Learning the Lingo
“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” – Anne Bradstreet
I will be the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers. Heck, I don’t even have that many answers. But investigation and communication have always been strengths of mine. So today I turn my blog to my readers and ask: what can someone suffering from CRPS or other types of chronic pain do to help overcome the long winter months?
I have always been a warm weather girl, and in a perfect world I would live just a few blocks from a nice beach – a private beach where my three high-energy Shelties can run circles around me sans leash. When we moved from Central Texas to the Washington, D.C. Metro Area just eight months ago for my husband’s job, I was skeptical about living so far from family. At first homesickness consumed me, but as the summer days shortened and the leaves descended from their branches a new challenge would emerge. The most difficult of all changes resulting from the big move was not realized until the cold air began its slithering descent towards the coast of Maryland.
The change in climate has had several implications, expected and unexpected. The size of my closet is embarrassingly spacious and overflowing with sundresses, sunhats, and sunglasses. Let me be the first to say that there is no amount of sundress layering that can prepare you for “winter,” which turns out to mean prolonged temperatures below 40 degrees. And snow. Being from an area known for its heat and humidity, snow was defined as a hard, slippery substance that occasionally sparsely covers the ground when temperatures are at their lowest of the season (around 30 degrees) and immediately closes all schools and most businesses. I am told northerners refers to this as “ice”. Imagine my surprise when a recent polar vortex dropped a whopping 19-22 inches of snow.
Living with Chronic Pain in the Winter
What I had failed to prepare for – what you simply cannot prepare for – is the significant spike in the level of daily pain caused by the CRPS. Before winter set in, I had very little personal experience with the combination of cooler temperatures and CRPS. As many of you know, not too long ago my time was spent between my wheelchair and physical therapy. I had weaned myself completely off of my narcotic pain medication in October 2013. It was not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but I was determined to rid myself of the fuzziness that accompanies its use.
Once temperatures dropped below 40 degrees, it was nearly impossible to warm my affected foot to room temperature, the typical swelling worsened, and my ability to concentrate became impaired. The moment the weather dropped to freezing and below, the pain predictably became nearly unbearable. Due to this, my local neurologist placed me back on pain medication in the hopes for a temporary solution until it begins to warm again.
Without close friends nearby, my support system can feel non-existent. I had been accustomed to colleagues and friends knowing the details of my condition – since the surgical complications occurred just recently. These days I find myself frustrated when I feel pressured to explain that my complaint of the cold weather is not merely a matter of preference, that the reason I appear so sensitive is because my coping mechanism has been to devote my concentration on my work – and when the wall I’ve built must temporarily be lifted, the emotions and pain hidden behind it are released in tandem.
A Call for Advice
So today I turn to the pain management community to ask how others have coped with increased pain over winter. What tricks have you learned that help you live a more “normal” life when it’s cold out? Are there things that you should avoid? Rules of thumb? Products that are absolute must-haves?
“Advice is the smallest current coin.” – Ambrose Bierce