December 20, 2013
Having hepatitis C at this time of the year is not easy. Christmas and New Year’s is typically fuelled by an indulgence of rich foods high in fat, not to mention drenched in alcohol. But the holiday period is also seen as a time during which people get together and celebrate a Hallmark perfect life. No wonder there is yet a card that reads “Merry Christmas” with a picture of someone sitting by the fire-side self-injecting a weekly dose of pegylated interferon. Having to deal with living with the hepatitis C virus is hard enough without the extra burden and stress that Christmas brings. More than any other time of the year, this is when people affected by the hepatitis C are likely to feel the crippling effects of discrimination and isolation. This is because there are some families that simply refuse to have their hepatitis C positive loved one at the Christmas dinner table. So, what can you do to get through the holidays with hep C?
Firstly, be aware of your self-talk. This is a time of year when it is easy to fall into negative-self talk. Factors such as feeling isolated or not measuring up to those picture perfect images on Christmas cards certainly contribute to this. Therefore ask yourself, What is my attitude towards this time of year? It is perfectly ok to acknowledge your feelings about Christmas. There are no “right” or “wrong” feelings to have about Christmas, either. However, if you are drowning in negative self-talk, then maybe it is having a disempowering effect on you that might be causing more stress than is necessary. Instead of using words like “don’t” and “won’t”, for example, try to re-word your phrases to exclude these kinds of negative words. Instead of telling yourself, “I don’t like Christmas at all,” exchange it for a different kind of self-talk, like “Christmas is just another time of the year; I will look for something to like about it no matter how difficult.” It might be as simple as appreciating Christmas lights in the neighbourhood, to feeling a heightened sense of gratitude for the fact you can empathise for those that are in the same position as you.
Be careful of what you eat and drink. At this time of year, there is a universal tendency to overindulge in fatty foods and alcohol. This is because rich food and drinking are all associated with the act of celebrating. Trying to excuse one’s self from not over indulging is difficult, unless you are the sort of person that is lucky enough to be surrounded by people that are aware of the importance diet plays for those living with hepatitis C. If you feel pressure to celebrate Christmas by eating and drinking too much, then prepare for this by bringing your own stash of non-alcoholic beverages for you to have at the dinner table. Another way to help your liver get through the Christmas menu is by requesting smaller portions, or even excusing yourself as a vegetarian. There are plenty of creative ways to get around having to eat too much, or over imbibing in the traditional Christmas drink.
If you are on treatment… It is difficult enough to live with the unpleasant side-effects associated with interferon and ribavirin, but having to deal with the extra stress this time of year brings is another thing altogether. If you are on treatment, then make sure you have enough medication to get you through the holiday period. Know exactly when your next doctor’s appointment is, so that you do not have to stress about when it might be. Having people around you that understand your situation is ideal, even though not necessarily the case for everyone. If you are feeling anxious about getting through the holiday period, then consult your local community centre or hepatitis council for the names of support groups that might be able to make a difference. There is someone out there that will listen to your needs, even if it is just by making a post to an on-line support group.
If you are not on treatment… A lot of people have put off undergoing treatment for hepatitis C because of the well-known harsh side-effects associated with interferon and ribavirin. However, we are entering a new age of therapy for hepatitis C that are not only proving to show incredibly high rates of success, but with side-effects easier to manage. As well, new treatments for hepatitis C are showing to be very effective with previously harder to treat genotypes (namely 1). Where medical treatment is fully subsidised by the Government (i.e. Australia and New Zealand) then be sure to enrol yourself at the local liver clinic (usually a part of the gastroenterology or infectious diseases department of a hospital). Wherever you are, make the most of the clinical services that are available to you. Get in sooner, as this will not only benefit your liver in the long run, but also secure your right to treatment in the future.
Christmas and New Year are both calendar events that are here to stay. The best form of self-care is awareness and prevention. Stay on top of the silly season by laughing it off, or looking for other safe and healthy things to do. Taking care of both your mental and physical health might be more challenging at this time of the year, but with the right attitude, you can do it. May you all manage the testing time ahead without forgetting to look after your liver.
Wishing you all a very hepatitis C friendly Christmas and New Year,