Image Credit: Khandie Photography
Disability and lifestyle blogger, Sarah Alexander smiling at the camera.

How to Plan a Birthday with Chronic Illness

Reading time | 4 mins
Because birthdays aren’t exempt when it comes to living with chronic illness. Discover how Sarah Alexander plans for the special day and what she does if things don’t quite go to plan


Birthdays. You either love them or hate them. As a child, I recall planning what I wanted to do months in advance. It was always special, and it was always a big event because ultimately, I was – and still am – a bit of a princess.

I hated the fact that my birthday was in January though. I didn’t have any ‘cool’ outdoor celebrations like my brother did (a summer baby), but it was still special and I have great memories.

As I’m turning 33, and living with a variety of chronic illnesses, some days I wake up with my body aching and feeling centuries old. And while I don’t mind getting older, I don’t particularly want to celebrate it. Not because the number bothers me, but because my chronic illness usually ruins it for me. So I’m feeling a little melancholic.

Birthdays aren’t exempt from chronic illness

In a previous article I’ve shared how I plan a day out with a chronic illness, and I try to incorporate this wisdom as much as I can when it comes to my birthday. My boyfriend likes to take me out for a meal each year, but it doesn’t always go to plan because unfortunately chronic illnesses don’t just disappear for special occasions.

In fact, that’s often when they tend to rear their ugly head to the point of a massive flare-up. At least, that’s how it feels to me.

How awesome would it be to have a break from your chronic illness? Imagine, birthdays, Christmas, and holidays with no pain… One can only dream!

For this birthday, the meal is already booked and then we’re heading to my favourite dessert place. I’d have happily just gone for dessert but apparently mains are important too!

On the surface, going out to a restaurant seems straight forward. There’s nothing to it, right? You’ll go to the venue, sit down, eat and go home. What’s the problem with that?

Unfortunately, when you suffer with various chronic conditions like I do, nothing is simple. The challenges begin before you get to the restaurant – in fact, even before you leave the house.

Making plans ahead of the special day

I shower the day before I plan to go out as that alone is enough to zap all the energy from me. Afterwards, I go straight to bed, so there’s no way I would be able to wash my hair on my birthday and go out on the same day – it would be absolutely impossible!

The day of my birthday is pretty chilled and I don’t tend to get up to much other than calling family and friends. Before setting off to the restaurant, I do my makeup and my boyfriend helps me to get dressed. This is always painful as I’m moving about and bending limbs, and it feels like a massive struggle until the bedroom door closes behind me.

One thing I don’t have to worry about is seating at the restaurant. I use a powerchair that reclines and tilts so I can sit in a variety of comfortable positions.

I used to get very concerned about going out in the days before I used a wheelchair. Some of the chairs you find in restaurants are so uncomfortable that they would leave me in agony before my appetiser had even arrived.

Since my condition varies on a daily basis and I don’t get an exemption from my chronic conditions for my birthday, I have to make contingency plans too.

This is mainly because my boyfriend likes making the day extra special for me and I’m not always able to carry out the plans that have been made. If I find myself mid-flare and we have to stay in, here are a few alternative ways I like to spend my birthday:

Watch a movie

I love watching films with my boyfriend and if I’m flaring and unable to get out of bed, we can still do something that evening that doesn’t require going out. And as it’s my birthday, I get to pick the films.

Enjoy a pamper session

This requires a little bit more energy, but putting on a face mask, and lying in bed with candles lit and calming music playing is always indulgent. As much as my boyfriend won’t admit it, he doesn’t hate a face mask either.

Get the food to come to you

If I feel like I can’t go out for food, the food can come to me. This way I’m not missing out on a special meal and it can all be enjoyed from the comfort of my sofa.

Have a pyjama party

Invite some friends over, get into your pyjamas, get some popcorn, blankets, and watch something or just have a catch-up session. I don’t have many friends that live nearby, but I know at least one would show up and help me make the day fun.

Arrange for a video chat

If your friends or family can’t come to you, you can have a video chat with them wherever they are. Talking to my nephew or my best friend always cheers me up and makes me laugh.

The takeaway

In my opinion, no matter what you do, you need to take some time out for yourself and wish yourself a ‘Happy Birthday’. Living with chronic illness is difficult but your birthday is your day, and you should try to make it a good one.

NPS-IE-NP-00518 December 2022