Cold Weather Tool Kit Essentials

The anticipation of the winter season brings joy and excitement to many as it heralds the arrival of holidays and gatherings with loved ones. However, for those of us living with conditions like SMA (spinal muscular atrophy), the winter season also means preparing to combat the unforgiving cold that often accompanies our cherished festivities.

Cold weather and harsh conditions

From September to March, it's an ongoing battle for me, struggling against my body's limitations, as well as the harsh, unpredictable weather conditions, including ice, snow, sleet, and sub-freezing temperatures. I avoid all of these cold weather situations passionately in the winter.

As someone with SMA, I face unique challenges when the cold weather sets in. For those who can be physically active during winter, the plummeting temperatures may not be as significant. However, for individuals like me who lead a more sedentary lifestyle, generating body heat becomes a formidable task.

Pain and stiffness from the cold

When the cold creeps in, my entire body seizes up, causing severe aches and stiffness. My hands and feet are typically the first to succumb to the biting chill. When this happens, my fingers become painful and rigid, making even basic tasks, like maneuvering my power wheelchair or handling everyday objects, a big ordeal.

Hard to warm up my cold bones

When the cold penetrates my feet, it often takes hours to warm them up. Once the cold settles into my bones, it triggers the arthritis from past injuries, and my body remains cold well into the evening and nighttime hours. For example, if I go out around noon and get severely cold, my body takes until midnight with a heated blanket to regain the warmth I lost earlier in the day.

To combat the cold's effects on my extremities, I've discovered a few effective solutions. My go-to choice is Hothands Hand Warmers, readily available at retailers like Walmart, Amazon, and Dicks Sporting Goods. Once activated by shaking in sunlight or artificial light, these convenient warmers remain remarkably warm for hours. However, I must caution that these can become hot enough to burn the skin, so use them carefully if you lack sensation in your hands or the area you're applying them. You might wonder why I don't simply wear gloves. While gloves are an option, they can sometimes make it more challenging to move my fingers comfortably, making hand warmers the preferable choice.

Unfortunately, due to my feet being bowed to the sides and quite thick from not walking on them, it’s difficult to wear sneakers and boots. To keep my feet cozy, I've found that Heatholders socks, lined with sherpa to trap body heat, do the job perfectly. I wear regular socks underneath the Heatholders, and I barely notice that I'm not wearing shoes.

Now that we've addressed the issue of hands and feet let's dive into how I ensure the rest of my body stays warm throughout the long winter months.

Bundling up

Heated blankets are essential in my arsenal of tools to stay warm. I found an affordable one at Target, and I use it religiously, wrapping myself in its warmth all day during winter. Heck, I even use it on those extra cold A/C days during the summer! Even the slightest chill in my legs or arms can disrupt my body's balance and hinder my ability to perform even the simplest tasks.

Thermal clothing is also a wonderful choice to keep the cold at bay. I don’t wear jeans because they’re uncomfortable, so I prefer leggings! Thermal leggings and long-sleeved shirts are designed to help keep you warm. You can’t go wrong there.

Layers upon layers

I've adopted a strategy of layering lighter clothing rather than donning heavy sweatshirts and sweaters. Hoodies can sometimes feel too cumbersome, depending on the fabric. By layering lighter garments and using lightweight throw blankets, I achieve the same warmth as a bulky coat while maintaining the mobility I need daily. I’m sure people look at me like, “Where is this young woman’s coat?” when it’s 32 degrees outside, but I assure you I’m warm. I’m just going about it in a nonconventional way.

Additionally, I limit the time I spend outdoors during the cold months. If there's no pressing need to brave the cold, I prefer to stay indoors and admire the snow from the warmth and comfort of my window.

Space heaters play a crucial role in maintaining a warmer room temperature. Having a space heater running allows me to wear lighter clothing without succumbing to the chill. Accepting that I'll always be the coldest person in the room has helped me embrace these tools, ensuring my comfort without subjecting my family to scorching indoor temperatures.

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Staying warm and independent

Staying warm and maintaining independence are closely intertwined. Without these tools at my disposal, I might find myself bundled up in a blanket burrito, immobile and shivering through the holiday season. And you know what? That's perfectly okay. The cold can be exhausting on both the body and bones. If you ever need a day to cocoon yourself in a warm blanket, go for it. Self-care is essential.

I hope these tips will help you stay snug and cozy throughout the winter season. Enjoy the magic of the snow from the comfort of your warm sanctuary. I’d love to hear what you do to stay warm. What’s in your cold weather toolkit?

Stay warm, stay well!

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