Asthma in My Head

Last updated: April 2021

Wake up. Some mornings, my brain begins to scan my body—specifically, my lungs. Instinctually. Others, I don’t feel the existence of my lungs; don’t think about my asthma until I see my inhalers on the counter. I take the inhalers. A good morning means 5 puffs of medicine, a not-so-good one means more.

Before I leave the house I scan the weather. If it’s hot or rainy, the humidity. If it’s cold, the windchill. Not much I can do about the weather but it’s nice knowing what to predict. I check my pocket for my inhaler.

I walk to the bus stop, repeatedly glancing at the minutes remaining before my bus’s arrival to regulate my pace. I don’t want to have to try to run—and worse I don’t want to have to run and not make the bus.

On the lookout for triggers

On the bus as with most other places, I constantly but unconsciously scan for triggers. I do this everywhere, subconsciously: The laundry aisle at the supermarket. The soap in public (or other) bathrooms. The smokers hovering outside the doorways. The person who isn’t allowed to smoke their pot inside their hotel room, so the smoke from their now-legal (in Canada) cannabis wafts in through the vents in the car. The giant cloud of smoke filling a street in the south end of the city from leaves burning—once we pass, we briefly open the windows to clear the air. Yes, those last two happened on the same day. I sing in the car, but thanks to the smoke exposure, that joy is cut short.

I arrive home. Despite my inhaler sitting in my pocket the whole time, I finally take two puffs. I wait. This time, I feel better within 10 minutes—it’s not always so quick. My heart rate increases for a while. Normal.

Muting my cough and other asthma symptoms

I hit the mute button on the phone reflexively to avoid blasting the sound of my cough through my headset microphone. It’s a habit now, muting the cough. I barely think about it, but I do it.

I just started a new job, thankful my coworker and I have had to have no awkward discussions about my asthma. Unlike other jobs, I’ve had, while not a policy, there are scent free guidelines at my new workplace. So far, so good.

Avoiding asthma triggers at all costs

I read the labels of products, again and again, making sure I bought the right ones—the fragrance-free conditioner that was elusive for a while; spending too long in the deodorant aisle now that they seemingly discontinued a product I could actually use and happily paid $9 for. Well screw you, thankfully I’ve found a $5 antiperspirant alternative. I check the label of the new dish soap, ensuring that we didn’t accidentally buy lilac again.

The day is over. I’m tired, finally, unwound from an ADHD brain. Yet 3 inhalers and 2 pills need to be taken—technically a nasal spray too which I often forgo. I shouldn’t, but I do. I go to bed, often scanning for an inhaler in reach on my shelf. I rarely need it at night, but it’s a habit to ensure it’s nearby.

My brain is constantly searching for information about my environment, from my lungs. What do I see that could be a problem? How about what I smell? Every day I make a series of unconscious, semi-conscious, and conscious choices because of my asthma. Some days I think about asthma less, and some more—what I’ve described is an average, good day. Counted above, there are 20 times I considered my asthma. This doesn’t include anything out of the ordinary, nor does it include every time I subconsciously assess my breathing or pat the right-hand pocket of my jeans for my inhaler.

Asthma isn’t all in my head. But, for certain, it takes up a good chunk of mental energy I’d like to use for other things.

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