Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Chronic Illness and Weather

I have a love-hate relationship with the weather.

Let’s focus on the love part first. I am a New Englander, born and raised, and have a deep appreciation for four distinct seasons and all that comes with them: the crisp golds and crimsons of autumn leaves; the first snow fall that leaves lacy patterns etched on the windows; the heady scent of hyacinth and freshly mowed grass in spring’s thaw; the nostalgic smell of salt water and suntan lotion that is quintessentially summer on Cape Cod.

As a person of extremes, perhaps it is not all that surprising that I love the extremes of life here, from the bitterly cold winter nights that require extra blankets, to the lazy, languid August days that call for iced tea and air conditioners. Just as my internal clock is largely set to semester-time, it too follows the calendar. Fall always feels like a fresh start, summer the time to catch up.

The thing is, though, weather doesn’t agree with me all that well. The winter season—okay, to be honest, this now stretches from Oct-May for my body—known for colds and viruses destroys me. I can usually count on one hand the days I am not acutely sick. My temperamental lungs respond violently to rapid fluctuations in the weather, so those weeks when summer turns into fall and winter turns into spring and the conditions go back and forth are always bumpy. And while summer usually means respite from the constant infections, humidity is horrible for my breathing, meaning on bad days I cannot take a breath outside.

Of course, not every day is humid; as I told my lung doctor yesterday, I have very good days and very bad ones in the summer so I capitalize on the good ones.

When I was really, really sick in high school (like missing months of school sick) my doctors suggested taking a year off and moving to Arizona to see if the climate helped my dysfunctional immune system. I refused because I didn’t want to give up my class rank (yes I was a bit crazy) and I don’t regret it. I spent a vacation in Arizona and wheezed the whole time anyway.

But now and again I do wonder if a different climate would suit me better. I lived in Washington, DC for a few years and really missed the sharp changes in season we get here in Boston. The climate there was soupy, swampy, and suffocating, and I’ve never spent more time as an inpatient than I did then. I adored living in Dublin and the cool, consistent weather was actually quite favorable, but there’s that little matter of it being just a tad far away.

Everything is a trade off. The cost of living is intense here, but there’s reason enough for that. Perhaps I would have fewer bad days (but who knows, really) somewhere else, but there are so many other things that go into our life choices: here we have extended family, friends, and a support network. That is always important, but especially important when you’re in a high-risk pregnancy and about to raise a child while chronically ill. It is a great area in terms of opportunities for my career. We live literally 10 minutes from one of the best hospitals in the world, where all my doctors are just a few floors apart. (Since I am there every week, this comes in handy).

So I’ll take the weather extremes in hand. Plus, if you’ve ever seen Boston in April or a Cape Cod sunset, you’ll know why it’s worth it.

Do seasonal changes affect your health and if so, how do you compensate? Does your health at least partially dictate where you live?


Tricia said...

I also live in a climate of extremes. I was born and raised in Chicago and now I live in North Central Illinois. My health suffered during this past winter. My body reacts badly to cold. I improved when the weather warmed up but felt crappy on the rainy, muggy days. We are considering moving somewhere warmer but its a tough decision. Like you we currently live near great healthcare. We plan to stick around until my husband finishes his masters and then we will see...

Rachel said...

I grew up in the Midwest, Chicago and Milwaukee areas to be exact. As someone who deals with seasonal affective disorder, the winters there are just too harsh.

At least in Colorado there are (supposedly) 300 days of sunshine. Yeah, there's winter and snow and blizzards, but sometimes 60-degree days find their way into January.

As much as I love Portland (OR), the only other place I might consider living, I don't think I could handle all the dark and rain and ice of winter there. So yeah, I think Colorado is about it for me.

Diana Lee said...

I live in Kansas, and we, too, have four distinct seasons. It is incredibly humid here (85%) today and between the heat and that humidity, it does a number on my chronic migraines. Unfortunately I have to spend most of the summer inside in air conditioning because I just can't handle it. The heat & humidity have been a trigger for me since childhood, but when I got them infrequently I could deal with it much easier. Now it's very, very limiting.

Dominique said...

I actually left New England (White Mountain area) because of the extremely cold winters. I couldn't take the pain anymore. As for Phoenix, the weather help me tremendously with my pain levels, but living there alone was just too hard. I wouldn't mind moving back to a dry heat climate if I had friends around to help me.

Lisa C said...

Thanks for the post, Laurie, We were just talking about weather over in our Facebook group. Since I am in San Diego I am quite spoiled with the weather, but I still live inland near the desert, so when it's 90+ I am in a lot of pain. Ironically it's the fall months that are my hardest, Oct-Dec, when it's 90 during the day and 39 at night. But I am from Oregon originally, so glad that I am not in the rain any longer. I think you wrote a post that no matter where we live, everyone can relate to! Thinking of you...

Anonymous said...

There is a little surprise waiting for you over on my blog... I just wanted to let you know how much inspiration you give to those suffering from chronic illness.

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Melanie said...

I too am a born and raised New Englander. The summer is the hardest time for me because lupus flares in sunlight. Any amount of sunlight, including in the winter, can make me achy and feverish but of course the summer is the worst. I spend a lot of my time indoors during this season, but I still love it!

Karen said...

My first time to your blog and I saw a link to SATC, got my attention 'Carrie'. I will so be back!!

Congratulations on your book. I have just started blogging and I dream about being Carrie. I know, very shallow. My blog is even linked into the whole SATC thing. 'Sofa and the City..' Living with M.E. but still totally fabulous!! Yes, I am a Carrie junky.

I know, I should be speaking about the weather. Sorry, I got sidetracked!! I find my M.E. more difficult in the heat. I like it warm but not too warm!!

Anyway, great blog. So glad I have found you...see you soon.


elisabeth said...

I desperately miss the northern seasons, particularly autumn. My primary triggers are humidity and cold, so moving to Florida reduced my cold exposure but more than made up for it in humidity. It also took me about three years to somewhat acclimatize to different allergens (possibly part of your breathing issues in Arizona), and while I have mostly adjusted, the onset of storm season in Florida guarantees me several weeks of migraines. There seems to be no fully happy solution, so I can certainly appreciate sticking with the devil you know.

Besides, it would save on travel fare to get my fall leaf fix every year.

Emily said...

I'm not affected seasonally by the weather - I'm affected by the barometric pressure. So whenever there are storms coming, there is worse pain for me.

stop smoking help said...

We're thinking of moving from Dallas (think sunshine) to Seattle (think cloudy and rainy). My wife and I both have "depressive" personalities so we're not sure how it'll go. But believe it or not, the extreme heat in Dallas is just as depressing. You can't go outside in the summer, just too hot.

Good luck.

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