Inspirational

Armwrestling with God

“Armwrestling with God” 

I think I laughed out loud when the nurse on the phone told me I had to go to the emergency room. At 17 years old I felt fine, but my symptoms suggested otherwise. My unquenchable thirst, frequent urination, and mysterious twenty-pound weight loss did not seem too concerning when I was focused on graduating high school the next month. Still, I went to the ER, thinking of it all as an adventure. 

The "adventure" lost its luster and turned to shock when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes later that afternoon. The surprise of my new life-sentence was dulled by overwhelm and cluelessness — I knew nothing about diabetes and all of the medical phrases confused me. My body was broken and I needed to learn how to take care of myself. 

The doctors explained to me that I would essentially need to learn how to take over the role of my pancreas — a juggling act in which I would balance food and medicine. Suddenly my health depended on my ability to count carbohydrates and protein and calculate the right amount of insulin to give myself. That afternoon I had to get over my discomfort with needles when I gave myself my first injection of medicine — the beginning of my new normal. 

Control — that was the name of my new game. I needed to take control for the sake of my health. But taking over the role of an organ challenged my own perceptions of control and deeply impacted my relationship with God. During a time that I needed to grab onto my faith more than ever, I grabbed God’s hand only to begin an “armwrestling match.” 

During a time that I needed to grab onto my faith more than ever, I grabbed God’s hand only to begin an ‘armwrestling match.’

In my heart I wrestled with God especially in those early months and years following my diagnosis. I had trusted God before I was diagnosed. As a child I experienced Him as a constant and a comfort through each move around the United States as part of my father’s military career. Each location introduced unique challenges but also introduced new adventures, lessons, and memories. So as I faced my diagnosis, that was my mindset: this is just a new phase. Surely this illness has purpose. 

But the “shiny newness” of my mindset slowly faded away as doubts and frustrations kept coming. It faded to anger as I struggled with my body’s new balancing act. High blood sugars at dinner would sometimes swing dangerously low at two o’clock in the morning, leaving me crying in my bedroom while I drank a juice box in record speed. It faded to grief as I grieved the life I lost and the future I had previously imagined. So I tightened my grip and flexed my control in this armwrestling match with a God who I now believed had been careless with me. After all, I couldn’t see the purpose in this pain. 

It faded to grief as I grieved the life I lost and the future I had previously imagined.

In the months following my diagnosis, I started attending university with a faint, hesitant trust in God, and an ever-tightening grip of control. Chronic illness intensified the pressure of life, and it felt isolating to explain my illness to new friends who had no idea what my harsh, daily realities looked like. So amidst the pressures and unknowns, I tried to control my blood glucose levels perfectly, which is nearly impossible. I tried to control everything outside of the illness. I kept careful control of my calendar, and filled it to the brim with classes and events. If I couldn’t keep my blood glucose levels balanced, I could at least control what I did, where I went, and who I spoke to. I took ownership of my illness begrudgingly, and in the process, I pushed God aside in this area of my life, and struggled to figure out where I stood in my faith. 

Yet over the course of time, my strength was waning and the false grip of control I thought I had was slipping. Looking back on old journal entries, the pages are filled with loneliness and frustration as I struggled with learning how to take care of my illness and how to be a college student. One entry reads, “I’m exhausted. I’m tired of being strong all the time but I know that no one else can take care of me.” Those words came from wrestling with control and the frustration of isolation. I was angry with God, armwrestling with Him about the purpose of my illness, and my faith had remained barely an afterthought on the back-burner. As I came to terms with that frustration, I slowly began to look back to my faith for rest and strength.

While I had been armwrestling with God and struggling on my own, God had been trying to take my hand and assure me that this pain had purpose.

While I had been armwrestling with God and struggling on my own, God had been trying to take my hand and assure me that this pain had purpose. My diagnosis, along with everything else in my life, was a part of His grand and specific plan for me. This assurance came through family and friends who were willing to help and learn, even if they could not fully understand. Assurance came through worship and learning about God’s character and who He truly is. Support and encouragement came through my small group Bible study and in online communities, including People Hope. My faith slowly rekindled as I came to terms with my anger and grief and then surrendered them to God. I thought I was the only one who could take care of myself, but I learned that others could help. More importantly, I learned that God cared for me. Through this time of wrestling, I learned I could trust Him in all things and that I did not have to rely on myself for worth or control. 

That assurance changed everything and continues to impact me as I write this now after four years of living with my diagnosis. I can look back at those initial hardships and appreciate how they have prepared me for future challenges. My family, friends, and faith sustain me in the difficult moments that I still experience. Faith in a loving God, especially in this life with chronic illness, has the power to transform struggles into celebration. I couldn’t see it for a time, but there truly is incredible purpose for this pain. 

This much I know for sure — there is no sense in armwrestling with a God who is simply trying to gently lead you by the hand into the most purposeful, unique plan for your life. 

This much I know for sure — there is no sense in armwrestling with a God who is simply trying to gently lead you by the hand into the most purposeful, unique plan for your life. 

Releasing control and simply holding His hand rather than gripping it for a struggle is not always easy, but it truly is a hopeful act. Hope in God gives us the freedom to let go of these false grips of control we have in the unhealthy areas of our lives so that God can have control over our unique, grand stories. For me, it was a relief to turn back to God and fully know and feel that He had always been in control of my story. I didn’t need to cling to my own sense of control - I could trust in God’s control and continue to have hope in every high and low. 

Hope is stronger than shame, more ferocious than anger, more consistent than confusion, and more abiding than heartache. Hope is sweeter than control. Where in the world did I get the idea that I could win an armwrestling match against God anyway? 


Written by: Stephanie Hudak

If you love cozying up in your favorite blanket with a good book, Stephanie might just be your long-lost best friend. Not only is she a vibrant member of our Tribe, she also works with the USO helping to serve thousands of military members and their families, and she’s passionate about all people having access to insulin! We’re proud to share her beautiful insights, but we’re also proud to learn that her coffee order is a cappuccino in her favorite travel mug, that she played trumpet for 11 years, that Cuban sandwiches are her jam, and that she dreams about writing a book someday. Yeah, Stephanie’s our kind of girl.


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Ask Us Anything: Relationships with Chronic Illness Part II

Ask Us Anything: Relationships with Chronic Illness — Part II

Dating, marriage, and relationships with chronic illness...let's talk about it! Hear from our Founder, Anna, and her husband, Randy, as they open up about what they've learned through their relationship. Hear from both perspectives — healthy and chronically ill — about your most frequently asked questions! They're sharing their wins and losses, ups and downs, and what has worked (or not) in their relationship, all while answering questions YOU submitted! 

Did you miss Part I?!

Be sure to check it out for even more laughs and questions answered!


About our Fave Couple: Anna & Randy Kowlessar

What can we say about these two?! Anna is our fearless leader, the Founder of People Hope, and your ever-relatable, chronically ill pal. Randy, a marketing, branding, and design expert, is the entrepreneurial wiz behind his company, Hello Randy. Is “power couple” too strong a phrase? What you really need to know about these two is that they really are best buddies. Their strong, foundational friendship is evident from the first moment you meet them, and their bond is one-of-a-kind. A core value in their marriage is to “leave people better than you find them,” and it certainly shows in the way they cheer for and champion others.


Want to see more videos like this?

People Hope is 100% donor-funded by people just like you, and we need your help to keep publishing hope-giving resources like this one! You can make a gift right now, or even sign up to join our Core Team of monthly supporters for as little as $10/month!


Disclaimer: The content in this video is reflective of Anna and Randy’s personal opinions and experiences, and should not be taken as professional counsel. While they’re sharing what has worked in their specific relationship, every relationship is different. We highly recommend seeking out professional counseling from trained and qualified therapists if you’re in need of personal counsel and/or relationship guidance.

Ask Us Anything: Relationships with Chronic Illness - Part I

Ask Us Anything: Relationships with Chronic Illness — Part I

Dating, marriage, and relationships with chronic illness...let's talk about it! Hear from our Founder, Anna, and her husband, Randy, as they open up about what they've learned through their relationship. Hear from both perspectives — healthy and chronically ill — about your most frequently asked questions! They're sharing their wins and losses, ups and downs, and what has worked (or not) in their relationship, all while answering questions YOU submitted! 

And don’t forget to tune in to Part II on Tuesday, February 26th for more laughs and to hear more of your questions answered! Nothing's off limits…and yes, they're "going there."


About our Fave Couple: Anna & Randy Kowlessar

What can we say about these two?! Anna is our fearless leader, the Founder of People Hope, and your ever-relatable, chronically ill pal. Randy, a marketing, branding, and design expert, is the entrepreneurial wiz behind his company, Hello Randy. Is “power couple” too strong a phrase? What you really need to know about these two is that they really are best buddies. Their strong, foundational friendship is evident from the first moment you meet them, and their bond is one-of-a-kind. A core value in their marriage is to “leave people better than you find them,” and it certainly shows in the way they cheer for and champion others.


Want to see more videos like this?

People Hope is 100% donor-funded by people just like you, and we need your help to keep publishing hope-giving resources like this one! You can make a gift right now, or even sign up to join our Core Team of monthly supporters for as little as $10/month!


Disclaimer: The content in this video is reflective of Anna and Randy’s personal opinions and experiences, and should not be taken as professional counsel. While they’re sharing what has worked in their specific relationship, every relationship is different. We highly recommend seeking out professional counseling from trained and qualified therapists if you’re in need of personal counsel and/or relationship guidance.

7 Healthy Steps to Plan a Sick Wedding

7 Healthy Steps to Plan a Sick Wedding

This one’s going out to all my ladies because statistically you gal pals are the ones planning your weddings, and let’s face it, girl talk is fun.

After the popping of the question and the saying of the “yes,” comes the hard part — planning what is widely advertised as “the most important day of your life.” For me, our wedding was the best day ever, but all that pressure certainly didn’t help anything. Add in my chronic illness and the whole planning process became a recipe for disaster. I learned a lot through each meticulous plan, and while there’s an infinite number of different kinds of brides, these were the 7 steps that worked for me!

1. Erase the word “perfect” from your prenuptial vocabulary.

In fact, you may want to erase it from your post-nup vocab, too. Planning what is essentially a gigantic party for everyone you’ve ever met and held dear (as well as a bunch of people you’ve never met but apparently your parents and future in-laws hold dear), is a task that’s filled with mega-pressure from day one. Don’t let it freak you, though. As much as you can, as often as you can, try to let go.

Practically speaking, Randy and I got this one right from the beginning, by each making a list of our top 5 priorities that actually mattered most to us. Without this quick step at the very beginning, it would have been so easy to end up over budget and overly stressed. When you get that bridal tunnel vision (and unfortunately that’s almost a guarantee at some point on your matrimonial adventure) it’s hard to keep perspective and easy to start to feel like even the little ultimately-insignificant details are worth your time and energy. After all, no one ever remembers the beige undertones of your flower girl’s tights or the fact that some of the tables had slightly smaller centerpieces. Narrow it down and keep your focus there. And by focus I mean your valuable-and-not-infinite energy. Things are going to go wrong on your wedding day — something always does. Know that ahead of time, become okay with that ahead of time, and as long as you end the day married…mission accomplished, my friend! Let the rest go, girl.

Practical step:

Plan a time to sit down with your fiancé when each of you can go through this exercise. Secret ballots, though…no peeking! On separate pieces of paper, each write down your top 5 priorities and rank them in order of importance to you (florals, attire, venue, photography, food, music, etc.). When you’ve each ranked your top 5 priorities, compare lists and discuss what matters most to each of you. If there’s any overlap on your lists…make that a priority. And whatever stole the #1 slot for both of you is important to keep in mind, too.

2. Take the help!

My saint-like mother is no-doubt chuckling reading this because she’s far more qualified to be writing the whole article than I am. She planned the vast majority of our wedding, and Randy and I genuinely couldn’t have done it without her. Whether it’s a mom or a group of close friends, your bridesmaids or siblings, ask for help and delegate, delegate, delegate. And hey, if your budget allows, get yourself a wedding planner! It wasn’t in the budget for us, but more power to you if you can hire a new bff to make everything magical. 

I’ll tell you right now that this thing is impossible to plan strictly solo, especially with your body’s surprising and sometimes unfortunate “bag of tricks” (read also: symptoms). And this is one of those seasons in your life where everyone is cheering you on, and so many people are eager and willing to help. Swallow your pride and take the help.

Practical Step:

Call, text, or send smoke signals to your close friends and family, and ask them to help you with specific projects. Delegate by handing off clear and direct tasks so that you can cross it off your list, and they know exactly what they’re agreeing to. And then leave the ball in their court by asking them to followup with you when the task is completed. With a reliable friend and successful communication, you shouldn’t need to hover or check in on their progress.

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3. Put it ALL on the table.

In addition to planning a wedding, you’ll also be doing all the last-minute prep for your husband to become your #1 partner in your journey to health and wellness. You don’t want to go into marriage with your brand new husband in the dark about your symptoms, the cold hard truth about your illness, or even what you’d like his role to be when you’re having a flare or a particularly hard season. They’re men, ladies, not mind-readers. Let this become your mantra. 

It’s officially time to make sure that he understands your health at great length. If it’s redundant and he’s already up-to-speed, great! But this man is about to become your “in case of emergency” contact. He’s walking into the role of official caretaker, and at times he’s going to need to be your health advocate. Now is not the time to be shy. Does he know how to handle your health scares and flares? Does he know even the correct terminology so that he can communicate with first responders or doctors if need be? 

Practical Step:

Plan a time to have one big health conversation with your fiancé. Make it a fun time with your favorite coffee drinks or sitting in a park, but really talk through everything and anything you can think of from the details of your symptoms to your primary care doctor’s name to what you each expect his role to practically look like as he becomes your official caretaker.

4. Plan A is important, and Plan B is non-negotiable.

Now I don’t want to overwhelm you sister-friends, but in addition to making arrangements for bridesmaid dresses and reception centerpieces, you may also want to consider giving some serious thought to creating an environment that will accommodate you in case your symptoms are flaring on your wedding day. 

For me, this was non-negotiable. Many of you know that I was blessed to have hundreds of people all over the world praying for me on my wedding day that I would be healthy and unusually symptom-free. After all, there is that fear we all have that our wedding day will somehow also be one of those horrible flare days. My day came and I had no flares, no nasty symptoms, no crazy health scares, but I also had peace of mind because I had fully prepped for a very different scenario. For instance, I was concerned about not being able to stand for the whole wedding ceremony, so we reserved a chair in the front row just in case, complete with secret hand signals with a trusted friend who would have, should the worst have happened, discreetly brought it up front. We had communicated our plan B to the entire wedding party at the rehearsal as well as the pastor so that everyone could keep going and play it cool rather than alarm our guests and cause a big scene. This is just one of the contingencies I made. I also listened to James Taylor all day to relax and help my anxiety, stashed snacks and medicine everywhere I went all day, and sat down at every opportunity. But I can’t tell you how much relief it gave me to know that, should the worst have happened, it wouldn’t become a big scary “to-do” for my guests, or a moment of unprepared panic for me.

Whatever your biggest health concerns are for that day, if there’s anything that could help address it, go the extra mile and treat yourself to some peace of mind!

Practical Step:

Either on your own or with your fiancé or a bridesmaid, grab some paper and write down the big health-related fears you have for your wedding day. Next to each fear, write a plan that will help you address that fear. This can be something tangible (like a chair in case you can’t stand), or even a perspective shift and something you’re going to mentally think and focus on anytime that fear pops up.

5. Honeymoon Day 1: REST.

The day after your wedding you’ll be tired. Emotional exhaustion from seeing everyone who matters to you the day before and bawling your eye-sockets out and living through the best day of your life will have set in. If not, congratulations…and are you sure you’re reading the right article? 

You might be thinking, “Wow, the day after the wedding will be a sexy little day and/or a great day to hop on the first plane out and whisk my newlywed husband away for a honeymoon extravaganza.” Thank the good Lord himself that we were given this advice before our wedding because we most certainly did NOT whisk ourselves away in those first 24 hours. What we did instead was sleep, newlywed-sexy-time, sleep, and watch Fixer Upper in the bed of our honeymoon suite hotel room while eating pizza and leftover wedding cake. This was a lifesaver and neither of us can stress that enough. Even my healthy husband was so thankful in retrospect that we didn’t jump on that midnight plane. 

Practical Step:

Add this conversation to your checklist. Find a time to talk to your future groom about planning to rest the day after your wedding! Why? Because once again I remind you, they’re men, ladies, not mind-readers! Communicate those expectations and have a chat!

6. Say “it’s okay” to not having sex that day.

I can almost hear the roar of shock and awe as women clutch their pearls and fan their flush cheeks. But this is real and let’s talk about it! While the events of our wedding night are strictly private, what I can tell you is that this is a very honest conversation that Randy and I had BEFORE our wedding. Again, emotional and physical exhaustion may well have set in by dusk on your big day, and there’s a lot of pressure to have sex on your wedding night. While sex is a gift and the most intimate way to connect to your freshly-hitched spouse, if you’re not feeling up to the horizontal mambo that night (gross, even writing that feels sleezy), it’s okay. No guilt, girlfriend! No shame! You’ve got your whole life to connect sexually. Just talk it out ahead of time!

Practical Step:

DO NOT FORGET TO TALK TO YOUR FIANCÉ ABOUT THIS. Whether you end up doing what married folks do or not that night, this is a conversation you need to have before your big day. Talk about all of your expectations for the wedding night, yours and his, particularly any concerns you might have about your health in relation to sex. Unvoiced expectations will almost always lead to frustration and disappointment.

7. Spend more time planning for your marriage than your wedding day.

By far this step outweighs the rest. Your wedding will be special and magical because it’s the day that starts your journey, but it is just one day. 

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Randy and I went through weeks and weeks of pre-marital counseling with a married couple. There was a curriculum, homework, and a LOT of hard questions. I realize that adding “one more thing” on your bridal plate doesn’t sound enticing, but how good is it to talk through so many of the hard things ahead of time and save yourself some of those “first year of marriage fights” that we’ve all heard about? Admittedly, I thought we had covered all the hard stuff long before we got into counseling, but to my surprise, as it turns out, we did not. Not by a long shot. Not even a little bit. Going through this process, there are questions that would never have come up for us in any conversation otherwise. We both highly recommend this to every glowing and engaged couple in sight.

Even aside from premarital counseling, guard your conversations! It becomes freakishly easy for all of your communication with your fiancé to become wedding-centric and equally as hard to talk about anything else in the weeks and months leading up to your big day. Be intentional and talk about the future together! Dream about what you want your average weeknight dinners to be like in the home you’ll create. Talk about things you want to do on your weekends as a married couple! On Saturday mornings are you more of a pancakes-and-pjs couple or a get-out-and-take-a-hike couple? It’s fun, but it takes intention.

Practical Step:

Consider going through premarital counseling as a couple. A lot of churches will offer it for free, and ladies, “free” is not a word you’ll be hearing at all through your betrothed pilgrimage of planning bliss. Also, keep your date nights a priority. At least once a week, aim to spend time on a date (even if you’re not spending money), and refuse to use that time as wedding planning central. Guarding this time will serve you well in gearing up for a great life together!

There you have it, gals! I genuinely couldn’t be more excited for you to step into marriage with someone you love so dearly. Cultivate that kindness, keep it patient between the two of you, take the pressure off, and set a great tone for your life together! Marriage is a wild adventure, it’s an endless opportunity to learn about yourself and your partner, and it’s such a gift. 

Happy planning, sis!


Written by: Anna Kowlessar, Founder of People Hope

After many years of dealing with her own chronic illness, Anna founded People Hope to fill a much-needed void that so many people are looking for today - a place of audacious hope, a genuine community, and somewhere to belong regardless of diagnosis. You can read more about that here. Or you can keep reading this to learn that a few of her obsessions include cuddling with her dog, Walter Norman, singing ridiculous made-up songs with her husband, Randy, and snacking on salty-sweet treats! She loves Christmas, hates the color lavender, and adores her amazing Tribe!


Want to see more articles like this?

People Hope is 100% donor-funded by people just like you, and we need your help to keep publishing hope-giving resources like this one! You can make a gift right now, or even sign up to join our Core Team of monthly supporters for as little as $10/month!

10 Tips to Survive a Chronically Ill Christmas

10 Tips to Survive a Chronically Ill Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The holidays are here and all is festive and bright! But let’s just dig right into it — for those of us with chronic illnesses, it can be more than just merry and jolly; it can feel stressful and exhausting. But let’s declare together that it doesn’t have to be that way! By taking care of ourselves and embracing some simple steps, we can not only feel prepared to embrace every aspect of the holidays, but also to do so with joy, enthusiasm, and most importantly — FUN!

I have so many fun memories from my childhood of Christmases past — you know, before I realized chronic illness was a thing that was going to impact my life deeply. All of that changed in 2012 for me, when I received my first diagnosis. It was the week before Thanksgiving, and a massive lifestyle change was forced upon me. That first holiday season was one of the hardest of my life. I had no idea how to take care of myself or prioritize my health, especially in the midst of a busy holiday a season. And to top it off, my entire family had no idea how to approach all that I was going through. 

Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot since those days. Now I look forward to Christmas each and every year, and I firmly believe that you can as well! As I share these ten tips for surviving the holiday season, I hope they bring you hope, relief, and an action plan as you celebrate this merry time!

Tip #1: You’ll Need a Partridge, a Pear Tree, and a Plan of Action

Let’s be real — dealing with chronic illness has, in some ways, made planners out of all of us. We have to think ahead in order to take care of our health. So let’s plan ahead, make the holidays as stress-free as possible, and actually embrace all that this season has to offer. Whether it be planning meals ahead so you don’t have to worry, buying and wrapping Christmas presents early, or coordinating travel, a solid action plan can empower you to really savor the special moments.

To start, set aside at least 30 minutes to think through all of your holiday plans — events, big meals, travel, gifts, etc. — and evaluate areas that need a little more thought or planning to eliminate stress in the long-term. This way you can get done what you need to without dragging your body along last-minute! Healthy planning equals healthier bodies and states of mind.

Tip #2: Peace on Earth; Priorities in Place

Prioritize everything from meal planning, to gift shopping, to visiting friends and family, to fun holiday activities, to making time for rest and your health. Take a hard look at your needs and the things that matter most to you, and then prioritize the things you need to tackle versus the things you can delegate or even let fall by the wayside altogether. We don’t have to do it all! And just in case you need to hear it from someone — it is always, absolutely okay to prioritize your health when you need to! Take care of yourself, friend!

Tip #3: Forget the Fruitcake; Stash Your Own Sugarplums

If you are on a special eating plan for your health needs, don’t hesitate to bring your own food to holiday functions! I know it might feel awkward at first, but best to have your needs met than silently sit by watching everyone else enjoy themselves, or worse — finding yourself eating foods you’ll pay for later in harsh symptoms.

Practically speaking, if others are cooking, and you trust them, make sure to communicate your needs to them ahead of time! If others are cooking, and you don’t trust them, just be proactive and let them know that you’ll be bringing your own foods. Communication ahead of time will help you navigate around hurt-hostess-feelings and unnecessary food surprises. 

And for those of you who are in a place where you can indulge a bit without it impacting your health, go for it! This season is meant to be enjoyed and celebrated, so let’s do just that! After all, food can be one of the best parts!

Tip #4: Rockin’ Around the Old Routine

Whether you travel for Christmas or you’re staying home, stick to your routines. Take medications and supplements when you are supposed to. Make sure you are getting adequate rest and stick to your sleep schedule as much as possible. Don’t change around what your body is used to just because of the busyness of the season or because travel may factor into the equation. We thrive best when we give our bodies what they need!

What does this look like practically? Will you sleep better if you bring your own pillow? Pack it. Will you forget to take your medications when your away from home? Set reminders in your phone. Will you be able to still eat foods that support your health when you get to your destination? Run out to the grocery store upon arrival. Will you have a hard time going to bed while everyone’s still up having a good time? Set an alarm to jump in your pjs, and stick to it!

Tip #5: Don’t Let Germs Sleigh Your Immune System

These winter months can sometimes be the worst on our immune systems, and even our emotional and mental states. Do what you can to protect yourself! Do the things that bring you joy and keep you uplifted. Give your body what it needs to keep your immune system working in optimal condition, and try to avoid hotspots for seasonal yuck.

And then…let go of the stress! Yes, let’s prepare and plan and do our best to keep our bodies healthy, but we also need to let go of the fear of catching a hypothetical bug. Stressing out about a potential cold or flu is only going to weaken our whole system. So when we've done everything we can to stay well, it’s time to trust in our health regimens, and say “no” to the fear that tries to rob us of the joy of the season.

Tip #6: Even Rudolph Needs to Rest

Take time to rest! I know it is so easy to view rest as selfish, especially with all the other burdens we carry during this season, but hear me right now — it’s okay to take time to rest! You need it! And if you take care of yourself, you’ll have more to offer your friends and family in return. So take time to rest and do the things that you want to do, and don’t feel pressured to “do it all.” Advocate for yourself when you need to; say “no” if you have to. Don’t get carried away by the season and push it too far because paying for it later just isn’t worth it.

Tip #7: Now Welcoming All Holly, Jolly, Holiday Help

Accept help! We don’t have to do everything on our own! Whether it is a parent or a friend or a spouse that understands the road you walk, make sure they are in your corner all the more during this Christmas season. If they want to go shopping for you, let them. If they want to cook a meal for you, let them. We can’t walk this journey by ourselves; we need others. So let others walk with you not only this holiday season, but throughout your illness journey in general.

Tip #8: Make Room for Merry Misunderstandings

This can be a hard one, but we might as well just get it out in the open — accept ahead of time that you will be misunderstood. Oftentimes the holidays gather us with friends and family who don’t understand the world of chronic illness, and I know how deeply their remarks can cut. I know it can feel painful when people comment on what you are eating or how you are taking care of yourself or the fact that you are choosing to prioritize your health over other things. But you have to do what’s right for your body! 

They’re not the ones who are going to pay the consequences of pushing yourself too hard or eating foods you can’t tolerate or staying up too late, so why are you giving their opinion any weight on the matter?

Long before you walk into that family gathering with Uncle Rick who somehow always says something offensive about your illness, accept that it’s probably going to happen, and decide how you want to handle the situation. Give yourself the opportunity ahead of time to decide that those comments don’t need to carry weight for you. This will make it easier to manage when the misunderstandings happen, and will give us the ability to brush it off and give grace to folks who just don’t get it.

Tip #9: Give Yourself the Gift of Gratitude

Everyone talks about thankfulness in November, but by December many of us have tinsel-tunnel-vision that prevents us from reaping the benefits of practicing regular gratitude. The truth is that the holiday season is rich with beauty and joy, but it will undoubtedly bring you at least one or two Scrooges or Blue Christmas moments. The trick is to manage them well and prevent them from stealing your holiday spirit. 

Your joy is worth protecting, especially in a season that can cause us all to feel the grief of our illnesses in a unique way. So get serious about the habit of writing down 10 things that you’re grateful for at the end of every day. If you know you’ll have to write them down, you’ll certainly spend your days looking for the good even on your more challenging days. Amidst all the gifts that you give and receive this year, you might just find that the most valuable one is the gift of gratitude you’ve given yourself all season long!

Tip #10: Add Fun to Your Christmas List

This may seem obvious, and to some of you it may even seem impossible, but plan to have fun! It is the most festive time of the year, and with a little extra determination (and the other 9 tips), we don’t have to allow the fact that we have chronic illnesses to steal that from us. Maybe you have difficult memories from Christmases past, or perhaps your stress levels have been off the charts already, but it’s still possible to celebrate, and celebrate well! 

Figure out some things that YOU really want to do during this season and make those things happen. Don’t let chronic illness tell your story — YOU get to tell your story. Have fun decorating the tree and creating new memories and spending time with friends and family! Cozy up to watch some cheesy Hallmark movies, and savor the long nights for some extra rest! Sing along to your favorite Christmas songs and embrace the jolly!

We can take our would-be stressful Christmas seasons and trade them in for joyful ones! All it takes is a little bit of planning, prioritizing, and choosing the right mindset! Here’s hoping this year will be filled with some amazing new habits that give way to festive, fun memories for you. 

Merry Christmas, my fellow warriors!


Written by: Kelly Halsch

Our world-traveler extraordinaire, Kelly Halsch was born and raised in New York, but now lives and represents the People Hope Tribe in Maryland. Her big dreams include things that many of us can relate to like going to a restaurant and ordering off the menu without making special requests or asking a thousand questions about allergens. Her dogs are her babies, she admits to watching too many episodes of Real Housewives, she’s terrified of ET (yes, from the fictional film), and she’s on a mission to try every local juice bar. But her heart is made alive when she writes, and is there anything more stunning than a woman who sets her mind on encouraging others? We think not. 


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