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Before beginning this post, we have to acknowledge that no number of well-meaning tips are going to change the fact that we’re heading into a crisis that will disproportionately affect disabled and chronically ill people this Winter. Nobody living in one of the richest nations in the world should be having to choose between heat and food thanks to unsustainable energy costs… and as somebody who’s worked in the disability charity sector for the last five years, I know that even before this particular crisis, this has been the norm for many people for many years.
My reason for writing this post, though, is that the tips and tricks I’ve spotted online already are rarely inclusive for people with Energy-Limiting Conditions – conditions like mine, where fatigue and energy impairment are among the key characteristics. Many of us are particularly susceptible to the cold (my experiences with ME/CFS and cold sensitivity are an ongoing struggle), and yet we might not be able to simply increase our physical activity, or get out to public spaces, or even meal prep as much as we would like to. So, what the heck do we do instead?
Please bear in mind that I’m not an expert in this area by any means – I’m just a chronically ill twenty-something year old trying to live independently and make the best of things. However, I’ve tried to share each of these tips in a mindful way that will hopefully be more inclusive for people with fatigue.
If you have any tips of your own, please do share them in the comments. If you find this post helpful, you may also enjoy my Ultimate Gift Guide For The Friend Who’s Always Cold!
Thermal Clothing – Layer Before You Get Cold
For many people with chronic illnesses, getting dressed can be one of the most tiring tasks of the day. However, making good choices when you choose your outfit can pay off. Layers are your friend in the cold weather – after all, if you find yourself too warm, it’s much less tiring to remove a layer than try and add another one. I’d also highly recommend thermal clothing with specialist technology. I’ve been using HeatHolders products* for over a decade now and wear their thermal tights underneath my clothes almost every day in the Winter – more on that (including a 10% discount code) here. If you too feel the urge to hibernate under covers during every moment of your waking day, their Fleece Blankets* made from HeatWeaver material are an excellent shout too. And of course, we mustn’t forget the noble Oodie. These wearable blankets are an investment, but they’re seriously effective at retaining your heat.
Use A Long Hot Water Bottle
To help keep warm during the night, consider a long hot water bottle – the design of these usually makes them thinner than traditional hot water bottles, but much longer in length. Filling them comes with a cost, but statistics indicate that boiling a kettle for two minutes to fill a hot water bottle gives you longer-lasting heat than having an electric blanket switched on for hours. YUYU bottles are long and thin, so you can fill them up and leave them under your duvet as you get ready for bed, making it all nice and warm for you, right down to your toes, by the time you climb in. In my experience, the long hot water bottles can be a little heavy and tiring to carry once they’re full of water, but the YUYU bottle I have is also flexible and wearable – I find it much easier to transport when it’s wrapped cosily around my shoulders or waist than in my noodle arms. If it isn’t safe for you to pour boiling water due to your disability, you may like to use a microwaveable hot water bottle or heat bag instead.
Sign Up For Your Priority Services Register
Priority service registers are one of our society’s best-kept secrets. Anybody who is disabled, elderly, or vulnerable can sign up for their energy and water providers’ Priority Services Register for free, and benefit from increased support if things go wrong. Being on these registers means you can get increased notice of planned power cuts, priority support in an emergency (such as heating and cooking facilities being provided for you), help with meter readings, and so much more. I’m signed up with my local providers and usually there are no hoops to jump through – in many cases you can complete the whole thing online in just minutes, you can self-identify as disabled without having to provide medical evidence (halleluljah to that), and hopefully you’ll find comfort in knowing there’s additional support out there if needed.
Hot Drinks On Standby
We often underestimate the power of a warming drink on a bitterly cold day. I’m all for getting in your recommended five a day, by which I of course mean five cups of tea, but the cost of boiling the kettle more than usual may be a worry. Consider investing in a thermal flask* for your hot drink of choice. All you need to do is fill it up once and keep it to hand for the rest of the waking day, and it saves you the energy of having to walk to and from the kettle too. What’s your go-to hot drink choice? I’m an English Breakfast Tea gal through and through but I might try and change it up a little this year… absolutely wild scenes around here, I know.
Small Household Adjustments
Many people are talking about how to better insulate your house ahead of the cold weather, but the extra costs of disability mean that structural work isn’t an option for everybody. Instead, you could consider lower-level but still effective measures. Draught excluders are usually cheap and cheerful, easy to lift and move about, and can help to block cold air that might be entering your living space from under your doors – especially if you have wooden or wheelchair-friendly floors rather than carpets and there’s a significant gap there. You can find many draught excluders online*, but from experience, you’ll likely get the most affordable options in bargain homeware stores. Other people recommend thermal linings for curtains*, and ‘radiator reflector foil’ which reduces heat loss from your radiators by reflecting heat back into the room – this is something I’m personally looking into implementing this year.
Plan Easy, Filling Meals
Keeping warm in cold weather burns more of your body’s energy, and for us chronically fatigued folk, energy may already be in low supply. Consider the food you’re eating – what are some warm and hearty meals that are accessible for you to prepare and provide slow-release energy? If you’re looking for new ideas, Ian Taverner of Cookfulness (who lives with chronic illness) shares great information online. It’s taken a grand total of 27 years for me to train myself to like porridge but I’m glad I finally succeeded, as it’s quick and easy to prepare in the microwave (less standing time than if using the hob), nice and warming to eat in bed on a cold morning, and the oats and flaxseed I use give me some of the nutrients I need to help me get through the day. Write down a list of hearty meals for the winter, then consider how you can make them more energy-friendly to prepare, adapt them for any food allergies, and think about where to buy your ingredients most affordably. I don’t mind telling you that bulk buying my preserves and keeping them in a flat with not much storage means I currently have multiple boxes of Quaker Oats stacked up in my bedroom wardrobe…
Elevate Your Feet
This tip is a new one for me, but it’s applicable in more ways than one. Firstly, heat rises, so it makes sense that the coldest part of the room you’re in will be the floor – right where your feet usually are. Secondly, elevating your feet is a key management tactic for people with autonomic dysfunction. Right now, I’m sat at my desk writing this post in my usual position, with my legs crossed up on the chair. If keeping your legs elevated helps you manage autonomic dysfunction and improves your circulation, then it could also be a handy trick to keep your blood flowing the way it should, even if your movement is limited due to chronic illness. If you aren’t comfortable crossing your legs due to pain or postural difficulties, consider resting them on a foot sling* or stool instead.
Check Your Eligibility For Winter Fuel Or Cold Weather Payments
If you’re claiming certain disability benefits or Support For Mortgage Interest, you may be eligible for extra support during the colder months. A Cold Weather Payment is issued if the average temperature in your local area is recorded as (or forecast to be) below zero degrees (c) for seven days in a row: £25 for each seven-day period, to use towards additional costs. If you were born on or before 25/09/1956, you’re eligible for a Winter Fuel Payment, to help you pay your heating bills. Both of these measures should be paid automatically into your bank account, but keep an eye out for them – if you’re missing a payment, you can use the gov.uk website to resolve the issue.
Heated Gadgets – Hot Hands and Spacemasks
I’m always conflicted about recommending single-use gadgets because of their environmental impact, but I also know from lived experience that heated gadgets can be something of a mobility aid – something that makes your day more comfortable and somewhat reduces the challenges your disability presents. With that in mind, Hot Hands* are a great solution for in and out of the house. All you do is shake the little packet to activate it, and then it’ll heat up and stay warm for 8-10 hours. I will urge caution with these though – last year I popped one in my pocket while out and about on a wheelchair adventure, basked in the glorious warmth, then later that day realised it was so hot on my skin that I’d burned my leg through my jeans. A similarly comforting and less high-risk product is Spacemasks, self-heating eye masks that not only relax you and release tension, but also provide a source of warmth if your temperature plummets during your rest time. If anybody can recommend any similar gadgets that are reusable or more sustainable, please do let me know!
I hope you find some of these tips helpful! Feel free to share any of your own in the comments. If you’re feeling worried about the upcoming season, you have my empathy. Take good care of yourself, look out for others, and here’s to making the most of what we have – after all, it’s what us chronically ill folk do best…