Falling Into Fall: How the Changing Seasons Affect My MS Symptoms
“You’re my summer that fades/ To these cold autumn days/ You’re my keepsake, my friend, and my fears/ You’re the strength that’s inside and I swear on my life/ I will always be there by your side.” — Amber Pacific
Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. I love the changing colors. The obvious shift from the sweltering heat of summer to the crisp sound of frosty leaves underfoot on a fall morning serves as a fantastic reminder that life is ever evolving. Seasonal changes give me hope.
So, how are MS symptoms affected by temperatures dropping in fall or blossoms emerging in spring?
The “snowflake condition,” a particularly apt nickname for multiple sclerosis in this context, isn’t easy to understand. There are visible symptoms, such as mobility problems, spasms, and balance issues, but there are also invisible ones. The symptoms are a minefield to navigate, as they can change daily, or even hourly.
But add in the temperature, environmental, and humidity changes that come with seasonal transitions, and managing MS becomes even more of an enigma.
This summer was extremely variable here in the U.K., where I live. We had heat waves sandwiched between bouts of intense rain and wind. This was difficult for me, as I’ve realized I’m affected more by temperature fluctuations than simply the heat or cold, as I was in the early days.
These fluctuations greatly influence my fatigue levels. During these times, I’d rather watch the world go by from my window than leave the house. Yet this is actually ideal, as the heat triggers my bladder issues. When I overheat, my body gives me significantly reduced notice that I require the bathroom.
The leaves of fall
As the days get colder and the mornings become frosty, I begin thinking about my mobility differently. Donning my fluffy boots and wooly socks means my numb feet have less contact with the ground than when it’s warm and I can wear Dolly shoes with a thin sole. Last fall, I relied on my wheelchair more often, because being unable to feel the ground beneath my feet inevitably leads to falling.
During my paralyzing relapse in 2018, I watched the seasons change from the red armchair I’d found hidden in the back of a small, cluttered charity shop. We had snow in March that year, which was very unusual for Wales. Snow brings its own trials and tribulations. It magnifies the issues with my numb feet. The frosty cold of winter also exacerbates my spasticity, which again makes me more reliant on my wheelchair for mobility.
Bundling up in cozy coats, scarves, hats, and gloves is one thing I enjoy about winter. It’s also a physical analogy for my cognitive fatigue: I feel disjointed and removed from the world around me because I’m bundled up in so many layers.
My increased spasticity eases with the arrival of spring. The Dolly shoes come out from the back of my closet. I use my walking stick more as the frosts of winter thaw.
The changing of the seasons brings me hope that things can change, evolve, adapt, and eventually flourish. It’s the same with my MS. Each season, I have to adapt to and embrace the different ways I must manage my changing symptoms — and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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