By Stacie Prada
Summer’s here, it’s getting hot, and it’s getting really tough to stay cool.
With multiple sclerosis, many people have heat sensitivity that triggers MS symptoms. For me, it brings on fatigue, and my body goes numb. It usually starts with my feet and legs. Without intervention, the numbness can spread to my full body from the neck down. It’s not disease progression, but it can be frustrating and depressing. In my youth I basked in and relished extreme heat. Now it makes me anxious for the possible consequences.
Suggestions abound for ways to stay cool in the summer heat. Stay hydrated, wear cooling aids, stay in the shade, have air conditioning, travel somewhere cooler, be rich. The last one is said in jest, but there are so many barriers to remaining cool when the weather heats up for more than a day or two. I suspect the barriers are easier to remove when wealthy.
The preferred options are also very individual. Environment, health, finances and area of control differ drastically for each person. Cool showers work for me, but they might not be possible when needed. They can also be difficult for those with mobility issues. My go-to method is to use my medication cold packs as cooling aids. Wrapped in a towel, they cool me down quickly when placed on my belly or the back of my neck.
I don’t have air conditioning in my home or at work, so I plan ahead for hot days. My office is located in an historic building of stone and brick construction without air conditioning. We fondly refer to our office as a pizza oven when the brick warms up and our offices remain excessively warm for days. In my area, it’s the start of a heat wave. It was 80 degrees at my desk today, and the humidity made it feel hotter.
I drink cold water, use the ceiling fans, open the windows for air flow, and direct a small fan above my desk at my torso. Films coating the windows and blinds adjusted help diffuse the sun’s rays from directly warming the office. None of this keeps the office cool, but it makes it a little more bearable.
It’s a challenge getting work done and looking professional while trying not to overheat. Sportswear is good for the technical construction and breathable fabric designed to keep athletes comfortable, but it can get expensive and isn’t always appropriate for the office. Sun dresses, skirts, breezy style tops and other loose clothing that don’t cling to sweating skin help. Often being comfortable can be achieved, yet we resist in an effort to be socially acceptable and presentable. The business world generally encourages discomfort at the expense of good self-care. I want to give myself and others permission to do whatever it takes to stay as cool and comfortable as possible in hot weather.
I try to remember the conditions where I am are not the same everywhere, and they’re sometimes drastically different at a nearby location. It’s interesting to me how different it is for the offices across the hall located on the shady side of the building. They’re often cool even on very hot days. I need to remember this. Where might it be cooler? Go there for a moment. Even a quick break could help.
Note to self: Sometimes it’s not about being able to do something to relieve the discomfort, it’s about giving myself permission to do what it takes to be comfortable.
I live near the beach, and yesterday I walked along the shore barefoot in the water. It felt so decadent that I couldn’t believe I’d resisted the idea of taking off my shoes and socks to get in. I knew the saltwater would be really cold, and it was. I hadn’t considered how refreshing it would be after the initial shock. It cooled me off, and the unplanned stroll was heaven.
Lesson noted: Sometimes the initial discomfort is necessary to get to comfortable conditions.
Please do what you need to do to care for yourself and those around you, especially in heat waves and situations where certain behavior is expected. You might just inspire someone else to give themselves the permission they need.
*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 just shy of 38 years old. Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/