Written by Amy Dressel-Martin, MA
One of the most important things I’ve learned to say while living with my constant companion, Young-Onset Parkinson’s Disease, for the past seven years is “no.”
“No, I’m not going to make Thanksgiving dinner and host the family this year.”
“No, I don’t feel like going on a marathon mall trip.”
“No, I choose not to stay up late, drinking wine and telling stories.” (Maybe that’s just my family?)
Sounds a little harsh, right?
Notice though, these are my choices, not things I actually “can’t” do because of my companion Parkinson’s.
These are personal choices that I am making to continue living well with Parkinson’s.
I want to not only “survive” the holidays, but also enjoy them and “thrive” during this special time of year. And you can, too!
10 Tips to Embrace Family, Friends and Parkinson’s this Holiday Season
Be kind to yourself. Parkinson’s and perfectionism don’t play well together. I find this to be a relief as I continue to give up my perfectionism a little more each day.
If you’re hosting a family or friend gathering and meal, make it a potluck. If cleaning or preparing for guests is going to cause you stress, ask someone else to host. Parkinson’s and stress don’t play well together either.
Take breaks as needed. Go rest on your bed for 30 minutes, sneak a walk around the block or do whatever refreshes you.
Travel smart. If you’re traveling, consider these tips to make time in the car or on the plane as smooth and stress-free as possible.
Depending on how it affects you, watch your alcohol consumption. Watch your alcohol consumption especially if you’re on medications and you’re not sure how they’ll react to alcohol. Get the apple cider, grape juice or pear champagne – yummy!
Stay your dietary course. Now is not the time to test any dietary restrictions – maintain your gluten free, vegetarian, dairy free or whatever eating habits you regularly follow.
Stay on your doctored-approved medication schedule. Set alarms on your phone or get a watch with multiple alarms if you’re going to be distracted by all the fun.
Decide ahead of time how you’re going to handle questions about your health if your symptoms are noticeable. Some people will ask, some won’t, but they might look at you sideways. Will you address it individually or make an announcement? Or maybe you’re not ready to share. Any and all of those are the right answer. You don’t owe anyone an explanation—unless maybe your shaking hands are spilling wine or flinging turkey all over the dining room.
Consider “coming out” ahead of time by sending an email introducing your new life-companion, Parkinson’s. Include a link to an informative website like the Davis Phinney Foundation, and suggest a donation instead of a holiday gift. I have a number of Parkie friends who’ve done something like this and it generates a lot of positive messages and good will, which is lovely support to have.
(That brings up the term “Parkie”—some people love it, some hate it. Personally, I like it, but not all my Parkie friends do, so I am respectful of individual wishes.)
How about a Turkey Trot or a Reindeer run? A little exercise before a big dinner is always a good choice for everyone.
Whether or not Parkinson’s is looking over your shoulder, the holidays don’t have to be stressful. If you go into this busy season with an open heart, an attitude of gratitude and prepared to spend precious time with family and friends—on your terms— you will thrive.
How have you learned to thrive during the holidays?
Amy Dressel-Martin lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband, two teenagers, an orange cat, two chickens and a duck (who thinks he’s a chicken). She is eternally grateful to whoever decided putting electrodes in the brain attached to batteries under the collarbone was a good idea, because it was. The Dressel-Martins will not be hosting holiday dinners this year but will be enjoying some relaxing time together.