It’s officially December and with the festive season fast approaching, here at the LUNA Project we are starting to feel the mounting pressure of organising presents, food and spending time with loved ones. With that in mind, we thought it would be a good idea to do a post about setting boundaries this festive season. These tips apply to everyone, but are especially important for those of us who are neurodiverse, have a chronic illness or disability, as we often have additional needs to be considered.
So let’s jump right in.
It’s Your Party, Your Priorities
This is much easier to say than it is in practice but this is your formal reminder that it’s your holiday too. Yes, your loved ones matter but so do you. So take a couple of minutes to think about you and answer this question. It’s simple. What do you want to do with your holiday?
If that’s too big a question then break it down: Who are you happiest spending time with over the holiday? Where are you most comfortable? Wearing what? What do you like eating for the occasion? Drinking? Do you have specific traditions or activities that bring you joy and comfort? What are they?
Now you have that image in your head, answer the harder question. Are you doing it? If not, why not?
Traditions are just peer pressure from dead people
This second question can bring up all sorts of answers, from compromise and basic logistics to resentments and family tensions (or the usual mixture). Nobody is saying we can solve all that in a 5 minute blog post. What I would question is whether any of the limits on your plans are down to your condition(s), or concern over setting boundaries with your loved ones.
For example: are you feeling limited by energy / pain levels? Worried by food choices or timings that go against your normal routine / what helps you mentally? Are logistics or physical support with a disability making your ideal situation challenging and you need support from others? Do you need more understanding, support or active help from loved ones for all these things?
If they are, then we have suggestions! The first one is to be imaginative. Sometimes the logistics of a situation can seem rigid because ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’, or ‘you can’t possibly have turkey for breakfast!’
I’m here to ask you to question why not? (Though with my personal fatigue, I won’t be up at 4am putting a turkey in the oven!) The point is that just because it’s unconventional or different from how you’ve done it before doesn’t mean it won’t work. It can and might be far better for YOU (or everyone). If you think it might and feel good about it then there’s only one way to find out. Try.
Know your limits (and stick to them)
Now with these grand ideals comes one important disclaimer, know your limits. This is a common theme when handling chronic illnesses and disabilities, but can’t be said too often. Don’t do too much. It can be so tempting to make this magical day ‘perfect’ and to try to appear ‘normal’ for the day. We push our poor bodies and minds to the brink, then end up paying for it later, or not getting to enjoy it at all.
Whatever you are planning this festive season, build in some rest and recharge time. Look after yourself (mentally, emotionally and physically). We all want to have a lovely season but health comes first and if that means spending your important day in your bed in pyjamas with a book then that’s just as valid as hosting a full blown party of 12 people with three courses. I had a Christmas where my only aim was being home from hospital. I managed it and got to spend it with my loved ones, watching films in front of the Christmas tree glow. I treasured that day.
Once you know your limits: stick to them. This sounds easy, but with the pressure of family and the ever present ‘could you just…’ we all want to help out and be flexible. The classic ‘it won’t hurt’. When it comes to health, you need to hold firm. Be polite but know your worth. You and your body deserve some love this festive season.
The Two Cs
Communication and connection. When it comes to expressing what we need in terms of support and setting boundaries when we hit our personal limits, it all comes down to the two Cs. Being clear in our communication and then creating a connection with who we are conversing.
Asking for support can be intimidating, especially if you are used to being independent or haven’t asked this person before. You never need to divulge medical history or information, unless you are comfortable to do so. Instead focus on what you need in terms of support and create a connection by explaining why it’s important, how it feels (if that is comfortable), or why you’ve chosen them to ask. This can feel incredibly vulnerable but remember these are your loved ones, not strangers in shops etc, and it can be an opportunity for them to really help you. They are also more likely to empathise with you if they can understand your perspective and connect with it’s reasoning.
Setting boundaries is something we all struggle with sometimes, to greater or lesser extents. If it’s something you are not overly adept at then start small. Be polite and friendly. Some good sentences could be:
‘I can only stay for X hours / minutes’
‘Thank you for thinking of me, but I can’t make it this time.’
‘I can’t do X, but I can do X instead.’
‘I can’t do all of that, but I can do these parts..’
‘No’ (It’s absolutely valid)
Always focus on you with boundaries and keep them as concise as possible. What you won’t do and why. They are never about what the other person should or should not be doing. Texts can be a great way to help you formulate them in the first instance.
‘Life isn’t about feeling happy, it’s about feeling everything, and there’s nothing like the holidays to make us feel everything.’ - Glennon Doyle
A parting reminder that you don’t need to be happy all the time this festive season, and not to put pressure on yourself if you don’t. It’s a time of year that brings up all sorts of feelings for us all. However, here at LUNA we have shared a series of posts to help support and offer tips on getting through the various festive feels. I hope this post has helped you think about your festive plans and setting boundaries to support your health needs this holidays.
You can also listen to this post on Spotify linked here