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A person in block out goggles wears a red bandana and top. In the background are palm trees and big fans.

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A person in block out goggles wears a red bandana and top. In the background are palm trees and big fans.

Surviving a swollen and sweaty summer

The Kiwi Summer has a cult status in Aotearoa. But the festivals, the beach and the hiking can be inaccessible for those of us in the disabled and chronically ill communities. 

  • Surviving a swollen and sweaty summer
    Becki Moss
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  • The Kiwi Summer has a cult status in Aotearoa. The days slathered with sunscreen at the beach, that first swim, beers and BBQs and celebrations outdoors. Unlike our colonial counterparts in the US, UK and Canada, our Christmas and New Year's Eve celebrations are spent wearing shorts, and dresses and soaking up the sun as opposed to being warm and cosy indoors. Summer in Aotearoa is when there seems to be a music festival every week, a BBQ or picnic every weekend and most of your friends seem to get sunburnt at least once. 

    However, a lot of what Kiwis enjoy about summer - the festivals, the beach and the hiking can be inaccessible for those of us in the disabled and chronically ill communities. 

    I grew up chronically ill, becoming more disabled by my conditions in the last four years and have subsequently built up a toolkit for ‘surviving summer’. As our community is incredibly diverse, not all of these ideas will work for everyone but I hope you can find some inspiration. 

    Coping with the heat

    I live in Tāmaki Makaurau which is notorious for hot and muggy summers and as someone who can’t regulate my temperature very well and who gets swollen legs from my blood pressure medication, staying cool in the heat is vital to my ability to sleep and function. 
    Many people taking medication are at higher risk of overheating during hot weather and developing heat stroke, so staying cool is important. Common medications may increase the dangers of heat waves too.

    Using a flexible plastic bucket filled with cold water when sitting down (outside or inside) is a great way to help with swollen, hot feet/legs and also helps cool my body temperature. Damp flannels stored in the freezer and then placed around my neck or forehead is another great way to feel cooler. 

    Swimming

    I grew up doing swimming lessons from when I was a baby and had always been a confident swimmer until MeCFS took away the feeling of safety I had about whether or not I could swim to survive. A few years ago I bought a swim ring from The Warehouse or Kmart and haven’t looked back. I highly recommend it for those who are nervous about swimming or are worried about the energy expended from swimming. 

    Boundaries with friends and whānau and knowing your limits

    It’s really easy to get caught up in summer activities and to want to go along with what everyone else is doing not to feel left out. Learning about what your energy limits are or how many spoons you’ve got that day or week is important. Learning how to best communicate those to the ones we love can be a hurdle but it’s vital to avoid burnout and enjoy summer (at your own pace). 

    Earplugs or noise-cancelling earphones: Summer can be a great time for seeing friends, whānau and going to events but the noise levels can add to overstimulation and exhaustion (or a lack of sleep if you're sharing a sleeping space with people you usually wouldn't). I take mine wherever I go so that I can have space away from the noise even if I can't move away from it. 

    Keeping things cool

    A personal chilly bin is useful for keeping medications and other supplies out of the heat especially when staying at places without air-conditioning or travelling long distances in cars. Many medications need to be stored at certain temperatures and if you're not using it for those you can also use it for fruit, iceblocks, cold drinks, water and other items to keep you going. Bunnings sells one for $19 or a Kmart one is $25.

    Everyone's experience of summer and hot weather will be different due to work and home circumstances, medical conditions, disabilities and location in Aotearoa but I hope that this list sparks some ideas for surviving summer.