Distance Makes Family Gatherings Challenging During the Holidays

Distance Makes Family Gatherings Challenging During the Holidays

Christmas is approaching. An indication for me of the impending holiday season is that I’m getting a little more depressed each day. Yes, I’m one of the unfortunate few who dreads the holidays. And the older I get, the more painful it becomes.

I find myself avoiding friends whose conversations are dominated by their upcoming family festivities. I wish for another dimension where we Christmas “orphans” could reside from the week before Thanksgiving until the first week of the New Year.

By “orphans,” I don’t necessarily mean people without families. It also can be painful for those of us who have them but don’t get to see them. For me, one reason is geographical, another is medical.

Over the decades, I’ve had to cancel so many family celebrations due to health issues that the invitations have stopped coming. After a while, people just assumed that I couldn’t be there. Knowing how upsetting it is to all concerned when I have to cancel, they consider it kinder to exclude me. Now that’s really depressing.

“There” for me involves travel by plane and navigating Los Angeles International Airport. Holiday requirements include arrival at the airport three hours before domestic flights. Add one to two hours for travel from my house to the airport, depending on traffic, and an hour in the air. Upon arrival, it’s a minimum of a half-hour to claim my suitcase and an hour to my destination. That adds up to roughly a seven-hour trip — assuming no weather or mechanical delays — one or both of which are nearly routine during the year’s busiest travel season.

Assuming that my pain is under control, I know I’ll be fatigued before I even leave my house. Fatigue, for me, means wobbly legs. I picture myself collapsed in the middle of a busy airport, being trampled by throngs of hurrying travelers, needing assistance but unable to get it. And just leaving the house can be a little tricky in itself, given my irritable bowel syndrome.

The thought of that trip with those issues is overwhelming. For weeks ahead of time, I worry that my body will be unable to handle it. These concerns, added to the stress of planning and preparation, can lead to one or more new physical symptoms. (Think cold, flu, miscellaneous infection.) Any of these, added to the daily symptoms that I already deal with, are sufficient cause for cancellation.

This has happened so many times over the years that I eventually decided to stop subjecting myself to these situations. Instead, I visit my family at non-holiday times, send presents by mail, and console myself by watching traffic nightmares on the evening news. Yes, I’m sad that I’m not with my family. But I’m grateful that I’m finally respecting myself and my limitations. In the process, I will save myself the sleepless nights and new symptoms I would likely have developed.

As an alternative, I’ll be spending this time with other “orphans.” We’ll enjoy the things we can — like silly Christmas movies on TV, fattening foods available only once a year, live music popping up in unlikely locations, and each other’s company. We’ll raise a glass and be thankful for the many blessings we have. I, for one, will be particularly grateful for FaceTime.


Note: Fibromyalgia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Fibromyalgia News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to fibromyalgia.


  1. Page Shelton says:

    After 78 years of having a depressed time every year from Thanksgiving through Christmas, I looked at this through my Fibro. lens. I realized a lot of my anguish was from being over whelmed with all the sounds and especially the exceptions. Add to that my family being 17 hours drive and a stressful airplane flight and my hope is that December 26 comes soon. I can’t help the feelings of being overwhelmed nor the ones of sadness not being with family. Thank you for sharing your issues with Christmas. I am reminded I am not alone. My wife and I go to Hilton Head Island, about 2 hours drive, to be away from home and change our routine. May you have as much of a blessed rest of holiday as you can.

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