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Holiday Parties with Special Needs

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I’m getting ready to go to my annual holiday party with a cosplay group I belong to. We celebrate my town’s historic brothel district by dressing as Victorian-era madams and we show up in the town’s historical district for the local festivals, especially Dirty Dan Days, which celebrates our founder. He was a robust customer of the local sporting houses.

Before I got hit, the party was no big deal. In the 9 years since, it’s been an annual labor of love. Half fun, half ordeal.

Dressing up is a guarantee of extra pain for me. Our costumes are constricting, itchy, and require (shudder) real women’s shoes. I can’t get by with my usual uniform of Keen sport sandals with wool socks. Wearing a dress with a bustle and an itchy bodice reduces my sitting and standing tolerance by half. But it’s so much fun to see people’s heads turn when you make a last-minute grocery stop on the way home!

Over the last year, I’ve had some medical issues, including hypothyroid, which I’m going to begin treating soon, that led to weight gain. I can no longer fit into my beautiful dress. Two friends in the group have offered to let me dress from their closets. They live in regular dwellings where they can have more than one piece of specialty clothing (as opposed to my tiny house on wheels).

This is a very kind offer, and I’m sure they’re mystified as to why I haven’t taken them up on it. The deal is, trying on clothes is miserably painful for me. One change of clothes before or after a bike ride is no big deal, but now, with my body in winter condition, to repeatedly try on things with bustiers and complicated fasteners? My back and shoulder ache just thinking about it. Tonight I’m wearing a lovely old-fashioned skirt with a plain black sweater, and that will just have to do.

This party happens to have a variety of seating areas that we move between, in a historic mansion, and most of the seating is pretty good. Moving frequently between rooms helps me stay comfortable. The house is 4 stories, and we always end up in the basement karaoke lounge, but for the year of the bum knee, I discovered the elevator! They used to run a fully ADA-compliant B&B there, and the elevator remains in operation.

The other big party problem for me was the food. The party is 5 to 8 PM, which is dinnertime for me. My routine is pretty rigid; I eat between 5:30 and 6:30, and I have my evening orange at 8 before shutting down the kitchen for the night. Having limited ability to turn over on my left side, the side you’re supposed to sleep on to avoid acid reflux, I find I sleep more comfortably if I don’t eat anything after 8.

Every other year I’ve gone to this party, I’ve brought a dessert and lamented the lack of non-allergenic protein. The table shuddered under the weight of cured-meat appetizers. There was enough prosciutto to reconstruct a whole pig. I’ve overeaten sweets, then drunk too much to quell that shaky feeling you get from too much sugar with no protein to slow your absorption. This results in feeling sick and off my routine for days. Not this year—I ordered a sample platter from a local Mexican restaurant. I’m guaranteed enough viable protein and I know the platter will be a hit.

This reminds me of work lunches during the early 00s when they ordered in pizza. There was one vegetarian pizza among maybe 5 others with sausage and pepperoni—meats that are poisoned for me with curing agents I react to—and by the time I got to the table, the one veggie pizza was gone and I would go hungry. When I tried to cut the line because my allergy made it impossible to choose a Plan B, they got annoyed with me. “Pick it off,” they said. That’s ignorant—the meat juices soak into the crust, and by the time the pizza comes out of the oven, the whole thing is toxic and the meat might be the safest part.

If you’re in a situation like that, never hesitate to speak up and stand your ground. If you have some control, like I do tonight, stack the deck in your favor. Take responsibility for your own needs.

When dinner hosts ask for my allergy list, I don’t give it, it’s too extensive and no one could shop with it. Instead, I ask what they’re proposing to make. If it’s clearly a no, like ham, I’ll steer them in the direction of an uncured meat dish, but otherwise I assume there will be a surprise deal breaker, and I come ready to load up on sides and bring a protein bar in my purse.

With so many special dietary needs in the mix today, people need to take responsibility for their own restrictions. It’s not fair to expect a host to cater to everyone. Those with voluntarily restricted regimes like paleo, keto, and vegan, need to be flexible and maybe be willing to eat a small amount of something they normally wouldn’t. A vegan might tolerate a bit of cheese or dairy, for example, without having to eat actual meat. If you really can’t have something without serious medical consequences, like me with the cured meats, you need to plan ahead.

On Christmas morning I attended a brunch at a neighbor’s house. I knew she’d be making soufflé (eggy dish, and I’m allergic to eggs), and her husband made hash browns that he graciously fried without bacon grease for my sake. I offered to bring roasted Brussels sprouts, which were a huge hit and made the meal a bit healthier. Everyone got plenty to eat, and thanks to my sprouts, a bit more gas than they’d bargained on.

If eating at holiday events is a minefield for you, here’s my New Year’s Eve challenge—think about what will be served where you’re going, and supplement it with something you can eat. If you’re usually uncomfortable, think about what might help, and bring your back cushion or wear the less attractive shoes (if anyone cares, they’re not your friends). Be ready to extend your own party time and join more fully in the festivities.

Tell me about your plans and how they work out!

Holiday Parties with Special Needs

Kristin Noreen

Kristin Noreen lives in Bellingham, Washington with two cats and her vintage touring bicycle, Silver. Her triple passions are animal rescue, long-distance bike touring, and writing. Her book, On Silver Wings: A Life Reconstructed, is about reinventing her life following a catastrophic injury.

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APA Reference
, . (2019). Holiday Parties with Special Needs. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Dec 2019
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