Regaining the Holiday Spirit After Mold and Chronic Illness Enter the Picture

By Pamela Holloway, RN, MS

The joyous song comes through the car radio: “Troll the ancient yuletide carol, fa-la la-la-la, la-la-la….

Screeching to a halt, I find myself staring at the STOP sign and realizing that it is THAT TIME OF YEAR. A time of year when everyone is supposed to be full of good cheer, and enjoying parties, friend, and family, and the winter wonderland around us. To be honest, I feel like those holiday sentiments are meant for everyone but me. All of our Christmas decorations and the years of memories that went with them are now gone. Our family photos, traditions and even grandparents are no longer with us. They’ve been moved into the category of history labelled “pre-mold exposure.” A void the size of the Grand Canyon remains where there should be feelings of energy and enthusiasm for the days ahead. STOP. Yep, that’s what it feels like, a full-fledged STOP with no idea of where to go from that point.

An impatient holiday shopper honks their horn behind me. Not the, “Hey Lady, move it!” honk, but the “Um, could you move, please?” gentle toot that shakes me from my frozen rabbit stance. Moving on from the STOP sign and pulling to the side of the road, I suddenly realize that while our family has, for the most part, physically healed from our mold ordeal, the emotional scars from the experience still remain.

Deep inside I feel guilty. Am I a bad parent for not whipping up the energy and enthusiasm to joyfully charge through the holiday, reassuring my family that all is merry and bright? Just the thought of attempting to muster up a “Ho, Ho, Ho” is enough to make me shudder. I simply don’t have it in me to carry the holiday spirit on my own this year.

Taking a moment to pause, I cast out a prayer for help to muster up the power, love and sound mind to gracefully move through the holiday season. I want to embrace the opportunity to establish new traditions that would bring a sense of fullness to my family once again. Words of a dear friend who had walked through some challenging life circumstances comes to mind, “Do something together. Create new memories. Go outside. Do something silly. LAUGH. Remember the reason for the season. Family matters most. Have faith, and your family will be fine.”

With encouraging thoughts giving me strength, I pull back onto the road and drive home with new holiday ideas beginning to swirl and take shape in my head. How about a minimalist Christmas? One where we play board games, enjoy new recipes (ones that meet the requirements of our fungal elimination diet, but are still treats), or head for the snowy mountains to enjoy hiking? We don’t need all of the typical decorations. A simple holiday tablecloth and some EC3 Candles nestled in holiday hurricane lamps surrounded with colored glass beads can suffice for that bit of holiday flare. It won’t be a typical Christmas picture, but it will be Christmas, and we will be celebrating.

Once at home, I begin to pull together the pieces of what will be the start of our new holiday tradition, one that focuses on renewed health, joy, and the peace of the season. It certainly won’t be worthy of Pinterest, but it is our reality and is relevant to who we are becoming as we continue to heal.

Does my holiday plight sound familiar? Unfortunately, I know it does for many who have or who are currently experiencing mold- or environmentally-triggered illness. It is possible to regain joy and sanity during this time of year, though. (If I can do it, you can too!) Setting up a framework to accomplish all of the needed tasks and anticipating any hurdles helped me succeed. Success for me came in the form of enjoyment and making memories, rather than in sitting with anxiety and dread. I hope some of what I have to share will help you too!

Steps to Putting Together a Healthy and Happy Holiday:

STEP 1: MANAGE EXPECTATIONS.

Get concerns, anxieties, and feelings out there, so that everyone is on the same page and knows what to expect. This helps to lessen disappointment and allows everyone in the household to feel valued and heard. I did this by first sitting down with my husband, to exchange ideas and feelings on what we had been through with the mold, on past Christmases and holiday expectations, and on the way ahead. Together we settled on a “plan” to present to our entire family. Our “plan” would focus on grace and gratitude for the blessings of the holiday season.

STEP 2: PLAN.

This step should include getting out the calendar, and looking at the expectations and events of the season. My family decided to put our energy into those things that brought joy and gave us space to avoid stress. If it didn’t meet the criteria of joy and low stress, it was removed from the schedule, regardless of whom it involved. This simple act brought us all a great deal of relief as we recognized that we needed time to love and focus on each other as our core family.

STEP 3: FOCUS.

Channel energy and time into the things that encourage mental and physical health. To do this, we used a retrospective approach, and took 30 minutes as a family to create our “bucket list” for the season. What really mattered to each of us? What brought energy and enthusiasm into the holiday season for us? Whether it was hiking in the snow, soaking in the nearby hot springs, seeing Christmas lights, visiting a living nativity, volunteering to do bell ringing, preparing a Christmas treat for the neighbors, sledding, playing a board game, or enjoying a great cup of tea with a good book by the fire, it went on the bucket list for the season.

STEP 4: PRACTICE GRACE.

We committed to allow each other space and permission to slow down and relax. If someone wasn’t feeling well, it was ok. No guilt tripping allowed. Instead, we’d find alternate activities, postpone for another time, or rearrange the schedule a bit, etc. Some couples or families even like to come up with a “safe word” or phrase that they can use when out or in public settings. When someone says the word or phrase, it is their notice that they aren’t feeling well, or need to bow out of the party. Then, no questions asked, everyone can agree to gracefully leave. It helps to mitigate any embarrassment or feeling like you are disappointing others.

STEP 5: BE GRATEFUL.

Focusing on gratitude has actually been scientifically proven to lift mood and increase positive health outcomes. I helped my family with this effort by picking up a small journal for each person, along with some festive colored pens, so we could note things that we were grateful for from each day. We also used our journals to capture quotes or moments from the things that we enjoyed about being together. These notes could take the form of drawings, a verse, etc. The idea is to create a type of holiday “memory book” that could be added to each holiday season. The real beauty of practicing gratitude is that it also provides a way to capture and remember the past holiday seasons.

STEP 6: PRACTICE SELF-CARE.

Scheduling gentle exercise or a nap (whichever feels best to fit the timeframe) is key. Additionally, doing things like carrying activated charcoal and digestive enzymes (in case there is a rare indulgence) really is helpful. I like to carry CitriDrops Nasal Spray with me to help with any environmental exposures, and I make sure to stay on top of our supplement regimen with CellTropin and Beta Max. Doing so certainly helped to keep our energy levels up and fend off the “holiday blues” feelings that are often caused by a mold exposure. Keeping lots of healthy snacks or holiday treats around that are within the family’s diet plan were top-of-the-list. That way, no one felt deprived and any events we did attend would remain joyful without the longing for treats that were triggers for fatigue, anxiety or depression.

STEP 7: LAUGH! Even with a new holiday “normal,” there is much to celebrate and find joy in. Activities, movies, etc. that bring a sense of joy to the season should be indulged in. Whether it be cuddling on the couch in hilarious matching PJ’s, watching a comedy, or competing for who can create the craziest Christmas story, find something to laugh about each and every day.

I realize the list isn’t complete, but now with plan in hand and expectations managed, it is easier to focus on enjoying time together rather than frantically worrying about purchasing gifts, etc. Our family will still do some of the biggies for the season, like attending the Christmas Eve service, but armed with a plan, we won’t be worried about all of the other accoutrements of preparing a large holiday feast with a lot of visitors, etc. Instead, this holiday season is focused on continuing to restore our health and enjoying the real reason for the season- loving each other and loving our neighbors.

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