Jody Smith explains how autumn sends her body into hibernation mode, and it’s time to slow down – or else.
I read recently that the term “autumn” is predominantly used in the U.K. “Fall” is more commonly used in the U.S. I’m Canadian, though, so I guess I can use either one. And I choose “autumn” simply because it causes less confusion. It always means the season.
Added to that, “fall” can also mean what happens to me in the autumn. Everything drops for me as summer wanes.
Even though this has been the case for about two decades, this fall or crash catches me off guard every autumn. I think that’s because the weather is still deceptively full-on summer, and my deterioration starts very gradually. I might wonder at first if I’ve got a flu bug. I might chalk it up to having been a little busier than usual.
But every year around the end of August, my body starts telling me that it’s going into its own unique hibernation mode, and it’s time to slow down for my own good – or else.
I’m not sure what causes this shift downward at the end of each summer. My guess is that it has to do with the shorter daylight hours. I suppose it could be some type of seasonal allergy, though I don’t know of any that I’m subject to. Perhaps the trees are doing something different … I don’t know.
I just know I start to need naps again. I start to experience a very subtle but pervasive sensation of an inner vibration, I don’t feel quite solid, I’m not quite steady anymore. My stamina and brain power shrinks. And I am far more prone to joint and muscle problems.
Mind you, in recent years, even the lows that come with autumn are better than my “best” used to be. But after feeling pretty darned good all summer, it is a jolt and a disappointment as I must begin to settle once again – in every discouraging sense of the word. Because each summer I am lulled into a feeling of security … a belief that I will not lose this again come autumn.
But inevitably, as the weather begins to cool, I find myself at constant risk of tendinitis, pain and inflammation, triggered by the smallest of slip-ups. Last year, I lost the use of my left knee after I switched from the sandals I’d worn all summer to a new pair of running shoes.
This season’s change with its cooler temperatures also means that I can never set the thermostat at an economical level. Anything below about 72 degrees F sets me up for sore arms, hands and feet for some reason. If I don’t protect myself from this adequately, I can end up crippled, with arms and hands useless. I have spent months in more than one autumn season having to type one-handed.
So an extra shirt or a sweater goes on and off, on and off, all day while the temperatures do their crazy ups and downs, until autumn finally takes over, and I can start dressing in layers and keeping them on. Already this year I have been given painful reminders that I can lose the use of my hands and arms, or find myself getting up in the morning unable to walk, if I don’t take precautions like a little old lady.
At 58, I am on the other side of “young” but – come on. This started when I was in my thirties.
As we all know, this condition is noted for being hard to pin down, and shows itself differently in each of us.
My 23-year-old son, Jesse, who has had ME/CFS for seven years, breathes a sigh of relief when summer heat is gone. He thrives (if that’s the term to use for someone languishing with ME/CFS) on cooler temperatures. Jesse is the type of guy who sleeps with his window open in the winter time, and is liable to wear shorts in the house year-round.
After I started taking bigger doses of vitamin D a few years ago, I stopped having such extreme crashes in the autumn. I no longer would find myself relegated to my bed, either sleeping or reading through the day. I no longer was hampered by vertigo. Paresthesias (psychedelic sensations) no longer popped and snapped like fireworks in my arms, hands, legs, feet, face. My cognition no longer went off a cliff.
The one thing that has not improved significantly, is the tendency to crippling pain and inflammation. But, I’m working on that one. I keep my muscles ridiculously warm. I never go barefoot in the house. When I start to have problems, I turn to cold packs, castor oil wraps and chiropractic visits more quickly. I know if I don’t act ASAP I can be crippled for months at a time, so I try to be proactive.
This last year has been better in that regard, and I know it’s because I’m being more careful. I got rid of my old chair in the living room, because it was an ergonomic disaster for me. I got a remote keyboard for my computer, and was rewarded with a huge decrease in back and shoulder pain, and less occurrences of swollen hands and arms.
Last year, I relied on wishful thinking instead of treatment. I ended up unable to walk in September, and limped my way to Christmas. My chiropractor was my salvation, bringing my right knee almost back to normal within about three months. Regular visits seem to keep me in reasonable working order.
Will I be able to steer clear of being crippled or bedridden this year? Time will tell.
What is autumn like for you?