‘Christmas in July’ Gives Me the Energy to Get Through 2021

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by Mike Naple |

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PHighting Words Mike Naple

Deck the pool chairs. Fire up those outdoor grills and Hallmark movies, because we’re celebrating Christmas in July!

You might view this as an odd way to start a column, especially considering the extreme heat many of us just sweltered through across the U.S. But for me, it’s a moment to express hope about what’s possible in the second half of the year.

Much of the last year and a half feels lost to me. Living with pulmonary hypertension, I worried about a potentially severe reaction should I contract COVID-19, so I practiced robust precautions to protect myself. I spent most of the year indoors, in a one-bedroom apartment I share with my partner in Washington, D.C. I would rarely venture farther than the front stoop of my apartment building, save for a few holiday visits to a family friend’s house 20 minutes away.

Although I am fully vaccinated now and have returned to some of my regularly scheduled activities, including going to my office twice a week, I can’t seem to shake the notion that everything feels so surreal. It’s like we’re navigating through an in-between period, 2020 and 2021 have gelled together into a single, uninterrupted timeline, and we’re all figuring out the best ways to move forward.

At the same time, with the Delta variant of COVID-19 becoming the dominant strain in the U.S., according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I can’t help but reflect on what I’ve lost since the start of quarantine in March 2020. In one breath, it’s hard to quantify the sheer amount of loss we’ve all experienced — the people, places, jobs, moments, and milestones we won’t get back. Yet, looking back on my lived experience frame by frame, I can feel the weight of the last 16 months.

I lost time with friends and family. I lost time with the larger PH community after the cancellation of the Pulmonary Hypertension Association’s 2020 Conference in California. I lost the nerve to change apartments or make any larger life decisions during the pandemic. I lost much of my sociability and capacity for long conversations — even with loved ones. And I now find being around a bunch of people somewhat unnerving, given the social distance I’ve experienced in the last year.

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During a mid-year PH checkup last year with my lung specialist, I learned I was deficient in vitamin D, likely from spending so much extra time quarantining in my apartment. I also lost the progress I had made in staying compliant with my treatment program for PH, particularly in the area of exercise, where my doctor insisted I needed to improve.

Keeping active is essential for people living with PH. After completing my respiratory rehab exercises in 2016, I struggled to maintain a regular exercise routine. However, in January 2020, I began walking on a treadmill three nights a week, using the fitness center in the office building where I worked. I was proud of myself, and happy to be getting into an exercise rhythm, because it meant I was prioritizing my health. That’s all gone now, and I need to redouble those efforts.

While we shouldn’t ignore the pain and loss many still face as the global community contends with how to increase vaccine rates, reduce the spread of COVID-19, and save more lives, we must find ways to recognize when things have improved, celebrate small victories, and remain optimistic throughout the rest of the year.

And that optimism brings us back to Christmas in July. I didn’t travel to my home state of California in 2020, and for the first time I was away from home on Christmas Day. This means I missed out on an annual tradition. As a San Diego native, every year I go home for the holidays I take a quick swim in the Pacific Ocean. The biting cold hits me immediately as I step into the salty water, but that doesn’t stop me from dunking my head and body surfing the waves. I find this annual swim restorative and a reflective marker of time.

Mike has a restorative swim in the Pacific Ocean while home for Christmas in Coronado, California, in 2018. (Photo by Mike Naple)

We’ve carried so much throughout the pandemic. These burdens can be heavy, especially for those of us in the chronic illness community. In the spirit of Christmas in July, and to stay motivated throughout the second half of 2021, I’m thinking of that cold holiday swim in the Pacific that I hope to experience later this year.

How are you finding ways to celebrate this month?

Follow Mike Naple on Twitter: @mnaple.

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Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News 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 Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.

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