I am not a sun worshipper. My Celtic skin balks at sunbathing (which bores me anyway: reading is much comfier curled up in a chair, and sunburn sucks). However, I do love getting slowly kissed by the sun’s rays as I work at festivals and events over the summer, until I look a little less vampiric, and have a healthy glow.
I also love the way my body works in the summer because, at the first sign of damp, it seizes up and threatens to render me immobile thanks to various health idiosyncracies. Last autumn and winter passed with too many bedbound days, and the pain got to the relentlessly dull stage by February (after moving through mobility issues and ‘hyperpain’, which was blissfully relieved by a physio and painkillers, after a few ‘fun’ weeks).
This year, I was alerted to the imminent onset of autumn by an ache in my ankle and an unexpected limp. When I woke up the next day with every joint aching, I knew the season was changing. Sure enough, the date indicated my body knew its stuff.
This year, I’m not going down without a fight. I know my pain is likely to increase the damper and windier it gets. But I am hitting back with every sense to minimise it. Should you suffer similar weather-related aches and pains, you may find some of it useful.
Last year, I couldn’t afford sufficient heating or baths as illness had reduced my income. I had to rely on hot water bottles, many layers of clothing, sleeping bags on the sofa and heat pads from Poundland when the pain was particularly bad. Warmth makes a huge difference to many illnesses. If you live with an ill person, try not to complain if they need the heating on (assuming you can afford it – though some GPs are giving boiler prescriptions: a brilliant idea.)
Baths are the best form of relief I have found. This year, I feel grateful every time I put the heating on or run a bath without worry.
If you can’t afford it, be shameless about asking friends if you can have a bath at their house: your health is important. Some local authorities give discount leisure centre passes – which may include a sauna or warmer children’s pool if you’re lucky (there are more hydrotherapy pools for dogs than people in my area…) And hot water bottles can be ache-fighting wonders. Heat pads are great for direct heat too – and if you tape them on yourself rather than using the sticky ones, you get four rather than two for a pound (though the sticky ones are much more convenient if you can afford them).
A lavender pillow may also help, if you can make one and have a microwave (use an old T-shirt or other item of clothing plus lavender from a friend’s garden and rice, or flax seed if you can afford it: 1/3 lavender, 2/3 rice. Add rosemary if brain fog is an issue – or you just like the smell.) Stitch it together and heat for 90 seconds in the microwave. If you’re rubbish at sewing, use a long sock to make your neck pillow with minimal stitching required.
If you can afford to have baths, relish it and use it to ease the pain (though try not to waste the water: share it with a partner, if you have one, then use it on the plants, or to wash muddy boots or heavily soiled clothes once you’re done).
I find Dead Sea salt helps, as does normal salt (though it stings if you go too saline, and shave in the bath). However, if you use a lot of salt, don’t use the water on plants afterwards as they don’t like salt. Use aromatherapy oils (or nothing) instead.
Aromatherapy oils are also beneficial for me, though there isn’t a lot in the way of science backing it up. However, I find ginger, orange and pine oil in a bath ease my aches and pains, making my skin tingle (and the bathroom smell of christmas).
I also use oils in burners, on my pillow, as massage blends (massage being another lifesaver) and in home made toiletries, and use natural incense galore.
I only use high quality aromatherapy oils, and mix my own blends as I like to make them potent (though I go gently if making blends for other people as aromatherapy oils can be toxic.) They are pricey but last for years, even with fairly frequent use.
Neroli is calming when pain-anxiety kicks in, and eucalyptus, rosemary and mint chase my brain fog away. Vanilla is warming and comforting, as are clove, patchouli and ylang ylang.
Obvious as it may sound, I go by smell: if I am drawn to a particular oil, I figure it will probably do me good. It’s amazing how much preferences for smell can change from day to day – much as they do with food.
As the days and nights get damper, I crave comfort food. However, it’s not chips I crave. Instead, I am drawn to stews and slow-roasted one-pot meals, jacket potatoes and swede mash, rich tomato sauces with melting cheese, celeriac soup, porridge with honey, home-baked bread, banana loaf and foraged crumbles loaded with nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon. Hot chocolate made 50/50 with almond and Jersey milk and Green and Black’s hot chocolate – perhaps with brandy – is the indulgent cherry on top.
I figure that nature has been around lots longer than I have, so eating seasonal produce will probably be good for me as well as the planet. At this time of year, there’s an abundance of purple fruit: blackberries, plums and elderberries. There are also red tomatoes, chillis, rosehips and apples and yellow corn, peppers and plums.
Eating warm, rich and fiery coloured fruit and veg heats me from the inside. Adding chilli to food also helps – a paprika heavy stroganoff or slow cooked Puttanesca sauce.
When I am well, I stock up the freezer with home cooked food, in case I am too achy to cook. That way, I don’t need to spend a fortune in takeaways when I have limited mobility.
As well as feeling warming, all these fruit and veg dishes are loaded with vitamins to boost immunity. And better immunity means aches and pains are less likely to be worsened by a cold (Hot chocolate with brandy makes you less likely to care about it.)
Crafting can be a wonderful way to take your mind off pain (assuming it’s not migraine or otherwise intense pain, and that you are able).
Stringing beads and fake flowers together to make garlands is lightweight and easy to do in bed. Making dolls out of old tights is cheap and fun (tutorial soon), as is making miniature gardens. Paper crafts and peg doll making can also be done in bed – along with drawing and colouring in.
With a few craft box basics, you’d be amazed by what you can make from your recycling bin. Journalling and drawing can also be fun and therapeutic. And I find killing boredom fights the pain (or at least gives me something else to think about).
5 Exercise Outside
While I am not always able, getting outside daily is a huge health booster. While my body is still functioning, I’m getting out as much as possible so I’m as fit as I can be before my joints flare up, to make it easier to cope.
Blackberrying, gardening and nature walks are so much more fun and rewarding for me than going to the gym – though wrapping up warm is a must.
Layers are key. Cashmere helps keep heat in a lot, and if you’re wearing it for warmth rather than style, you can get cheap damaged cashmere jumpers on eBay (often for under £10.) A good coat helps hugely too (if you aren’t ill or skint and have a skint, ill mate and a spare warm coat, it could make a practical pain-reducing gift.)
Knitting your own hat and scarf can combine leisure and relaxation with a cheap way to stay warm, if you don’t have arthritic fingers or some other physical issue that makes it unfeasible (use charity shop wool to keep costs down).
Getting outside, even for ten minutes, helps fight the isolation and disconnect that can come from long-term illness. Even if you can only just get out your front door, you can find a bird or bug to watch, or a cloud to admire.
If not, exercise in bed can help. I use pilates – and dancing to music I love, if my body will let me.
There is no cure all and everyone has different issues so the things that work for me may not be for you (though please do share what helps you in the comments in case it can help someone else). But for me, staying warm and cosy, with a cupboard full of home made healthy comfort food, lovely aromatherapy oils and crafting I can do from bed, makes the colder weather a lot less painful.