The isolating reality of navigating cold and flu season with SMA
How protecting my body can take a toll on my mental health
There’s an old adage that says March comes in like a lion, but where I’m from, it comes in more like a tease. In New England, March is still cold and snowy, and it seems to drag on for much longer than 31 days. But as soon as the clock jumps ahead and the sun changes position in the sky, spring feels imminent. Despite the fact that there’s sleet falling from the sky, I can feel the hopefulness and renewal that comes with a shift in seasons.
That’s because March has always marked the tail end of cold and flu season for me. Long before the pandemic made social distancing and quarantining common, I’d go into hibernation mode from December through March in order to stay healthy — or at least try.
This is a personal decision of mine. There’s no SMA rulebook with a mandatory stay-at-home order. There’s no requirement by my doctor that I lie low during these months. It’s something I choose to do every year.
Of course, that isn’t to say it’s easy. In fact, choosing to stay home is incredibly difficult for my mental well-being. It’s isolating, monotonous, and something I truly dread every time autumn comes along.
Not worth the risk
Nevertheless, I know it’s the right decision for me. My body can’t fight off a cold as well as a nondisabled person. It can’t fight off any infection well. I’ve been hospitalized due to respiratory infections enough times in my life to know that getting sick can be life-threatening for me. Risking it all for a trip to Target or brunch with friends has never made sense to me.
At the same time, I know I need to strike a balance. I can’t lock myself in my home and throw away the key forever. Although my mental health suffers while I’m tending to my physical health, it doesn’t make nurturing it less important. Scheduling FaceTime calls with friends, going for drives, and even inviting friends over when they’re healthy is how I pass my days in the winter months. I’m also fortunate to work from home, which keeps me busy.
Though it sounds promising and safe, my yearly ritual of staying home doesn’t exempt me from getting sick. I still have doctor appointments to attend. I still have caregivers entering my home. I am still getting exposed to germs in some ways.
During the last two weeks of March, I caught my caregiver’s cold and was sick for the first time in four years. Technically, it was a mistake on my part. She had been sick for 10 days already, so I assumed she was no longer contagious and told her to come.
Thankfully, my cold was manageable, and I was able to treat it with frequent nebulizer treatments and chest physical therapy at home. Even so, it was a powerful reminder that staying home, regardless of how isolating or depressing it may feel, is in my best interest.
Now that March (and my cold) is behind me, I can feel the sweetness of spring. It’s like Mother Nature’s way of rewarding me for another winter spent at home. The world is finally beginning to thaw. And I am finally beginning to bloom again.
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.