National Migraine Centre
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WASHED OUT AFTER FAMILY REUNION: THE RULE OF THREE; please feel free to share with significant others

My partner and I have recently emerged from a family reunion which included more than twenty people some of them travelling from overseas. The official event was held in a week long shared house in beautiful countryside. Given that we are known to be ill we were only there for 4 days but there were also home visits from individual far-flung relatives which strung the whole thing out to over three weeks.

How do we feel about it – well at best up and down at worst absolutely awful!!!

We both suffer from chronic conditions: On of us has migraine and the other has chronic fatigue. We are both used to the day to day management of pain and stress levels. We are well aware of Sod’s Law which says when one of us is well the other may not be and we know how to make the best of our shared good days. By and large we have a reasonable quality of life and can use the good days to have fun together and do things we enjoy as well as holding down part time jobs and keeping a house and garden going.

So did we need a prolonged period of intense stress on both of us – of course not!

By my calculations any big social event tires us out in a ratio of three to one – the event itself, the same period of time beforehand preparing for and worrying about it and the same period of time afterwards in a zombie like state trying to recover. So a week at a family reunion is three weeks for us and the home visits just prolonged the recovery period. See this excellent webpage for a discussion about pacing oneself and managing recovery periods.

During that whole of the visit and recovery period we lost our treasured time of shared companionship and it was very difficult for us to work or fulfil our normal social commitments – which were already under threat because we are so frequently ill.

Do we know and love our family better as a result of the reunion – NO.

It’s not that we don’t like family or don’t want to do things with them. We like them fine one at a time or one nuclear family at a time. We enjoyed the home visits- but would have liked them better had we not been tired out by the grand reunion.

So if you are planning a grand family reunion which includes someone living with chronic illness, please don’t try to shoehorn them into a gathering which suits you. Instead recognise that they don’t have your stamina and they need different outlets to show family commitment – and don’t make them feel guilty for not attending the reunion.

I would welcome your thoughts and suggestions - and my best wishes to anyone else in the same situation

4 Replies

I feel your pain and frustration.

Take care and I hope you both recover well in good time. x


Learn to say no & be rude. Works for me don't put up with extra hassles. Health first.


This post is much appreciated. I live quite far from most of my family, and so any get together involves a lot of travelling and staying over, and my family all think if I am travelling down then I should call in and see them all as I am passing, or invite loads of others without asking so it ends up a large gathering. I suffer from migraines and my husband a condition that is made worse by stress. I always feel guilty when I say I am not coming to something or that I can't see everyone because it just results in both of us being ill. I am trying not to feel guilty anymore and it's nice to know that it's not just me - you are not alone and I completely understand!


I just spent time with family in Virginia and the vacation was taxing with the travel, hot weather and meeting up with family living in three different locations. I understand your pain that others don't recognize how hard it is for us.

My extended family planned kid friendly adventures to include amusement parks and water parks on multiple days. Had some serious reservations about the trip. Now, if I planned the trip I would have factored in my limitations.

In the end, I dealt with it because all the youngsters were happy. I tapped out for "rest time" each day and am so glad I didn't plan the family get together. That joy from the kids and the family was a good respite from my illness. They were in the moment as I was suffering and that was very motivating to keep pushing.

Your situation was more challenging with so many family members to interact with along with having a spouse with chronic health issues. You should be proud of what you accomplished. Celebrate the trip as a success.

I oscillate daily on feeling frustration with friends and family for not getting it to not letting it bother me. When I sat down to dinner with my aunt at her house she told my wife that she would have thrown me out of the house for not working. It bounced off of me that day.


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