A person with axial spondyloarthritis shares a kiss with their partner beside their tree as they exchange Christmas presents. Outside their window, a plane passes by.

A Holiday Season Like No Other

The holidays are a time for family, for gathering and catching-up and enjoying the company of our loved ones. Living away from family, the holidays are one of the few times of the year when I get to see family.

Not seeing family throughout the year makes the holidays that much more special. Being around my family brings back memories of my childhood, of the days before this painful disease altered the course of my life.

Though it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. It’s not often that I have meaningful conversations with my family about my AxSpA, about how I’m doing and how my disease has progressed over the past year. By no means do I want to talk about my illness all the time, but I do appreciate the instances when my aunt, cousin, or sister-in-law not only asks how I’m doing, but engages with a few thoughtful follow-up questions.

And then there are the stark differences in outlook that lie dormant during most family gatherings, just waiting for the right (or wrong) topic to pop up. In such a polarizing political landscape, those conversations are uncomfortable at best.

Differing opinions on COVID-19

This year, I worry that differences in opinion may actually put family members at risk for contracting COVID-19. My family, like most others, is not homogeneous. They don’t think the same, act the same, or calculate risk the same when it comes to the pandemic.

I do know that some members of my family think the risk is relatively low even if they do contract the virus. Some members of my family believe they’re bound to contract the virus eventually, so no need to take precautions. Some family members have already caught the virus and recovered (thankfully!). Others who understand the seriousness still are willing to take on a certain amount of risk for one reason or another.

I do not yet know if my family back east are planning on gathering for the holidays. I hope they don’t. Though while I cannot control the actions of my family members, I can take myself out of the equation and hope that they do the same.

Our decision to not gather

My wife and I haven’t seen any member of our family since last December. We opted out of our typical summer road trip to visit my wife’s family this year, we postponed the second edition of our new "girl’s trip" tradition, we missed my mother’s annual visit for my birthday, and now we will stay home for the holidays.

I have no qualms with this decision. While I worry about my own safety during a pandemic that’s becoming exponentially worse with every passing day, especially with a chronic illness and immunosuppressive medications pumping through my veins, I also worry about the safety of my family and friends.

I will not be responsible for putting my loved ones at risk, whether they believe in the danger of this virus or not. After all, I am not the only member of my family potentially in a high-risk category for contracting a more severe case of COVID-19. I have family members with different autoimmune diseases, or who may be at higher risk because of their age or other medical conditions.

Better safe than sorry

As cases of COVID-19 skyrocket across the country, I’ve made the decision that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Even as I find myself with some unexpected paid time off from work (my employer decided to give everyone a full week paid off in November to help destress and for the sake of everyone’s mental health), my plans have not changed.

I am not a virologist or medical professional, and therefore cannot tell you anything about this virus that you don’t already know. But the way I see it is, with such a huge outbreak, and with no vaccine readily available yet, the best way to show love and gratitude this holiday season is to take steps to keep everyone you care about safe.

Wishing everyone a safe and healthy holiday season!

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