Having 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!