How I cope with Lupus during Winter
Lupus became a companion of mine in 2013, and my body started to give me signs when the temperature was about to change. Unusual morning stiffness, daily painful joints, and achy muscles made me feel like a different person. Darker and shorter days made me sadder, and I didn’t want to be outdoors after work, as the cold increased the pain in my hands, feet, and knees. Simple yoga stretches became painful, and climbing up the stairs at my home was a challenge.
At that time, I didn’t understand that these were symptoms of something called a ‘flare’, a term that only later was incorporated into my lexicon. I could only tell that my body was not a happy camper when the temperature dropped.
It was less painful before I moved to the States in 2000, when I was still living in a tropical country, Brazil, where the lowest temperatures were around 65ºF. Now I live in the Pacific Northwest, which has lush green tones in various colors that only nature can create. Here, the smell of wet grass perfumes the air everywhere. But, while I enjoy drinking a hot cup of tea with a book under a warm blanket, the cold, humidity, and shortness of winter days in Portland can make things more difficult for me.
Despite my pain, I continued to work long hours in my stressful job, as well as being a mother and wife, trying to live as if nothing had changed. It’s surprising how sometimes it’s easier to empathize with other people’s limitations, but yet not give ourselves a break. I was raised to believe I can always do more and go farther. So, I kept neglecting what I was feeling, expecting it to disappear. Guess what? This strategy did not work.
After years of taking heavy lupus medications, my liver got overwhelmed, so I had to begin to be open to ways to prevent and control the pain better. My doctors suggested to me a few things for my health, along with the medication:
- Adjust my diet: cut sugar, dairy, starches, and gluten.
- Take small breaks, and leverage hot baths with Epson salt.
- Frequently practice low impact exercises such as walking and yoga, and add daily mindful breathing exercises.
A few close friends told me various times not to try to fix everything that is broken – for everyone, all the time. It’s okay to leave things in a less than flawless state and let people resolve their own challenges. So, here are some suggestions that have really helped me:
- Listen to what your body tells you, and reduce your stress level; mind and body walk hand in hand together.
- Do little things to prevent the pain, such as including some exercise in the routine. Plus, TLC with yourself. Love does magic!
- Remember that without the dirt and the fertilizers, flowers don’t grow. Be grateful.
In a nutshell, my imperfect answer to conquer cold winters is to be more self-compassionate. Stand up tall, face vulnerabilities, and even welcome them. Resilience is a choice, and we are much stronger than we think.
Embracing a new lifestyle has been a work in progress. Reminding myself to be grateful for all the ups and downs is a daily practice. I hope we can all enjoy what life brings us today, here and now. After all, the present moment is a gift.
What about a hot cup of tea?