For most people, going to the beach would elicit joyous squeals. But for some, especially people with multiple sclerosis, a beach outing is followed by an “Oh no!” and an eye roll.
My other friends see the beach as a relaxing day, but to anyone like me who has a chronic and degenerative illness like MS, such an announcement can be hell.
Why? Because heat and multiple sclerosis do not mix. To those of us with a chronic illness, it’s akin to announcing we get to run a marathon with no training — and with a child on our back.
But no fear, experience is here! As I’ve grown with this disease, I’ve learned how to approach the beach in a smarter, proactive way. Plus, as my children have grown out of their eating sand stage, things have gotten easier. It’s possible to make a day at the beach not only doable, but enjoyable, especially for someone with MS!
If you have a partner, friend, or family member who’s willing to go with you, swell! It means half the work and all the more help. It makes your life so much easier, especially if you have more than one child, so take advantage!
You want to prevent your worst symptoms (and grumpy-self) from coming out. Any amount of heat or even humidity can worsen MS symptoms, so fill a spray bottle and stick it in the freezer. Pack it in your bag when you’re ready to go and by the time you hit the beach, you’ll have fresh, cold water, which you can use to continuously spray yourself. This will help keep you cool while moderating your body temperature.
Try to stay in the water as much as possible so you don’t overheat and unintentionally bring on any symptoms. If you aren’t into swimming, do what I do and put your chair in the ocean! I sit so that the water comes up to my waist, where I can still read and keep cool. When my children were younger, I’d seat them next to me so they could still be in the water, too. It was perfect. They’d build sand castles and catch shells with me while I sat in my chair.
But also, drink water! For some reason, when there’s water around us, we forget that hydration begins in our bodies first. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Try going to the beach before the sun hits its peak.
Whether we have the kids or not, I have the most energy in the morning. We tend to go to the beach at around 7:30 a.m. when no one is there and the sun is kindest.
When I first get to the beach, I always put my head under a faucet and cool myself with cold, wet hair. I also bring a visor or hat. Hats do keep heat in, so I often prefer to use a visor with wet hair and then switch to a hat later in the day so my scalp doesn’t burn. Which leads me to my next tip …
Put sunscreen everywhere, even your scalp. If you get burned anywhere, your nerve-wracked body won’t know how to regulate its temperature. So, scalp included. Feet included. Put it everywhere.
Nothing navigates the sand, in my humble opinion, better than a baby jogger.
If you have a baby jogger or know someone who doesn’t want theirs, take it. I could no longer run with my baby in my baby jogger, but that contraption still served a great purpose in our lives. We stored everything on that jogger. A standard fold up stroller is useless as soon as it gets on sand. Mine saved me much needed strength that would be better used on the beach with my kids.
Lather the baby up with lotion before their nap and then wait for them to sleep. As soon they’re in dreamland, put them in the baby jogger (make sure there’s a canopy!) and head down to the beach. This trick is especially helpful if you’re exhausted or have an older child too.
Just make sure you’re attentive that the baby is protected from the sun and heat and don’t forget to spray them with cold water here and there.
My family has met me halfway now. We stay at a campsite near the beach. There’s trees and a pool, and I finally get to truly relax. It’s a beautiful compromise.
I never thought I’d say this since my diagnosis but I can finally agree: I can’t wait until we leave for the beach next week!
If you have any beach hacks, please feel free to let us know. If MS has taught me anything it’s that there’s strength in numbers. I learn so much from others in our community sharing tips.
Jamie Tripp Utitus is a mama with MS. She began writing after her diagnosis, which led her to become a fulltime freelance writer. She writes about her experience coping with MS on her blog Ugly Like Me. Follow her journey on Facebook @JamieUglyLikeMe.