This past weekend, a relative of someone close to me finally had her long-awaited Senior High School Prom night. We envied her in her beautiful dress, and as we admired her we took a disgusting amount of pictures.  As many of us did, she and her date, wearing a tuxedo with a matching tie, got onto the party bus that they had rented with their friends and drove off into what was sure to be one of the most memorable nights of their lives. I was more than a bit jealous as they departed, remembering fondly the five proms I attended in my high school and early college days.

While I did have a fantastic time at the quintet of affairs that I went to so many years ago, I also remember some of the hard lessons I learned trying to survive those all-night affairs as a young adult with autoimmune illness.  So, since event season is just about here and many of you have proms, graduations, and other events coming, I will pass along some of the hard-won tips I have learned over the years. I have touched upon this subject before, but a more thorough reminder never hurts in this time of warm weather and blossoming adulthood.

As many of you are probably hoping, when you attend a prom, there is a very slim chance that you will be returning home before the break of dawn.  A few times I didn’t end up back in my own bed for days. Prom is a rite of passage, though, and even reluctant parents relax their bulldog-like guard on that one, most special of nights.  Besides, hitting the local diner for breakfast after a night of debauchery is just as American as the prom itself.

Surviving long enough to get to that breakfast, though, can be trying, even for the healthiest among us.  After you dance the night away, plied with drink, you never know whom you will wake up next to, or how your body will react.  The first lesson I learned and what I consider to be the most important is to always know when to say when.

I know I sound like an old fart when I say it, but for those of us who suffer from autoimmune disease, a hangover is just about the worst torture we can endure.  Now, I know the official medical line is that you are not supposed to combine alcohol with medication, but I’ll be the first to admit that when you are a teenager, it is mighty difficult to resist old Captain Jack, especially on those notable occasions. The real truth is that you need to know when you are about to drink too much and stop there, no matter what.  Keep in mind that any drink you have is going to be like three or four drinks for a non-medicated partygoer. In addition, if you are taking narcotic painkillers, my advice is to stop taking them if you are going to drink. Obviously, if you cannot function without taking them, don’t stop completely – just try to limit yourself to the lowest dose possible to keep yourself functioning.  You will not only be much happier come the next morning, but the less medication you take the safer you will be.

While drinking and taking medication can cause the mother of all hangovers, it isn’t the only danger on prom night.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cursed myself for not bringing enough of my medication when everyone decided to extend the party.  It does nothing but call attention to your disease with neon lights and a brass marching band when you have to leave a happening party because you don’t have enough medication. It’s even worse when you’ve found someone to spend the night with and you can’t stay over because you didn’t bring your morning pills! Avoid this at all costs.  My rule of thumb is that I bring two entire days worth of medication – that’s two extra morning doses and two extra night doses. That way, if the party isn’t quite over yet, you don’t have to leave before the fat lady sings. Trust me, it may seem like an unnecessary pain in the behind, but if I had a nickel for every time I said, “nah, I won’t need that many pills,” and sorely regretted it, I could buy my own doctor to accompany me everywhere.

This next tip may seem inconsequential, but it is probably the single best thing you can do to ensure that you will be able to last the weekend in a strange environment.  As soon as you arrive at the post-prom party place, ask the host or whoever is in charge if you can sleep in a bed.  Most times you will know the person who is hosting so they won’t give you any flak about reserving a bed.  If the person isn’t aware of your situation, though, discretely pull them aside and ask them politely if you could be ensured a bed because you have a condition that “affects your joints.” That’s all you have to say, trust me.  You don’t have to give the host your entire medical history. Most people are not jerks, contrary to what it may seem. The host usually will either make sure everyone knows a certain bed is off-limits, or will allow you to sleep in a bed that is not available to the other party guests.  It may not seem like it is worth the hassle, but trust me, when you have an autoimmune disease and you have to sleep on a hardwood floor for a night or two, you pay for it tenfold. I once had to sleep in a wooden kitchen chair.  I woke up with the wicker placemat pattern stamped into my face because I passed out, nose-down, on the table, and no one was sober enough to care. It’s not rude or awkward to ask for a bed, so do it.

These tips were learned the hard way from years of partying with Rheumatoid Arthritis.  Of course, your situation will be slightly different, but the main thing to remember is that asking for a few extra amenities is not a big deal, and making sure you are prepared for anything is worth its weight in gold. Don’t overdo it on the booze, either, because of all my sage-like advice this is the thing that has the most potential to hurt you. “One drink is three fills, when taking your pills.” Remember that rhyme and the other two tips I have given you and you will be able to rock a party with the best of them ‘TILL-THE-BREAK-OF-DAWN!