The Mighty Logo

Why I Don't Dream of a White Christmas as Someone With Chronic Fatigue

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

It is apparent in my voice as I look up at the sky after the fairly hefty snowfall we had a couple of days ago. I’m not quite sure if I’m talking to the Snow God. I’m quite sure that some cultures believe in a Rain God. But a Snow God? Honestly, I would have to look that one up. Where I live, snow does not usually come until the very last day of October. Sometimes, we get treated and the snow does not come until [gasp] the end of November! Extremes of cold and heat are very, very stressful to someone who is chronically fatigued, or to someone who is immunocompromised.

There are wonderful but greatly misinformed people living in year-round greenery who wish so fervently for a white Christmas. Snow often heralds below freezing temperatures. To Canadians, that means below zero degrees Celcius. With a wind chill, even lower. To Americans, that translates to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. By Christmas, temperatures where I live drop to approximately 25 degrees below zero (-13 degrees Fahrenheit). To people with chronic illness, pain, and depression, snow marks the beginning of an upward battle of extra energy expenditure.  

For example, cars and trucks here are equipped with block heaters so they can be plugged in to warm the engine to make them easier to start. I could technically plug my truck in all night and have a 95 percent guarantee that my truck would start for work in the morning. The power bill, however, would be higher. So not only did I have to go outside for much of the winter in minus 25 to 30 degree Celcius when the weather is dark to plug in my vehicle for an hour before work, I had to stumble around in the dark with my huge boots, pajamas and any coat I could find to throw on. I took off my mittens and shoved the car plug into the receptacle plug as the cold air stung my bare hands. I had to crouch down, waiting for the sound of the block heater. I struggled to my feet, and then stumbled back to my home. By the time I got ready, put makeup on, started the vehicle and drove away, exactly one half of the energy (mental and physical) I could have used for that day was lost.

I went from freezing cold, to sweating in my vehicle, to freezing cold, to arriving at work sweating. Eighty percent of the time I had a migraine at this point. I kept a mini-pharmacy in my locked drawer. Along with a bottle of whisky. I’m joking about the whisky. Ten minutes before the doors to the office would open, I would sit on a toilet in the bathroom stall and cry.  Crying also is an energy expenditure. 

By 2 p.m. my brain fog was comfortably nestled in, and so was my migraine headache. I had a migraine every day. Everyone else had to do the same thing I’d had to do that morning and they were prancing around the office, eating bananas and talking about their trips to Machu Picchu. Then I had to go home — again from a warm, sweaty environment to a freezing cold one — to another warm sweaty environment. I was alone and defeated. I ate chocolate and wished for alcohol, but both my mind and my body had left me there on my couch, like a helpless infant, unable to do anything.

I’ve had my fair share of early mornings, and also I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been stuck in the snow. And just sat in the driver’s seat, crying like a baby, wailing “I can’t dooooo thi ii sss…”, and would snort my snot back up into my nose before it got a chance to turn into an icicle. I never had the strength to push my pickup truck out of a jam all by myself, especially at 6 p.m. when everybody was heading home after work. This was, of course, before cell phones were something everyone had. My eyelashes would start to freeze shut like the proverbial Sam McGee’s (seriously), as I tried to remove the ice that was accumulating on my windshield like a smooth, impenetrable, slightly bumpy second windshield with my useless credit card because I’d forgotten to bring an axe-like instrument. Or just an axe. Actually, the no axe was good because I’d have destroyed my windshield and possibly other cars in the process.

After being out in the cold for awhile, my vehicle would no longer start. That is when I would have to take a long walk to a phone booth and call someone to rescue me. By this time, whoever was on the other end of the line must have felt like a 911 operator. I’d blubber into the phone “I just wanna ugh ugh…sniff…snifff…get home…please.” The roadside assistance operator would tell me to calm down, get me to tell her where I was, and what the problem was. I would tearfully respond, saying “They locked me out of the building. I can’t get back into work. I’m freezing. I don’t know what to do.”

Eventually, I climbed into the tow truck that arrived. It smelled like Pennzoil and cigarettes inside. If it had also smelled like cat piss, I wouldn’t have given a damn. It was warm. My vehicle was towed out of its rut to my home and given a new battery. Those events may have occurred in the opposite order, I don’t remember. I gladly paid, went inside and collapsed.  

I didn’t go into work the next day because all of my energy had been expended the previous day. Because “I’m too tired” is an unacceptable excuse for not showing up at work. I have had far too many winter experiences like this that just sucked the soul right out of me and left me sitting on my bed wondering who I was for several hours.

Winter is pretty in pictures and in the movies. I wonder if the guy who wrote “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” had a lovely green Christmas with palm trees and a swimming pool. So now you understand why I don’t go running outside at the first snowfall with a red scarf hastily affixed around my neck, trailing in the breeze behind me, with the swelling of orchestral music in the background, just to open my arms and stick out my tongue to catch the first of winter’s flakes. God, I was never any good at fiction.

Originally published: October 12, 2016
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home