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How I Survive Summer Isolation When My Illness Causes Heat Intolerance

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Summer in North Carolina is brutal even for the most heat-tolerant and if you have a chronic illness that is temperature sensitive, the summer can quickly become unbearable. After ending up in the ER last summer from spending 10 minutes outside on a hot summer day, I have been told not to go outside if the heat index is over 90 degrees. This may be OK if you live in cooler climates, but in the South, this happens for a good part of the year. And if I do have to brave the climates, I have to take a lot of heat precautions.

I used to be a complete thermophile – I reveled in the summer’s heat. But now, I can barely get to my car without feeling like I’m going to faint. It definitely has taken a mental toll on me because before getting postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, I could never imagine spending nearly three months straight indoors. I used to spend this time hiking, backpacking, going on runs, listening to outdoor concerts, dancing to swing bands and spending long days on the beach. Being active, especially during summer breaks, was a big part of what made me who I was, but since getting POTS, I have had to really rethink what defines me.

Having a chronic illness can be mentally suffocating, especially when you are severely limited to where you can go. While your peers travel around the world, take on summer college classes, teach at summer camps and celebrate the summertime at festivals, you are at home, looking out the window and hoping that one day, you too can enjoy that freedom again. While seasonal depression hits most in the winter months, I would venture to say that it is the opposite for those with chronic illnesses. It is a true test of optimism and willpower to remain positive when secluded indoors and alone for so much of your time. Much of that success is dependent upon how you fill your days to stave off cabin fever.

What can I do to fill the summer days without taxing my body too much, but maintaining some degree of a healthy state of mind? What can I do on bad days? But more importantly, what can I do on the good days when I do have some physical freedom but am stuck in my igloo of a house? So here is my how-to-survive-the-summer plan. Hopefully, it will help you find ideas as well.

  1. Get my medical billing and coding certificate. You can take a lot of cheap online classes for fun or to help prepare for a work-from-home job at your local community college!
  2. Start and continue working on my blog, Chronically Salty! Do you like writing or making artwork? Do you enjoy cooking and baking new recipes or spend a lot of time working on photography? WordPress and Wix have free site domains you can use to share those interests with friends, family and the rest of the internet. It’s a great way to connect with people and you can market through other social media avenues as well.
  3. Get through another month of the Levine Protocol. Part of my POTS plan is cardiac rehab (which I actually have come to love doing). I have finally gotten to the rowing machine, which I am pretty stoked about! So if you are stuck in the AC, but want to be more active, you could try chair yoga classes, lower body workouts, recumbent biking at home with a pedaler or go to a local gym. I try to stay as active as possible and somehow, in my tiny 600 sq ft house, I have even been able to get 4-5,000 steps a day!
  4. Study for the MCAT. The MCAT is the medical school entrance exam. I am still nervous about how test day will actually play out, but challenging my mind is one of the ways I navigate this chronic illness world. Maybe you have been waiting for a time to study for the GRE or finish up some credits left at school. Now is a great time to get those accomplished!
  5. Tutor online. I am a chemistry tutor for pretty much all levels and tutoring online through Chegg or other sources helps me stay fresh with that material. Chegg is great, because you only have to work when you want to and they pay decently. If you have a college degree and want to make some extra cash, online tutoring could be an option for you!

Some other options to consider:

  1. Pet sitting. You could have animals brought to your house during the day, so instead of being stuck in a crate while the owners are at work, they can be hanging out with you! If you have a fenced-in yard or a place to put a line, you can easily watch the pet from your door or window while they are outside.
  2. Coloring books. I’ve seen a lot of people with chronic illnesses use adult coloring books to pass the time. I’m excited about the human anatomy coloring book I’ve got to help me learn anatomy while I color!
  3. Create an online book club. I am super excited about a local book club I have been able to create via Skype. Sometimes you begin to feel like you are the only one stuck inside, but by opening a platform for other women with chronic illnesses in my area, I have found that there are many people facing similar situations. You also get some motivation to keep reading! Try looking at Meetup for groups near you or to start your own.
  4. Host a puzzle party. I am an avid puzzler. I love opening a new 1000-piece puzzle and finishing it in a week or two. It helps pass the time and keeps your brain moving. I even have puzzle parties where friends come and we try and finish one in a night!
  5. Call your grandma. You know who is also probably inside because of the heat and lonely? Your grandparents! Seriously! When I am stuck inside and bored it reminds me that they probably are as well, so having that long gossip hour with your grandma can really be nice – for the both of you! woman and her grandma

This story originally appeared on Chronically Salty.

Originally published: June 29, 2018
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