I’ve learned a lot of different things about myself over the course of several years’ chronic health challenges but one of the most pronounced is that my body is seasonal. I inhabit a very different body, with quite different symptoms patterns and pain presentations, from September to March and, whilst other factors have fluctuated, this has stayed consistent.
I could pitch my myself against this inconvenient fact, take it on, war with it, tell myself I am going to conquor or obliterate it… or I could learn to accept it and, since it seems to be non-negotiable, this is what I am doing, ongoing. No different to the changing seasons outside, I have to accept that this is the way things are, and work with that fact, making it my home (not my battleground).
If this is a factor in you health condition, and for many people it really is, based on so many lively topics all over the health forums, then I urge you to take the step to accept it about yourself too. Accept it, pay attention and learn your own patterns. Once you have done that, you can at least cease thinking you have taken some desperate turn for the worse during the more challenging months…and accept that this is merely a seasonal “dip”, then look forward to the spring, as I am now doing. If other people around you struggle to accept that you may be able to manage very different things in one season compared to another, almost as though you are a completely different person, then that is their challenge, not yours. No, its not just in your head! The key is to not only reset your own expecations to a much more realistic level but also those of others; that way, nobody will be overly disappointed or feel let down. Don’t automatically make plans for one time of the year that you would make in another…all that ever does is set you up for feeling like a failure or a let-down.
If this sounds like a load of nonsense then I refer you to some of the more subtlety-calibrated body wisdoms such as Qiqong. In Qiqong, you should never practice during a wind (inside or out) because you are working with energy and such times are known to be highly destabilising to the body’s energy systems. Wind is one of the six external causes of disease in Traditional Chinese Medicine and often coincides with the others; cold, heat, damp, dryness, and summer-heat. It is an imbalance of yin and yang. Also, if you work with a modality such as Quigong or Ta Chi you will start to become sensitive to the subtleties of energy, the visceral realisation that everything is in-fact energy and how energy changes everything. I strongly suspect that some of those prone to chronic illness are already “wired” this way and pick-up on things that other people remain oblivious to. I know this for myself; when there are high winds, as has been happening for the past few days, my body becomes extremely symptomatic, even though I am in a warm and largely draught-free house, wrapped up against the elements. I have to be very careful how I sit, how I move, when its windy outside as I can easily pull a shoulder or neck out of place at these times, or disjoint a hip, perhaps overextend my knee joint or twist an ankle, even in the warmth of my house, a factor of my hypermobility I’m quite sure (and those hypermobility forums are a major place to find a lot of others talking about the effects of the weather).
So, I feel those kinds of winds that blow the trees and garden furniture around, inside my body; even solar winds, as well as changes in barometric air pressures as weather fronts arrive. I register them as they occur and, and often slightly in advance, as sometimes dramatic shifts in my physical strength and bodily sensations. There is a point, towards the end of my “downturn” season, about now in February, when my symptoms get spectacularly worse for a week or two, every year…my own personal “darkest before the dawn” moment, or perhaps testament to the fact Nature herself reserves some of her best variables for this time of seasonal transition. Paradoxically, it can also be one of my most creative and inspired seasons, if I can take measured steps to gently assert myself into such activities (painting, craft, writing, mindfulness practices), which then keeps the energy moving in a positive way. I take some comfort from the fact my year is split equally in two halves, a perfect balance between yin and yang and, again, I smile (if somewhat wryly) at how true to form this is for me…to be so black and white about it (the gift then comes from learning to find equilibrium, either way). Learning how to work equally well with the masculine or feminine, and to marry both of those aspects together as our best selves, is a life’s work, for all of us.
For instance, to bring that Yang aspect in, during a time of feeling all at sea in your symptoms, take time to learn about ways the seasons and air pressure might affect your particular condition and use that knowledge to enhance your experience but, whatever you do, don’t panic or feel hopeless as its just part of life to have to adapt to change (and some of us get plenty of opportunity to strengthen this muscle). For instance, fibromyalgia is well known to be impacted by weather variables (80% said so in a large general survey and some diagnostic criterias actually include reacting to weather as a symptomatic marker), Ehlers-Danlos is another one, and of course arthritis and migraine are well known to be affected, as are mast cell disorders and other allergies.
Winter isn’t the only season to have an effect, for instance heat and humidity can pressent major problems, for me and countless others. Many of these reactions, to extremes either way, can then trigger eipisodes of dysautonomia (disruption of the autonomic system, which is the body’s inbuilt balancing mechanism) such as Postoral Authostatic Tachycardia (PoTs), as frequently happens to me when my system has reached a threshold of coping with environmental challenges. Knowing about these things from research empowers us to work with our symptom patterns, plus keeping a health journal of what actually occurs, logging any circumstantial variables such as weather at the time, can be a hugely positive step towards geting to know our own particular version of our condition, which is the only thing that matters since we are all unique individuals. Head in the sand and attempting to dose our symptoms into oblivion when they happen is not nearly as empowering as getting to know the root causes and working with them to the best of our ability. Its a matter of personal responsibility to do this and can’t be delegated to anyone else, not even a medical person, even when they are in support, because we are the ones living with our bodies day in and day out, experiencing them from the inside.
There are also some, perhaps surprising, things I know I have to be wary of when my body is feeling such “flux” in its environment, and thus my symptom patterns, and one of them is having the central heating on or turned up all the time (another, by the way, is being on a computer for too long). Basically, any kind of highly “artificial environment” can feel awful and stagnation is such a worsening factor, so regular movement is important, even if I have to skip Quigong for a couple of days (walking to and from the kettle and regularly changing positions is also movement). Whilst the temptation might be to keep the house toasty-warm at such times, I find I react adversely to the heating system being on all the time as my body tunes into the stagnant energy and heat pressure of all that water sitting in the pipes of the house, so I find I have to flip the dial down once an optimum temperature is achieved and use warm layers of clothing to maintain my comfort…factors about my symptomatology I might not have noticed, had I not been openly curious about these patterns. By the way, it’s very hard to be the objective observer when you are in fear or resistance to something; and learning the patterns of your health is the one way you become the true master of it (as in, not “conquoring it” but steering it along, riding out the bumps), whatever it presents. Learning what methods help, what things to avoid, how to modify to cope, is just so important to thriving across the different seasons and in spite of them.
Being grateful for all the bonuses and grabbing opportunities is another way I cope. Every milder day or afternoon bathed in sunshine through the window is a wonderful gift. As soon as I am able to increase my exposures to the outside and to increased daylight in early spring, I take those opportunities to be outdoors, walking more or pottering in the garden doing little manageable tasks, even pulling up a chair to sit for a while on a mild day, wrapped up in layers…but not in a wind or other changeable conditions, as much as I used to enjoy being out in those much-more dramatic extremities in a former era of my life.
I guess I have to assume this is all part of being a Highly Sensitive Person. Lately, I’ve latched on to a phrase that really speaks to me: I choose to regard such foibles of myself as “a feature, not a flaw” of who I am. Couched in this much-more positive way, I can even stretch to accepting that my challenging months, from September to March, are not a pathology or “illness” so much as a seasonal fact of life and a sign of just how remarkably tuned-in I am to subtleties, and to nature, a factor that delivers just as many gifts as it does hardships, and so I adapt. Expecting a world where things are always the same, the weather consistent, our environment and abilities as perfectly reliable as can be is not only unrealistic but highly arrogant and Mother Nature will always bring us down a peg or two, reminding us that she knows best when we think such nonsense thoughts.
Learning to work with our variables, not lock antlers with them, makes for far smoother transitions between some of the very stark contrasts in our lives. Doing positive daily practices such as Quigong (if its not too windy!) or yoga can build up resilience for the season and prevent physical deconditioning due to reduced activity so that, when we have those dips, we ride them more easily and pick up on the other side, so perhaps consider building those habits during the better months…for next time around. We expand ourselves by building self-awareness, tuning in, establishing supportive practices that are there for us, in all weathers. We can use our growing wisdom about when it is most appropriate to act, when it is better to wait, and all of this grows us as an individual in possession of the skills of discernment, patience and humility, amongst other things. In these ways, its always a growing season, even when things feel set-back for a little while!
Preparing Your Body For Winter (Spring Forest Quigong)