I was seventeen when I was first invited to a dinner party. My first, real, grown-up party! I got all dressed up. Hair. Make-up. The excitement was palpable. Good friends, food and fun times – this was living!
I made it to the soiree, elated and expectant…but fell asleep at the dinner table. Weakened by just getting to the party, once I actually arrived, I simply collapsed and passed out with exhaustion.
It was the first of many disheartening occasions where my chronic illness dampened the festivities.
I love birthdays, milestones and celebrations. Parties are amazing opportunities to bask in joy and happiness – but they frequently bring up huge challenges, especially for those in pain or with illness. Travel. Unsuitable food. Emotional or physical overwhelm. Over-stimulation. Navigating expectations. Awkward questions. And, for those of us with mobility aids, new or inaccessible environments. With pain or without, parties present unique issues. But with forethought and savvy planning, they can still be managed and – even more importantly – enjoyed.
Planning may seem to undermine the fun and spontaneity inherent in happy occasions. It may even seem boring and unfair when it appears not everyone must go to the same lengths to achieve the same outcome. But in truth, everyone plans how they’ll navigate a party in some way, shape or form: people work out what to wear, what gift to buy, what food to bring, how to avoid traffic (and that obnoxious aunt or ex!)
Most people don’t consciously acknowledge that it’s actually “planning.” When planning how to manage a party so we can enjoy it with illness, pain or grief, we’re prepping just as everyone does, just more deliberately.
Some of the best ways to release the pressure and cope, energetically and emotionally, are some of the simplest:
How can you create gentleness for yourself on the day of the event? Are there errands or obligations you can move to another time? Anything you can cancel or prepare in advance to take the pressure off? If so, do it! Without guilt and with happiness at how much of a positive difference it will make to your experience.
How will you check in with your energy and comfort levels throughout the event? Program a reminder on your phone to stop, find a quiet place, take a break, notice your energy levels. Take careful notice of how you’re feeling and honour that when you decide to stay longer or call it a night.
Inaccessible spaces aren’t necessarily insurmountable, but as a person who uses a wheelchair, I find the unexpected, physical obstacles are the hardest.
If you need ramps, wheelchair access, or a space to lie down for a rest, get in touch with the event space beforehand to ask about steps, bathrooms or whatever else you may need. With a laptop click or your cell phone, it’s never been easier to connect with public and private spaces, far or near. Check websites or use Google Street View to see exactly how steep those “few steps” to the door really are.
What are you worried about specifically? If you can anticipate the type of comments or interactions you struggle with, prepare your answers in advance, and practice them well ahead of time so they flow naturally.
Practice physically standing your ground too, feeling strong in your core. Smile assuredly. Firmly sit with your weight fully engaged on your seat, breathe into your centre and imagine yourself shielded by a bright purple or white light. Affirm that your sense of self is solid, and that other people’s projections and judgments cannot shake it.
For nutritional needs you suspect the provided party food might not meet, communication is key (and doesn’t have to leave you feeling like a drag!) I always ring (or email) well ahead of time to explain my food allergies, and offer to bring my own food. This alleviates any burden or awkwardness for the host, and ensures I’ll be able to enjoy a meal with everyone else.
If guests ask unwanted questions about why your food is different, take their curiosity as flattering, but be confident in your ability to save your energy and deflect their questions. (I’ve found saying, “diet and illness are such boring topics – let’s talk about…” to change the subject works very well.)
Celebrations, be they birthdays, anniversaries, weddings or a few drinks with friends can quickly turn into loaded, anxiety-filled events. Not for you, superstar! Kick that stress to the curb and get ready to party!
With a few tweaks, a cool head and some super focused planning, you can make it work! And attend more happy bashes than you ever thought you could.
Grace Quantock is an award-winning international wellness expert, coach, author, motivational speaker, certified Reiki master and spiritual response therapy practitioner. She is the founder of Healing Boxes CIC and The Phoenix Fire Academy. Currently living – and thriving – with often debilitating illness, she is the real deal and knows, firsthand, the emotional and physical roller coaster that accompanies diagnosis and life struggle. Currently, a resident of Wales, Grace loves reading, gardening and early mornings. She firmly believes that life is meant to be celebrated, and has made it her mission to help others do just that …joyfully and on their own terms. You can follow Grace on Twitter.
Image courtesy of sarah b.