Celebrating The Cold

cold_weather_thermometerHaving grown up in South Texas – where the air is hot and humid almost year round, as I got older I welcomed the opportunity to live in places with much cooler climates.

It all started when I was in high school, and went to live in Northern Italy as a foreign exchange student. The city that I lived in, Bergamo, was literally on the spot where the plains of Lombardy gave way to the foothills of the Alps. This city was even divided into two: the “upper city” and the “lower city”. As fall and winter arrived, I began to know what it was like to live with trees other than mesquites and palms. The air seemed to get colder almost by the day. My afternoon walks to the upper city – with the obligatory (and fun!) funicular ride – revealed more and more snow on the Alps; mountains that seemed to form almost a solid wall to the north of the city.

A year later, I was a college freshman in New York City. Never having lived through a NY winter, I foolishly signed up for an 8am Intermediate Swimming class. (Yes, we actually had to take two semester of physical education and pass a swimming exam at Columbia.) I was less than a month into the semester when I was already regretting my decision – as the leaves were falling, my wet hair would actually begin to form ice crystals as I ran across campus for my 9am Art Humanities class.

As the snow started to fall in December and January, I absolutely loved it! In addition to snowball fights in the quad, there was the happiness of walking through Central Park and the rest of the city covered in snow. I once even went to the top of the Empire State Building while the city was completely white.

Graduate school took me even further north, up to Boston. Even though the distance from New York City was not too great, I quickly begin to understand why the weather maps usually showed about 10 temperature bands compressed in the Northeast. I experienced one of the winters with the most snowfall on record, and experienced it firsthand when I had to walk 10 blocks to school. (Every college in the city canceled always seemed to cancel classes, except for Harvard.)

But I continued to love the cold weather. So much so that when I moved to San Francisco after finishing my studies, I missed winter. (Although foggy summer days sometimes seemed to make up for that!) There was still the crisp days of autumn, when the sun shined brightly and when every coffee shop began to serve their pumpkin flavored concoctions. Butternut squash were plenty, and my (one dog at the time) had to put on her sweater each time we went out for a walk.

I was in my late 20′s though, and for some reason my joints started to hurt – especially my feet and my knees. I joked with people about the fact that I was probably getting arthritis since I was getting old. I did not even know about the existence of rheumatoid arthritis, and had even less of a clue that I would be diagnosed with it only a handful of years later.

I was diagnosed soon after moving to South America, where I still currently reside. Some people think that living south of the equator is equivalent to warm temperatures. (Actually, that’s what I myself used to think.) I now know otherwise. Living at 4,000+ meters, when the sun goes down, you know it! Buildings here do not use central heating, so one must get used to layering clothes, sitting in the sun (which I did yesterday for half an hour), and using a space heater smartly and sparingly (even though most aspects of the cost of living are much less than in the U.S., electricity prices are almost the same).

So when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis a few years ago, and when I realized that cold weather made my symptoms worse, I began to hate cold weather. I wanted to have nothing to do with winter, and even began to consider spending those months in the northern hemisphere (where it’s summertime!). I told myself that I had to learn how to live with the cold, but once I was in the second month of winter I was kicking myself for not having escaped to the warmth.

But this year, as the temperatures once again continue to drop, I am changing my attitude. Sure, the next few months will probably bring more pain and stiffness than I have experienced in a while – just asked my wrists, who kept me up late last night because they were in so much pain. But the next few months will also bring some nice things that I can’t experience the rest of the year…like the smell of a wood chimney burning, or experiencing the brisk air on a sunny afternoon, or warming up with a cup of coffee or tea as I read in the evening.

As with many other aspects of living with rheumatoid arthritis, while some things may be bad at times, it’s usually not the case that all things are bad. As I move into winter, I’m going to keep reminding myself of this thought. As my body is once again reacting to the cold weather, I will continue to focus on the good.

And maybe, in a few months, I’ll be able to finally move “Living with RA and cold weather” from my denial column over to my acceptance column.

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!

9 Comments
9 comments
  1. Paula says:

    Excellent! I am also a Texan, and I prefer the cold weather in other areas of the country. My RA will not stop me from retiring in a snowy, mountainous state!

  2. Marie says:

    I’ve tried desert heat and a regular 4 season climate. There is no difference. Pain is still pain.

  3. Wren says:

    I’ve lived in a damp, cold climate; a warm, sunny climate, and now, at about 3,200 feet in the mountains, where summers are pretty warm and dry, and winters pretty cold, wet and sometimes, snowy. And in all the years I’ve had RA, the climate itself made no difference at all to my symptoms. I’ve been in mild, moderate or severe pain in all of them, and I find that shifts in barometric pressure cause worse symptoms than temperature or humidity.

    While I have to admit I’m looking forward to warmer weather (this winter has actually been WINTER for the first time in several years) I don’t mind it when it’s cold. Like you, I enjoy the warmth of a wood fire, I know how to layer my clothes and I totally enjoy wrapping my achy hands around a cup of hot coffee, tea or cocoa. And I love the smell of rain and the beauty of snow.

    In the end, I think it’s all a matter of attitude, RA Guy. Yours will get through the cold months, just as mine will get me through the really hot months (which I don’t much like; I’d rather warm up than try without much luck cooling down). Life is full of wonder and beauty whatever the season. Enjoy your aerie and know that no matter what, the next change in season is just a few months away.

  4. RA Guy says:

    Thank Wren, both your blog and your comments are a continued source of inspiration. As I saw all of your winter photos during the past few months, they reminded me that I needed to start changing my attitude towards the winter months. Now if I could only get a wood stove (I think?) like yours!

  5. TessaD says:

    RA Guy,
    Thank you for sharing your stories and all the fun information you have on your site. I come here and read it often. I also have tried different climates and over 35 years with this disease there is no climate that will help long term.. I even tried to fool myself and spent 4 weeks in West Florida in March to see if it would make a difference. Even though the weather there was wonderful compared to South Jersey I was kidding myself.

    Keep up the great work and there are some of us at Bucklemeupmovement: Now known as = (IAAM) International AutoIummune Arthritis Movement will be in touch to ensure we can link to your website globally for this new NonProfit organization that centers around finding resources globally for our diseases.

    Again thank you for a great site I love your 60 Seconds Guide to RA I refer to it many may times in my support group that I run and support boards…

  6. Laurie says:

    I wish the cold didn’t bring pain for you, but I’m glad you’re able to find beauty it as well.

    I’m one of those people who loves the winter in many ways (I love the changes of seasons and think we appreciate each that much more for the differences that exist between all of them): the brilliance of sun on snow, the deep blue of a winter sky, the clarity of a winter night, the clean feeling of a deep winter breath, the crunch of snow underfoot, the sight of a dog (like Finny!) playing in fresh-fallen snow, the way everything sounds muffled after a snowfall – I could go on and on, but you get the picture!

    Have a great Sunday! :) Laurie

  7. Cathy says:

    I love the changing of seasons and all that it brings. However, I always look forward to the heat of summer. I feel like I can sit and soak up the sun for hours. My husband believes spring is my worst time with all the rain and it probably is but just when I think I have the weather/RA thing figured out, it changes. Enjoy all that the cool weather brings to you. You are always good at that though – finding the positive in a situation. I look forward to reading about your cool weather adventures.

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