Ask Ada: How Do I Have The Perfect Chronically Ill Christmas?

This week, Ada gives advice on how to deal with Christmas when you're newly diagnosed, and how to navigate the New Year's fitness resolutions of your friends when you struggle with an eating disorder.

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

Advice On Making My First Chronically Ill Christmas Great?

Dear Ada – This year, after months of fatigue, aching joints, and mysterious rashes, I got an early Christmas present: My doctor told me I have lupus. Since then, when I’m not dealing with symptoms, I’ve been super depressed: most days, it’s a win if I can even get out of bed before nightfall. But Christmas is a big deal in my family, and I’m feeling a lot of pressure to get it together for the holidays. What can I do? I’m in constant pain and have zero energy to get out of bed, let alone go out and shop or do traditional Christmas activities like trim the tree or make gingerbread houses–but my family has been great helping me through this year, and I don’t want to let them down. How can I give them a great Christmas when I’m feeling like this?

Thanks, Lupus the Red-Rashed Reindeer

Reindeer, while this certainly isn’t the type of Christmas present you were hoping for, I’m so glad to hear that after months of suffering you were able to get a diagnosis, so you can begin to treat and manage your symptoms.

Know that it’s OK to feel out of the holiday spirit. There’s a lot happening in your life, and unfortunately, there’s no way to turn on a happy switch just because it’s the holidays.

You say your family has been “great” helping you through this year, which tells me they will probably understand what you’re going through. Sit down with your loved ones—or do a video call if they aren’t close—and be honest. Tell them how much you appreciate their support, but that you’re really floundering right now. Let them know you need some time to rest your body and process this recent news. By sharing your needs with your loved ones and taking care of yourself, you’re actually giving them a great gift: The self-care you need to be present with them throughout the year.

The ultimate gift any person in your family can get this holiday is another year of your love. So take care of yourself this Christmas, and don’t do anything you don’t have the strength to do.

But it sounds like you really want to be able to share in the Christmas spirit with your family, even in this difficult time. So consider adapting some holiday activities to match your current abilities. Maybe, instead of trimming the Christmas tree with your family, you’re the official videographer, capturing memories to look back at with fondness for years to come. Or if you have young children at home, have your partner or another family member lead the gingerbread-house making this year. Everyone can compete against each other as you rest, and then you can judge whose house wins (Pro tip: Make a different award for each child, such as “best use of candy” and “best theme.”)

The ultimate gift any person in your family can get this holiday is another year of your love. So take care of yourself this Christmas, and don’t do anything you don’t have the strength to do.

Remember: Your loved ones want nothing more than your health and happiness. Talking with them or inviting them over to your home will maintain that community you’ve felt with your family all year long–through Christmas and into the future.

How Do I Get Through The Holidays With Anorexia?

Dear Ada,

I am currently in recovery from anorexia. In recovery, we’re asked to do things that run counter to societal norms: cut down on exercise, gain weight, enjoy the occasional dessert. The process leaves me steeped in guilt and shame.

A handful of my friends are actively working on their diets and exercise plans, and share all their fitness schedules and results with me on a regular basis. None of them know I am struggling with an eating disorder. I am very happy for them, and at the same time, I find these conversations triggering. I want to support my friends and maintain my privacy without losing my mind. What can I say to help cut back on the body talk?

Love, Ella

Ella — The world seems to have a hyper-obsession with food and fitness, which, as someone with anorexia, you understand all too well. At their best, conversations about food and fitness can drive conversations and build connections between people, but if you’re struggling with body dysphoria, these conversations can have the opposite effect, and trigger unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. And with the New Year just around the corner, weight-loss resolutions are sure to spill across dinner tables and over the group texts you and your friends share.

Which brings us to your current situation. Your friends don’t understand that sharing their weight loss resolutions with you is triggering. How could they? If you’ve been managing your eating disorder privately, your friends won’t know you’re struggling. In their eyes, they probably see a woman who’s inspiring to them: a friend who put forth an effort to lose weight and achieved results. It’s an incorrect assumption, but perhaps a natural one in a culture which glorifies fitness and weight loss: they aren’t seeing your internal struggle with an eating disorder.

None of which is to say you should tell them you struggle with anorexia if you don’t feel comfortable doing so. You have a right to your privacy. So here are some other options.

Say that there are many different healthy body types, and that you’re uncomfortable with the way our society assumes that a woman can not be beautiful or healthy if they aren’t thin.

First, you could try being honest with them about how you feel, without going into detail about your anorexia. Say that there are many different healthy body types, and that you’re uncomfortable with the way our society assumes that a woman can not be beautiful or healthy if they aren’t thin. Say something like: “Let’s make a resolution that we’ll only share positive thoughts about our bodies with each other, okay?” And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the good ol’ standby of aggressively changing the topic.

That all said, ultimately, the only way your friends are really going to understand what you’re going through is if you let them in. You say you’re struggling with guilt and shame in your recovery. It might feel hard to be vulnerable and open up—it requires a leap of faith–but vulnerabilty and honesty is what ultimately separates real friendships from mere acquaintanceship.

This isn’t to say you need to open up to everyone, but consider telling a few of your closest loved ones. Take a look at the people who are triggering you the most right now, and ask yourself if their friendship is worth investing more into. If it is, consider telling them the truth about what you’re going through, so that you both can be better friends to one another? Or are you comfortable where your friendship already is, in which case, maybe you should distance yourself for awhile if they keep on bringing up triggering subjects.

Either way, whether by opening up to your friends or by redirecting the conversation toward more productive, body-positive topics, be proud: you are acting as an agent of change. Not only will these efforts help bolster your own well-being, but you’ll be setting the stage for your friends to think differently about body talk, too. Soon, they may stop conflating weight loss with health, and encouraging those around them to find more interesting challenges than step counts and lost pounds.

Let’s be real: We’re all a little tired of putting our bodies on display as the topic du jour. This might just be the refreshment (and resolution) your friends need as they head into the New Year.

Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email and tell us your problem.