and every month we still go over. So we knew a Christmas tree wasn’t in the budget. And I thought I was going to be okay with that. After all, my new protocols have been helping with my fatigue. That’s merry enough right? Right??

_framemeds60Because my medical costs are so extensive (often more than a thousand dollars a month) we routinely have to make tough choices that really aren’t much of choice. Not once have we discussed whether we should we go out for sashimi or call in my prescription. No, we stay in and I ring the pharmacy. But no Christmas tree? Gee…

Times are tight for a lot of people, and the Holiday season is a wonderful opportunity to cultivate compassion for those who have less. Charities receive the highest proportions of donation in December for just that reason. Yet, for many people this season is also a mad rush to buy “just the right gift” for a long list of family and friends. The shopping experience can be exhilarating, yes, but also exhaustive both physically and financial.

“For those reasons, we’ve opted to opt out. Inspired by the Buy Nothing movement that sprung up in response to the shop-insanity of Black Friday, we’ve practiced a “buy nothing” Christmas for the last several years. The idea first came to me after my last full blown Christmas in which I was left sick, stressed, and too drained to even enjoy the merriment. The following year my health completely crashed and we saw the need to create a new holiday tradition, so we did.

We continue to practice a minimalist Christmas just for the peace of it. Each year we buy each other one or two small gifts and a tree. Easy as that. True, we’re both too tired to partake in the culturally mandated consumer craziness, and it’s also true we don’t have the funds for family gift giving. But ultimately, we celebrate Christmas this way because we’ve come to love it. We send cards, and on the rare year when we have extra to give we make a donation to the local food bank.

_frametreetop60We focus our energy on well wishing and feel grateful to be enjoying the season at a slower (and saner) pace.

Tips for a Minimalist Christmas:

  • Instead of making lists, make memories.
  • Instead of buying presents, be present.
  • Instead of sending gifts, send peace.
  • Instead of hanging lights, be the light.

When we first adopted it, we weren’t sure how well our proposed (and slightly radical) idea was going to go over, but it’s actually been great. We made a deal with our family and friends: we won’t being getting you anything, and in return you can take us off your list too. It turns out that by not participating in gifting we are actually giving a gift: the gift of a little less buying, rushing, stressing, and worrying for our loved ones. Sean and Kat? Already taken care of, phew.

_framegifts65Of course this doesn’t mean we won’t accept gifts if given. Every year Sean’s parents send us a gift or a check and we are always incredibly grateful for it. Because our finances revolve around my medical costs, throughout the year there’s very little left over for recreation, home improvements and the like. For us, living with Lyme means learning to live within a very lean budget.

Money stress is never pleasant, but there’s one particular way in which our financial situation gnaws at my heart. Because such a large percentage of our resources goes towards healing, my husband rarely gets to spend any of his income on himself. And this grieves me. My husband makes good money working for a good company, yet in a way it’s money he never sees. Which is why my in-laws’ thoughtful generosity is so important come Christmas time.

For two years my wonderful, selfless husband has wanted an Xbox One, and for two years we haven’t been able to scrape together the extra money to get him one. This year I have good reason to believe that the large box shipped up from California by my in-laws contains none other than a brand new, bona fide Xbox One game console. And I am so glad, so grateful, because my husband works really hard, both at his job and at home with my care.

I may need costly medicines, but what I’ve wanted is for my husband to be able to play Halo 5. 

_framexbox60On Tuesday, three nights before Christmas, I came home from my acupressure appointment, so worn I could barely stay upright. I hung up my bag, kicked off my boots, and stumbled into the kitchen to start some tea. As the heated water began to condense into tiny bubbles, my husband came in. After a hug he informed me he’d just finished up checking our finances. No surprise, we were way over on “medical” again. Rolling up his sleeves to start in on the dishes he said softly, “Well… we’ve actually spent twice what we put aside for healing this month”

In that instance something small and powerful gave loose inside me. Leaning against the countertop for support, I broke down crying. I had been hoping against hope that there would be a little extra this month. I hadn’t given up on the idea of a Christmas tree. And yet there it was. We were looking at more debt. So I cried, held by my husband, as my water boiled unnoticed. I had wanted not to care. But I did. Up until that moment I hadn’t realized just how much.

_frameclosetree70The next day Sean was extra late coming home, and I was extra wiped. It’d been a long day of treatments and detox protocols and I’d had a hard week with heavy Herxing* and very little energy left over for anything else. Christmas was in two days and I still hadn’t written a single card, or set out a single decoration. I had simply been too tired.

(*Note: “Herxing” is short for the Herxheimer Reaction, which describes the process in which infectious pathogens release toxins as they die-off making you feel even worse.)

I was finishing up my afternoon meditation session in the bedroom when Sean arrived home. Over the pulsing of binaural beats in my ear buds I heard him come in. My intention for my practice had been to cultivate an open heart, yet my heart still felt weighed down and cautiously closed against grief. As I put away my acupressure mat, pillows and blanket I took a deep breath and reminded myself: we are blessed.

_frameming60Opening the bedroom door to greet Sean the first thing I noticed was the smell. Something smelled like pine. Fresh and green, wintery and wonderful. And then I saw it. Leaned up against the corner in the living room. A small tree. Our Christmas tree. Sean had bused over an hour with it, and transferred twice in order to also pick up a new strand of lights. This time the tears were different. This time there was joy behind them and I felt my heart swing wide open.

By waiting until the last moment, my Wonderhubs had been able to get a remarkably marked down tree for a mere $15. And it’s the most beautifully perfect tree ever sold at a substation discount. As Sean set up our little tree I watched, wrapped up for warmth against the chills in my healing body, my grounding wrist band snug on my forearm, the UV air filter humming along with the Christmas carols. Finally I felt it: it’s really Christmas. It may be influenced by Lyme, but it’s still ours, and it’s still wonderful.

_framegrounding65Of course our Lymie Christmas isn’t really about the tree, or even the financial hardships of healing a disabling disease. It’s about staying strong, breaking down, embracing new traditions, and most importantly, staying grateful. Because when we focus on the abundance in our lives, we find that we receive exactly what we need.

This season we’re wishing you abundance, peace, joy, and always: wellness. Merry Christmas + Happy Holidays everyone!

Can you relate to my share? Have you also found a need to scale back during the holiday season in order to honor physical or financial limitations? I’d love to hear how you celebrate a Healing Holiday, so let’s talk in the comments!

We’re wishing you wellness! May you eat well, live well, be well! 

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” ~ Mathews 7:7-8

2 thoughts on “Chronic Lyme Disease & the Gifts of a Minimalist Christmas

  1. Hi Kat,
    I can relate to having to scale back both physically and financially during the holidays. The same day you broke down about finances, I also broke down crying in my car in a Walgreens parking lot. The financial stress of Lyme treatment just built up and I had to release it.
    My husband and I set limits for how much we could spend on Christmas presents, which was not an easy task for me be because in the past I was a “go all out” type of Christmas person, but we had to be realistic. I started a new treatment plan in the beginning of December, so we also had more medical expenses than expected. I knew the treatment would cause herxing, so I chose to remain in holiday spirit and watch as many Christmas movies and rest as I could while my body was working hard. My husband helped me decorate prior to the new treatment, which was good to plan ahead. I also enjoyed holiday music and snuggling with my dogs near the lit up tree.
    We started a new tradition this year: an activity advent calendar. Growing up, I used to get an advent calendar filled with chocolates, but that is a no-go nowadays, along with almost all holiday sugary goodies. So instead of being sad about not being able to participate in old traditions, we decided to make new ones or modify them. Last year I had made an advent calendar on a cork board and this year I filled each day with an activity for my husband and I to do. Many of them were very low key, like watching Elf together, enjoying a warm beverage, or drive around and look at Christmas lights, but the goal was spending meaningful time together each day. I had fun coming up with ideas (thank you Pinterest) and he got to come home from work excited to see what our activity for the day was.
    My husband really wanted sugar cookies, so he made them and even though I couldn’t eat them, we enjoyed decorating them together.
    Faith has become a very meaningful part of my life now so I put together an advent wreathe centerpiece with candles, all things we already had, and we lit each candle and I said a prayer or read a Bible verse every Sunday in Dec and on Christmas Day.
    Christmas Day, and actually the entire month, was more meaningful, mindful, and present than years before, despite the physical and financial stresses.
    I’m so glad you got a Christmas tree and your husband got an Xbox. Our caregivers deserve so much!
    Have a Happy New Year!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m really glad that you were able to relate (but also not glad you know?) and that’s why I decided to post this. I was like, we can’t be the only ones struggling with this, I’m going to put this out there. Because it really is so hard at times, and especially around the holidays the financial aspect of healing hits home. I LOVE your new tradition with the advent activity calendar. We are totally doing to do that next year, so great! And I like how you created weekly faith rituals during all of December, I think that would be good for us too. As I’d said, we really love have a low-key Christmas and it sounds like you’ve found a way to bring more meaning into this holiday too. I’m so happy to hear that. The Lyme lifestyle can be incredible difficult, but it also opens us up to experiencing life on a deeper and more meaningful level. That’s been my truth anyway. Glad you had a nice Christmas and wishing you a wonderful New Year!! Yours in healing, Kat

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