Coping | Daily Life | IBD
Excitement looms among many New Englanders as the days grow longer, and the snow turns to rain. Local stores pull out their beach chairs, flip flops, and sundresses. And, people count down the days until they can rest on the beach with a good book.
Then there is me. Besides the presence of a book, there is nothing that excites me in this description above. While everyone around me wishes the winter and spring away, I yearn for a little more reprise. Summer is not my time.
I used to love summer. When I was a kid, I practically lived outside from March through October. I spent my free time reading in a hammock, ‘hiking’ in the small wooded area of my backyard, riding my bike, playing with my dog, and swimming at friends’ houses (when I was lucky!). I enjoyed running through sprinklers, hiking, and camping. I could spend all day in the sun and still protest bedtime. Who wants to sleep?
As my teen years approached, I began growing increasingly intolerant of the heat. I started getting headaches and exhaustion when I was outside too long. My dry, pale skin burned and flaked easily. By the time I reached my mid-teens, I was an indoor girl. I went camping with Girls Scouts in the Fall and swimming at friends’ houses, but that was the limit of my outdoors’ activities. I spent my free time in the summer reading in my room with my window-unit AC blasting at 70 degrees (much to my parents’ disapproval).
IBD further obliterated my relationship with summer. My worst flares and symptoms occur in the warm weather. I spent most of the summers of 2018 and 2019 trapped inside the hospital, staring at the world outside. I yearned for a little fresh air and promised myself I would spend time outside as soon as I was discharged. I knew I would not want to go outside in the heat of the day, but I thought I would enjoy a little sun in the early afternoon. There is always something intriguing about forbidden things.
Reality always set in on my first day home. I would enthusiastically grab a book, a pillow, and a blanket and find a shady spot in the yard to relax. As I tried to settle, I would take a deep breath of fresh air only to realize that deep breaths are virtually impossible in the humid New England summer air. Okay, I always told myself, so it’s a little mucky. You still need to enjoy some fresh air after being locked up inside a germ-infested hospital. As the minutes passed (yes, only minutes), I would start growing increasingly hot, sticky, and light-headed. But, I would still try to push on, gulping down as much electrolyte-infused water as possible. After all, you are supposed to spend time outside in the summer, right? It would be ridiculous to go inside on a ‘beautiful’ summer day, right? Some of the nurses had even advised me to take advantage of the healing aspect of the great outdoors.
Even with the electrolyte-infused water, and shade, I could feel my body hating the weather as much as I did. My abdominal cramps would increase and I grew light-headed. I usually ended up going inside after about 20 minutes, feeling defeated and foolish.
There is definitely guilt associated with being inside during the summer. Society views summer as the time to be outside and reconnect with nature. But, this ideal is not for everyone. I have spent a significant amount of this summer inside. Sometimes, I go outside for short bursts. For example, I might spend some time in a friend’s pool or sit on the hammock in the shade. However, I keep these ventures short. I never go out in the heat of the day and I go back inside as soon as my body starts signaling that it is unhappy. I also go outside at night when the sun is down and the air is cooler. If it is not too humid or buggy, I will go for a walk around the block.
I refuse to feel guilty about the way I spend my summer. There is nothing wrong with cuddling up inside with a book when the sun is shining outside. You are not wasting your summer when you are doing what is best for you. Our bodies all have unique needs and we are the ones who know them best.