Even though the official start of winter is still a few days away (I’m in the southern hemisphere), the fact of the matter is that I have been experiencing cold weather since the end of April. And yes, the temperature/forecast on the right is real and current; I just grabbed this image as I sat here typing these words.
For most of my life, I absolutely loved winter. Well, let me be a little more clear…I loved the idea of winter. Growing up in south Texas, winter was nothing that an occasional cold front that made the temperatures drop in the 30′s or 40′s for a day or two. Even more rare was the “freeze”, those times when the thermometer reached 32 degrees or below (if only for just a couple of hours). I was in the land of “Winter Texans”, retirees from the northern U.S. who would temporarily reside in my part of the world during the winter months. If you compare this with the images of winter that I saw on television and in the books I read, you might be able to start to understand why I was so in love with winter.
Years later, I actually began to know what winter really was. As a 15 year old exchange student, I lived in northern Italy at the foot of the Alps. I still remember that first morning when the air was just a little colder, and the hills that I could see from my bedroom window were dusted with snow. A few years later I was a college freshman living in New York City. (Hint: don’t sign up for Intermediate Swimming at 8 a.m.! It might be fine in September and October, but just wait until November and December, And yes, Columbia College required two semesters of physical education!) And as if that wasn’t enough, I then went to live in Boston for four years as a graduate student, where snowstorms and winter reached previously unknown levels of severity.
Next up was San Francisco, California. Sure, this city is generally not know for its rough winters, but as the saying goes: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Oh how true those word were…
This was followed by the place where I currently reside in South America, which is located 12,000 feet above sea level on top of the Andes mountains. Yes, the air is quite thin, the local commercial airport is the highest in the world and has an extremely long runway as airplanes take twice as long to gain enough lift to take off, water boils at a much lower temperature (I always, always, always burn my tongue drinking my first coffee whenever I’m back in the U.S.), and baking is just..well, plain difficult. But the winters here are anything but traditional…during the day, when the sun is out, you absolutely burn up. However, when that big ball of fire in the sky drops, temperature plummet…and there is no doubt that you are, for some strange reason, two miles up in the sky on top of a mountain, freezing your a** off.
It was right around this time of year, many years ago, when I received my first autoimmune disease diagnosis. (I’m not sure if I’ve ever shared this, but I was originally diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis. A year later, I was told that I had seronegative rheumatoid arthritis.) And right around this time, I started to hate winter. I associated the cold weather with the pain in my joints. For the first time ever, I started to yearn for my hot childhood days (minus the horrible humidity, of course.)
Over the past few years, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with these cold winter months. I’ve learned to accept them and prepare myself as much as possible for them, but deep down inside I still wouldn’t allow myself to really like them. All of this changed just a little over a week ago, though. Wren from RheumaBlog shared with me how much she enjoyed winter. And just like that, the part of me that always loved winter was once again awake. (Thanks, Wren!)
I really do love winter, I told myself! I like snuggling in bed and not wanting to get out, all of the gloves and scarves and hats, and the warm mugs of tea and hot chocolate. (Online I’ve come across plenty of plastic mugs with two handles, but I’ve yet to find a ceramic mug with two handles. Does anyone know where I can find one?)
Sure, dealing with the cold is not always easy. Just yesterday I had a really bad flare, which moved even my physical therapist to tears. It”s easy to blame this flare on the cold weather, but the truth of the matter is that I experience flares like this year round, on cold and hot days alike. So maybe the cold isn’t such a bad thing after all. I will continue take care of myself during winter (which I used to refer to as My Own Personal Ktyptonite), but I will also allow myself to enjoy the good things that come as a result of the cold weather.
Maybe winter is something that I can still love, rheumatoid arthritis and all!
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!