Kelly’s cat, Leo. “There’s nothing more joyful that a kitten and his very first Christmas Tree.”

There are so many ways to fall into the pit of despair during the holiday season, for so many reasons. Like getting holiday cards from family and friends that show off their Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, while your card summary says things like “only shit myself a few times in public!” and “beat my record of hospital in-patient days by 10 this year!” Or all the food spread in front of you at parties on rich, laden platters of cheese and meat, cookies and fudges, that will absolutely send you running for the bathroom within minutes. And, let’s not forget those intrusive questions about whether you’ve tried infecting yourself with hookworms, or doing the newest juice cleanse to cure yourself of your inconvenient, unmentionable, and obviously only-in-your-head…IBD situation?

I’m fighting back this year. I’m reclaiming the joy of the holidays. I’m bedecking myself in the coziest warm and fluffy socks and PJs I can find, lighting up little corners of the house when I feel up to it, pacing my energy, sharing my laughter, and refusing to give into the competitive misery that threatens to pull us under.

Because when you’re sick, you measure your joys a little differently. It’s okay if your joys don’t involve weeklong trips to a tropical paradise, or even if you aren’t able to do all the things that you wanted. I’m going to be fulfilled by even the little things that I can do. That feeling is infectious (and no, I don’t mean like everything the kids bring home from daycare or school, little sticky-handed contagion vectors). Spread that joy far and wide! Shared joy at this time of year is a balm for the soul. You never know who else might be struggling, and sharing something that brightened your day could be the piece of holiday happiness someone else desperately needs. We all deserve joy.

We all have the capacity to find boundless magic and joy in the season around us. In the face of difficulty, illness, pain, loss, and grief, it may feel harder than ever to muster up those feelings. But they’ll be there for you when you’re ready. Those little candles in the windows. Those trees covered with morning frost. Those rays of sunshine after a week of grey. Those evenings by the fire with a blanket and a book. Savor them, seek them out. They’re food for what ails us, for sure.

So I’m making my list, and I hope you’ll join me too. Share your little and big joys. Accomplishments, laughs, jokes, moments to savor, brightness and hope. Anything that brings you those moments of magic in this season of darkness and light.

Kelly’s list of joys of the season, so far:

  • The smell of pine as I walk out my door and see the twinkling lights on the fresh garlands.
  • The long stretch of a cat belly on my lap, soft snores, and warm cuddles.
  • Hot chocolate with mint and marshmallows, savored with my youngest after a cold walk in the neighborhood.
  • Holiday music playing in the background while my oldest hums to himself.
  • Driving around to look at all the lights up in the neighborhood and enjoying all the creativity and effort people have put into their decorations.
  • Unpacking decorations that were handmade by my kids when they were little and laughing at their wonderment at what a particular shape of clay was supposed to be.
  • Sitting by the fire on the couch after the kids are asleep, blankets wrapped, spouse’s toes twitching next to mine as we read books and savor tea.
  •  Apple cider on the stove simmering away with cinnamon, orange peel and cloves, filling the house with an intoxicating scent.
  • Sleeping with the blankets piled high and the air cold on my nose.
  • Singing every song, word-for-word, along with a Muppet Christmas Carol, and insisting that Michael Caine was robbed of an Oscar for his performance.
  • Finding the perfectly snarky gift for my teenager and the anticipation of their reaction to opening it.
  • Cats pouncing on ribbons and wrapping paper as I try to balance present wrapping and cat entertainment.
  • My kids hilariously sacrificing an ice cube (i.e. microwaving it), and wearing their PJs inside out and backwards to beg the snow gods to give them a snow day.
  • Those first flakes of snow when you run outside and stick your tongue out, catching them on your eyelashes, your neck, shivering and so excited.

What joys can you share this year?

Kelly Dwyer is a writer, mother, and instructional designer from the Washington, DC metro area who has been living with Crohn’s Disease for 20+ years.
You can find her @deviousdwyer or
Letter from the President of Girls With Guts Gratitude

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