A wheeler's tips for chasing away the winter blues

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on January 16, 2018 # Health, Mobility

The middle of winter is a difficult time for me, and I imagine the same holds true for many of my peers who are paralyzed and living in areas that are impacted by winter weather. Inclement weather combines with my wheelchair to hold me hostage in my own home, and there is more of it than usual this year. Wildfires, floods, mudslides, deep snow and unseasonably cold winter storms have made the entire North American continent a victim of what is often called Old Man Winter; news reports show that the same type of extreme weather is impacting other parts of the world as well.

It does not take much to convince me to stay indoors in the winter. My wheelchair is useless if encountering snow or ice, and surrounding hills make driving an unsafe proposition when roads are slick. The electronics on my wheelchair and the numerous remote controls that I keep available to operate everything from my van lift to my front door can also be rendered useless by a fairly minimal amount of rainfall.

My extremities, due to the diminished circulation caused by my paralysis, become cold in a fairly short time outside and can take hours to warm up once back indoors. If I want to cool down I simply lower the thermostat at home, and I don't need frigid exposure outdoors to do that.

I work hard at finding or creating joy in my life--even when cooped up at home because of the weather. I believe that it is still possible to be happy, or at least content, with some effort and the cooperation of family or friends.

Because I live in the cloudy Pacific Northwest, I need to worry about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) since winter rainstorms and overcast skies can block the sun for weeks at a time. People make fun of Northwesterners who go to extensive effort in order to create more healthy light, especially artificial sunlight, in our winter routines but SAD is real.

To keep my mood up through the gloomy and cold months I use a variety of strategies or activities:

  • I make an extra effort to enjoy the holidays and participate in as many family activities as possible. For example, when I informed my family that I would not be erecting a Christmas tree this year, as I wasn't in the mood to do it, I was amazed that I suddenly found myself with not just one, but two trees. The process of decorating the trees, and later taking them down after the holidays, became impromptu family gatherings.
  • Another activity that I unfortunately delay doing until it is not possible to go outside is to get in touch with distant friends and family members who I may not have corresponded with for years. Whether it is e-mail correspondence or sharing a telephone conversation with old classmates, these contacts can be uplifting.
  • Eating healthy is on my to do list year-around, but it is easier to stray from my healthy diet in the wintertime when I am home and have more access to my refrigerator, pantry and snacks. To compensate, my winter meals include more fruits and vegetables than at other times of year.
  • Sunshine is my friend that is absent too often during the winter. When it does venture out, even if it is cold outside, I position myself in front of a window so that I can take full advantage of it; of course I also apply sunscreen first.

I am fortunate to have some unusual allies when it comes to entertainment, no matter what happens with the weather. Wintertime is the season when wild animals like squirrels and birds have a more difficult time gathering their regular food, especially if there is snow on the ground. It is entertaining to watch their antics at my backyard feeders, where they unknowingly help chase away my winter blues; I'll take all the help I can get.

© 2018 Michael Collins