Suggestions for going toe-to-toe with cold weather woe.
Commercials and Hallmark cards say I should be having a ball as I start this new year, but for any of us who struggle mentally or physically with the cold, winter can be the least wonderful time of the year.
Since my injury, I’ve felt a bit of existential dread as the warm weather turns and the leaves begin to fall. Year after year, I drag around feeling bullied into doing too much and causing myself unnecessary pain during November and December. Despite enjoying festive gatherings, travel and extended holiday hoopla are especially taxing on my post-SCI body as it adjusts to the drop in temperature.
This year, I got smart and compiled a list of what has worked for me in seasons past. I showed myself compassion by listening to my own insights and doing these initial cold-weather months on my own terms. By being mindful and forgiving of the limitations I face this time of year, I’ve discovered new ways to revel in the year’s colder months. Turns out, I’m not a Grinch, after all.
In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d share some of the things that have gotten me through 16 years as a chilly quad.
1. Seeking the Comfort of Others
Climate complications foil plans and logistically cramp spontaneous dates with friends. More than usual, I feel less motivation to commit to visits with more difficult individuals and family members because of the additional weather hassles. And, while I note others naturally reaching out in times of celebration, I sometimes have to remind myself that I deserve, and should feel comfortable, to expect attention and love without an occasion. For me, suffering in silence isn’t helpful.
To combat this, I like to have a number of healthy social outlets at hand to make it easy to reach out to others even when all I want to do is stay in. It may sound old-fashioned, but I recommend classic phone conversations. While it’s now the norm to just text or interact on social media, sometimes screens make me feel extra isolated. I think hearing someone’s voice is an underrated way to connect without having to leave the warm cocoon of my duvet cover.
Beyond phone calls, internet groups or communities have come a long way in getting me to interact. I enjoy keeping in touch by emailing or instant messaging with my funny and clever friends near and far. During these struggle months, I make a special point to put stuff on my calendar and maintain my social obligations as much as I can. Getting comfortable with planning things and inviting others instead of waiting for invitations has done wonders for my sense of community in the last few years.
2. Thinking Outside the Box
It’s helpful to turn my seasonal affective disorder into seasonal effective disorder by dedicating time to a project or new hobby. I’m demonstrating my commitment to that here, by writing this blog. Perhaps this will be the year that I also tackle the stack of books gathering virtual dust on my Kindle app or brush up on my Spanish.
I sometimes get ahead of myself, but I like to optimistically choose winter distractions with potential for additional enjoyment at a later time. For example, I chose the books and Spanish in case I ever join a book club or end up in the southern hemisphere. If I had hand function, I would have long ago learned a musical instrument or how to crochet cozy things. Indubitably, this more talented me would be jamming with friends in their heated garage or selling my warm wares at the craftiest fair at this very moment.
Really though, it’s just good to have something to do. When possible, I like to volunteer where I can. It feels nice to offer my time to others. Whether it is helping with a community project, offering to babysit, or simply dropping in on a similarly lonely friend for some laughs, it’s fulfilling. Assisting others in ways I would appreciate works wonders to remedy the symptoms of winter blues that make me question my purpose and temporarily believe my world is small.
3. Generating Wellness from Within
It is dangerously easy to choose sugary treats and give into carb cravings this time of year or when I’m feeling blue. To reign this in, it is helpful to consciously reframe my definition of comfort food. When I get lazy and start settling for junk, I take a minute to remind myself of my favorite tasty and healthy foods. My taste buds, waistline, and digestion are all instantly grateful for the more responsible choices.
Along with food, I have to keep an eye on my caffeine and alcohol intake. Coffee, beer and booze are easy to overdo both in times of cheer and depression, and I find winter to be full of both.
It’s also imperative that I figure out ways to keep moving and exercising throughout the year. I get creative with stretching around the house and I schedule appointments at the gym well in advance to help keep myself honest even on the darkest and rainiest of days.
4. Letting There be Light
No joke, I think I’m solar powered. Soaking up warm light when it’s gloomy out relaxes my bones and improves my mood. It doesn’t matter if the sunshine comes from the sky, a light therapy box or that Mexican vacation I hinted at before — it helps me recharge. For reinforcement, I take 5,000 IU of vitamin D daily. While expert opinions vary on the necessity of this supplement, I feel better and my blood levels no longer show me as deficient, despite long gray Pacific Northwest winters.
5. Making Yourself a Bundle of Joy
Above all, when I’m freezing, I’m not happy. To battle bodily chill, I make sure I am always prepared. Over the years, I have done what I can to make the sacrifices needed to amass an arsenal of high-quality cold-weather gear. No, I’m not actually a sheepherder in Scotland or an Alpine climber, but the contents of my closet might convince you otherwise.
Well-made jackets, gloves, hats, scarves, and merino wool or silk base layers can drastically improve my comfort levels. Like so many of the items we now require after SCI/D, winter-wear can be exorbitantly expensive. I look for these things on sale late in the season or during closeouts. Weather resistant items are generally built to last and can often be purchased secondhand in good condition.
Want a frozen fashion tip? Everybody looks good in knit caps, and they mean less time fussing with my hair. For the ladies and daringly fashionable gentleman out there, blanket scarves are a dressy way to literally wear a blanket out in public.
6. Heating up the Night
For the days and nights when my preparedness isn’t enough to keep the cold from slipping in, I make sure I come home to comfy items that get my core temperature back up quickly. Microwavable rice filled neck warmers, space heaters, fireplaces, heated blankets, dry saunas, thick socks, cuddling and long hot showers all have the potential to feel like small miracles to this chilly quad.
Eventually, I warm up, or spring comes. I just have to be patient and resilient and know that the days are already getting longer and I will perk-up again with the flowers.
Brook McCall is the Grassroots Advocacy Manager for United Spinal. When she’s not preoccupied with her core temperature, she stays fiery supporting SCI quality of life related policy and going on adventures. She shares advocacy and ‘wheel life’ shenanigans at facebook.com/spinalcoordinated