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I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2007. I don’t know if I remember that summer so vividly because I’ve spoken and written about it so many times over the years. Or if it’s simply embedded in my MS fog-riddled mind because it was the start of so many changes to come. It was the starting line for a race that would have no winner and no end.
I’m sitting on the beach, toes just barely touching the water’s edge, watching the kids jumping waves and gathering moon jellies. I shift my weight and stomp my right foot. Although I haven’t been sitting in a funny or awkward position, my foot seems to have fallen asleep.
It’s that heavy, dead feeling you get when your foot falls asleep. The one you get before you stomp or shake your foot, and get the pins and needles. And so, as I sit on my boogie board, at the edge of the water, I stomp. I stomp, and stomp, and stomp, until the kids think it’s some new game I’ve invented and run over to join in.
It’s the four of us, sitting at the water’s edge, stomping up a storm. You would think that the pins and needles would arrive, that my foot would shake off its grogginess, and that would be the end of the story.
Only, that’s not what happened. My foot remained numb and seemed to sleep the summer away. That first summer, there were other signs and symptoms. My vision would blur, and I remember an electric shock running up my spine whenever I was in the shower. Each seemed to come and go as it pleased, waltzing in and out of my life on a whim.
I was in the phase in my life when I’d finally decided to shed the last of the baby weight, and had begun focusing on my physical fitness. I was also the mom to three kids under the age of seven, so to say I was active would be an understatement. None of the symptoms mentioned above stopped me from all my activities, they were just an annoying sidekick, along for the ride. I self-diagnosed myself with a pinched nerve and figured it would eventually heal, and I would soon forget my summer of stomping.
What I didn’t know then was that I was experiencing my first MS flare-up. I also didn’t know that heat exacerbated any and all symptoms that I might be experiencing, or the fact that my still running despite the heat more than likely played a role in my dead feet.
These days I still work out. I still head to the beach any chance I get. I love to go camping and spending time out on our fishing boat. But all of these things often involve hot weather and conditions that can make even the slightest symptoms rear up like an unwanted visitor.
I love summertime and I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit inside. I want to be able to enjoy being outside, in the sun, soaking up that vitamin D.
But as the years have gone by, I may have matured a bit. I’m much more likely to try and ward off the symptoms before they get bad, rather than just let them take over, and then trying to ignore them. Here is my list of things I use regularly in the summertime to beat the heat:
1. A cooling vest
I recently came across a cooling vest from ThermApparel called UnderCool — and just in the nick of time! It arrived as temperatures hit 96 degrees! While I didn’t do very much — just some light house and yard work — wearing this under my tank top helped a ton! I can certainly see it being useful and inconspicuous at the gym, and I’ll most definitely see if it’ll help when we’re out fishing on the boat on hot days.
2. A cooling bandana
I love this one, since it really isn’t noticeable as a cooling product. The one I use looks just like a regular bandana that I wear in my hair.
3. A handheld fan
I arrived home from a weekend-long soccer tournament that had me standing on fields in the relentless heat for hours on end, and immediately ordered one of these. I’ve also found it to be great when we’re camping and when out on the boat.
4. A cooling towel
The one that I currently have — in orange for MS! — is the latest in a long line of cooling towels I’ve owned over the years. I always have it with me and find it really does help lower my body temperature.
5. A cooling pillow mat
I find that on hot nights, cooling my head and face off with a cooling pillow mat as I’m trying to fade off into sleep helps a ton. I get to sleep faster and seem to sleep a little better.
6. The perfect water bottle
We all know how important it is to stay hydrated in the summer. I swear by this Klean Kanteen water bottle. I’ve had mine for 14 years and, from the looks of it, it will last another 14 and then some. I once left it in the car on a beach day, and when I returned, there was still ice floating in it!
7. “Granny” glasses
I’ve worn Ray-Ban sunglasses for years and years, but when I have issues with my eyes, I can’t wear my contacts. So, I bought a pair of the “over-the-glasses” sunglasses. Shawn and the kids do enjoy making fun of me and my old lady sunglasses … but hey, I figure it’s better to be able to see than worry about my image.
8. A cowboy hat
I’m a hat wearer. Any and all seasons, I often throw a cap on my head — although these days that might have more to do with bedhead or not showering, than warding off the weather. In the summertime, I know that wearing a hat that provides shade for my neck and face can really help! One of my standards is a cowboy hat. I have fallen in love with a cotton one I got a few years ago. It’s easy to pack, and you can always toss it in water or spray it for an extra cooling effect.
9. Portable shade canopy
We have one of these now for camping. Although I do try and get sites with a shady spot, this isn’t always possible. After a few too many trips with limited shade from the sun, I broke down and got one. I now wonder why I waited so long, as I’ve learned that even 20 minutes out of the direct sun can really help improve my vision and other issues from the heat.
10. A kiddie pool
Long ago, we always had one of these for the kids, but more recently I went out and got another one. Laugh if you want, but on really hot days, there’s nothing better than filling up the kiddie pool and dipping my feet in. Plus, the dogs love it too — I often find myself fighting for room!
11. The right snacks
I think I will forever schlep around a ‘mommy bag’ — you know, the one that’s big enough to fit everything and the kitchen sink in it. Even before becoming a mom, I always needed to be prepared. And one thing that I’m never without is snacks.
I’ve learned that not eating and messing around with my blood sugar levels is never a good thing, and can most definitely heighten my symptoms. Often in the heat, I don’t feel like eating much, so having small snacks that pack a punch works well for me — I just have to make sure to keep my kids away from them or they’ll disappear!
- Almonds: These are a great way to get some protein, and you don’t need to worry about them spoiling in the heat.
- Jerky: I don’t eat beef, but turkey jerky is a great snack for camping, hiking, or a day at the beach.
- Fresh fruit: Especially bananas and apples, which are easy to pack and don’t need cleanup.
- Cut-up vegetables: Lately, I’ve been on a radish and snap pea kick, but cauliflower, carrots, and jicama are often in the mix.
Summer has always been my favorite season. I love being out in the sun, on or by the water, or just outside amidst all that nature has to offer. It’s unfortunate that my life partner, MS, doesn’t like the heat, but I’m certainly not going to let that stop me from taking part in the activities I love.
I think it’s great that there are more and more products out there that can help alleviate some of the heat-related issues I encounter, and help me enjoy my summer!
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