As a child I hated the cold but loved winter activities. A child with arthritis has only two options, hibernate and protect oneself from pain or do the best you can to bundle up and hide from others the pain you feel to participate in outdoor activities. I choose the second option.
As a teenager, I was very active in outdoor activities. I hiked, canoed, swam, camped for weeks at a time – even during the winter months. In the winter I built my fair share of snowmen, sledded down the largest hills we could find, and relished every opportunity to ride snowmobiles. I had great friends who were always there to help drag me back up the hill to ride down it again.
After an evening of sledding I wouldn’t be able to feel anything but shooting pain in my feet or hands, I had no control over my fingers after an outdoor adventure, yet I continued to stay connected to the outdoors despite the hardships. Instinctively, I knew I needed to be outdoors. To compensate for the pain I mastered alternative ways of working around the arthritis, one skill was the art of using the heel of my palms to force the keys into the ignition and turn the key to start the car – you can only have heat in a car if you can start it. I mastered this skill, and many others, in order to live the active lifestyle ingrained in my nature.
Those days are over. While I am fortunate that the arthritis didn’t progress the way it was expected to, I no longer have the desire to fight through the pain. In my youth the pain and cold would stay with me a short while, now it stays with me the rest of the day.
With the first snowfall I realize my hibernation period has begun. I hope it is sporadic and we will have breaks in the cold enough to be able to get some fresh air from time to time but for the most part I have been pushed back indoors for the next few months to live what is an unnatural lifestyle.
We are animals, just like the bears who hibernate during the winter months. I used to crack jokes about how bears had the right idea, sleep through winter to avoid the unbearable months. As I’ve gotten older and faced the fact that I have entered the second half of my life, which year was my tipping point I won’t know until the end, I have no desire to miss even one day of life even if it means living a fourth of my days disconnected from the earth.
Now that I’ve given up on being brave about the pain choosing to hibernate, awake I should add, throughout the winter months I must make plans to keep my sanity. The proof that being disconnected from nature is unnatural is the high levels of depression experienced by those who are stuck indoors whether for work or just an avoidance of nature. This is where humans, who hate the cold, and bears are different. Bears don’t have the cognitive ability (as far as I know) to experience boredom or depression.
Children know, even if they don’t have the words to express, that a life lived separate from nature is a boring one. Never do I hear a child complain that they are bored when allowed outside no matter what the weather, but bring them indoors and boredom will soon set in. Think about it for a minute. Do your children fight more amongst themselves indoors or out? My boys spent almost every waking minute outside and never fought but stuck inside for a day due to inclement weather they were soon bickering over a toy or some slight by the other.
While many of us have known and understood the need to be connected to nature, to feel the earth beneath our feet it is only recently that we have begun to talk about the problems associated with this disconnect. In recent years books have been written on the symptoms of Nature Deficit Disorder, doctors are talking to parents encouraging them to get outside with their children instead of immediately prescribing anti-depression medications. Teachers are opening classroom windows, yes even in winter, to keep illnesses at bay.
We are slowly waking up to the dangers of living an unnatural lifestyle but we have a long ways to go before society as a whole realizes and embraces the natural solution of being connected to the earth.