a person holding a sign in front of their face because they are embarrassed of their asthma

Don't Be a "Hider"

I have a confession to make. For as long as I can remember I've been a "hider" when it comes to my asthma. I take my inhalers and medications away from people. I tend to become withdrawn when I'm having a bad asthma day. I don't like drawing attention to myself or my asthma, because it embarrassed me. I would feel ashamed and didn't want people to perceive me as being "the sickly one."

I was embarrassed of my asthma

When my asthma became more bothersome in my teens I especially didn't want any of my classmates to know. Kids can be mean and I definitely didn't want anyone to know I had asthma.

I should know better being a respiratory therapist. But old habits die hard. I remember one day in college during a respiratory lab class I had a pretty bad asthma attack. I left the classroom and hid in the stairwell as to not draw any attention to myself. Big mistake.

When one of my classmates noticed I had been missing for a while, she came to look for me and found me in pretty rough shape. She called 911 and off to the hospital I went in the back of an ambulance with full lights and sirens blaring. Looking back, that could have potentially been avoided if my classmates knew I had asthma or if I would have asked for help before my breathing really got out of hand.

Another call to 911

Every summer I serve on the medical staff at a week-long summer camp up in the mountains for kids with asthma (the same camp I attended as a child). The other medical staff are aware of my severe asthma (including my own asthma doctor who was also on the medical staff). I also have a cardiac arrhythmia which was set off pretty severely up at camp a few years ago following an epic ultimate frisbee game.

I don't remember a lot of what happened that day, but I do remember trying not to draw attention to myself. I could barely breathe and my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest, which severely kicked up my asthma as well. I remember telling the doctors and medical staff that I was "fine" and just needed some time for everything to calm down. I was pretty adamant about it. The doctors strongly disagreed and made the call to 911--despite my protest--and off I went in the back of an ambulance again.

Honesty hour: time to come clean

I learned a pretty hard lesson after that attack. I had to come clean with myself and be completely honest about the severity of my disease. Being a severe asthmatic makes it very hard to be a hider.

The truth is, asthma is NOTHING to be embarrassed about. It's a part of me. It makes up part of my identity but it does not define me. It took me many years to come to this realization and to accept this fact.

I am not embarrassed of my asthma now

I am not ashamed of having asthma. I am honest with my husband and family and friends when I'm having a bad asthma day. The truth is that I need support.

We all need a support system. They love and care for me, and my own stubbornness shouldn't stand in the way of that. I've come to realize that it's no big deal using my inhaler in public or in front of others. If they ask questions I use it as a teaching moment to educate about my disease.

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