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!

From The Archives

My Own Personal Kryptonite
April 26, 2009

kryptoniteWhen Superman was exposed to one particular thing, he immediately lost all of his powers and became weak.  The thing that had such an immediate and pronounced effect on Superman was green kryptonite.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy has his own personal kryptonite – but it’s called winter.

Read More: http://www.rheumatoidarthritisguy.com/2009/04/my-own-personal-kryptonite/

Today’s blog post reminded me of this post that I wrote last April, when I was moving towards winter. Maybe this will be the year the I overcome my personal kryptonite!

Gunky Is Actually A Word?!

Main Entry: gunk
Pronunciation: \ˈgəŋk\
Function: noun
Etymology: from Gunk, trademark for a cleaning solvent
Date: 1943

: filthy, sticky, or greasy matter

gunky \ˈgəŋ-kē\ adjective

My mornings are once again getting gunky. I’m just coming off a three-day weekend, and today my class was online, so it hasn’t been a problem. Yet. First thing tomorrow I have physical therapy, which requires me to get out of bed at 7:30 am. The day after, I spend my morning at the university, which requires me to get out of bed at 7:00 am.

The next couple of days will be a good test of my willpower (?) to move in the morning, when my body wants to do the exact opposite. I’ve usually found, however, that firm commitments are just the thing to get me moving on those days when I feel like the Tin Man (minus the oil).

Have I mentioned that autumn is in the air, and winter is just around the corner? Temperatures are already falling to the low 30s. May, June, and July are usually my most difficult months of the year – but once again, I’m trying to keep an optimistic outlook as my body adapts to the changes in the seasons.

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

NPR Fresh Air: A Historian’s Long View On Living With Lou Gehrig’s

March 29, 2010

In 2008, historian Tony Judt was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is a progressive motor-neuron disease that causes the central nervous system to degenerate. Over time, patients lose the ability to move their bodies, but retain full control over their minds. Judt describes the effects of the disease as “progressive imprisonment without parole.”

“The first six months of this disease, from diagnosis to wheelchair, I spent fighting the reality of it,” he says. “And I think that’s probably a common experience. I thought towards myself, ‘OK. I’ve still got legs, even though the hands are gone.’ Then one leg would go, and I’d think, ‘Well, I’ve got one leg left.’ And so as long as you can imagine, however unrealistically, a future in which only bits of you work, then you feel frustrated [that] they don’t. But once nothing does, the frustration goes away.”

“I’m productive,” he says, “because I look at the body with some sense of detachment. ‘You’ve let me down. I can’t do this. I can’t do that.’ And so I think, ‘Well, what can I do? I can still boss people around. I can still write. I can still read. I can still eat, and I can still have very strong views.”

You mustn’t focus on what you can’t do. If you sit around and think, ‘I wish I could walk,’ then you’ll just be miserable. But if you sit and turn around and think, ‘What’s the next piece I’m going to write?’ then you may not be happy, but you certainly won’t wallow in misery. So it’s an active choice every day to renew my interest in something that my head can do, so I don’t think about the body.

More Info: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125231223

NRAS: The £1000 Winning Give Raffle

1000The Giving Machine have organised a one off charity lottery, the winner will receive £500 for themselves, and £500 to give to their chosen charity!

Raffle tickets are just £2.50 each, 75% of which will come straight to NRAS, regardless of whether you win or not.

Before you can buy your tickets, you will be asked to either sign in to The Giving Machine or join if you haven’t already created an account. Creating an account is a very short and easy process, whereby you will be asked to enter in your details and select the charity you would like to support.

The winning ticket will be drawn on 4th May.

More Info: http://www.nras.org.uk/support_us/nras_online/the_1000_winning_give_raffle.aspx

NRASNational Rheumatoid Arthritis Society provides support and information for people with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, their families, friends and carers, and health professionals with an interest in Rheumatoid Arthritis.

More Info: www.rheumatoid.org.uk.