The nights are drawing in, the temperature is dropping and the trees are turning glorious autumnal shades. Before my MS diagnosis, autumn heralded the start of the hockey league, crisp weekend walks, Halloween and Bonfire Night.
Now, autumn also marks the start of my preparations for the winter months, when MS tends to make life more difficult for me. Over the years I’ve learnt to take extra care in order to try to reach spring feeling happy, fit and healthy.
Here are my top tips for weathering the winter with MS.
Regulate your temperature
Like many people I know with MS, I have poor temperature regulation. If I’m cold, it’s hard to warm up. If I’m hot, it’s hard to cool down. So layers are essential for me to be able to adjust to the weather.
Hats, gloves and scarves are also a must. I even have a pair of gloves that can be both fingerless and full, depending on how cold my hands are. I have fur lined boots that are brilliant for keeping my feet warm outdoors, and for indoors I have many pairs of thick socks.
I get particularly cold at night, so I have a portable heater in my bedroom that enables me to be as warm as I need without affecting the other people in the house. I also try to have a hot drink and a warm shower to raise my body temperature before getting into bed.
It’s tempting to hibernate indoors during winter. I dislike the cold, rain and especially the snow. When I was playing hockey, I was forced to go out in all weathers, which was the one aspect I really struggled with, even without MS!
Now that I’m no longer able to play hockey, I have to be proactive to ensure I still exercise throughout the winter months. It not only keeps me fit (so I can eat more mince pies!), but it’s also good for my mental health and prevents social isolation.
Nowadays I do dance classes. As they’re indoors it doesn’t matter what the weather is like, as long as it’s safe for me to drive there. If you enjoy outdoor sports in the winter, make sure you also have fall back options in case the weather is bad.
Remember, exercise shouldn’t be a chore, nor should it feel like a form of torture! Find something you enjoy and that you’re going to look forward to.
Talk to your employers
If you work and you’ve disclosed your MS, it’s important that your employer understands any adjustments you might need during the winter months. You might need the flexibility to be able to work from home if you’re uncomfortable commuting to and from work in bad weather.
If there’s illness going around the office, colleagues also need to understand the implications for you as infection can exacerbate MS symptoms. Also, if you’re immunosuppressed due to medications it can make you more vulnerable to becoming ill. I know some workplaces that provide hand sanitizer for people’s desks and encourage a culture of “health-before-work” to prevent people from coming in to the office when ill and spreading illnesses.
Try to stay well
Regular hand-washing and use of hand sanitizer can help prevent the spread of infection, particularly during the winter months. While you might not be able to stop the man on the bus from coughing near you, you can try to protect yourself and your family by practising good hand hygiene. This is particularly important after being in places where germs spread easily, such as on public transport. At home, if someone falls ill, make sure they are not touching communal objects like remote controls after coughing or sneezing into their hands. Also always make sure to talk to your doctor for advice on managing winter illnesses.
If in doubt, good rest and healthy eating will also help to keep those illnesses away.
Speak to your utility providers
In the UK and Ireland, utility providers have free priority services schemes for people who live with long term conditions and/or disabilities. This means if your boiler stops working or you have a power cut, the suppliers will already be aware that you might need contingencies.
One year in late December the power went off on my entire street for a whole day. Because the utility company knew I had MS and that I kept my medication refrigerated, they arranged for an external generator to be installed until the problem was fixed. If you live outside the UK and Ireland, check with your utility company to see if there is a similar scheme in place in your region.
Consider your medication needs
I live in a rural area and if it snows, I often can’t get into town. In the winter I ensure I have a sufficient supply of medication in case I’m unable to leave home. If you receive your medication at the hospital, make sure you have contingency plans in place if adverse weather conditions prevent you from travelling. If you live on your own, it’s worth creating a “winter buddy plan” with your doctors. This means a friend or relative will be able to collect and deliver your medication on your behalf if necessary.
Not everyone who lives with MS feels the same about winter (in fact, it’s Barbara’s favourite time of year.) But as you can see, I am not a fan. I won’t lie, I’d actually be much happier if I was able to migrate to sunnier climes for the entire season. But until I win the lottery, the tips above have definitely helped me to cope much better!
UK/MED/19/0272 October 2019