Friendship with a side of asthma (and, a side of pizza?)
For the most part, long gone are the days where people think that you’re going to need your inhaler at every scary, exciting, or otherwise emotional thing. We know that asthma isn’t in our heads, and while it may be triggered by strong emotions, that’s because of the hormones associated with those feelings and not because we’re hyperventilating because we’re stressed—and, people without asthma are starting to catch on to that, too.
Unless I’m talking with other friends who have asthma, my asthma doesn’t often come up anymore—well, unless I bring it up. On occasion, friends will ask me questions, or be genuinely awesome in being mindful about my asthma (such as the family that I work with, who are super considerate and ensure to tell me details other people might gloss over—like if the kids, or anybody in the house, is sick, or if they’ve got a fumigation notice in the building. In both of these cases, I really appreciate them thinking about my asthma and asking what’s best for me).
Other times, I love my friends for caring and being considerate, and simultaneously hate asthma for getting involved! It’s a tricky balance to not overreact on a friend for being compassionate while just wanting to not focus on my disease… especially if that’s driven by my lungs acting up! There’s just something far more annoying about being forced to think of asthma because of a negative, rather than a neutral…
Recently in Quebec City, 3 of my friends and I ventured into Old Quebec, also known as the Old City. After sugar pie and gelato (…yes, both), we somehow got lead up hills with a 310+ foot elevation change—if we take a normal staircase as being an eight-foot ascent, that’s nearly 39 flights of stairs! As we climbed—my friend continually apologizing for dragging us up so many hills—I tried to stay chatty and upbeat, but my legs felt like sandbags, and my lungs weren’t terrible, but my shortness of breath was noticeable, which is almost as bad. We took a break once we reached a suitable place to stop (…with more hills visible for us to conquer).
“Yeah, I’m good. My lungs just suck,” I replied—almost before the um, you okay? type question left one of the guys’ mouths.
The other guy chimed in, “Do you need to take your puffer?” …I should mention both these guys are dads.
I took a couple more breaths. “Nah, I’m good.”
This is probably one of those situations where, despite that I felt okay, I should have taken my inhaler anyways, but you know what they say about hindsight. After a few minutes, we continued on to the next hill.
Asthma is a lot of mental processing—and I don’t expect others to do that for me. I do, however, appreciate it—hardcore—when people are aware of things—situations or triggers—that might be a problem for me, and ask about it in a way that doesn’t seem helicopter-y or weird. Rather, they ask in a way that simply demonstrates that they’ve got my back and respect my experience and judgement (as long as my judgement seems okay :).) ‘Hey, there’s someone smoking on this patio… You want to go back inside?’, ‘Do you mind if I put this hand lotion on?’, ‘Do you need a break?’ These are all really simple ways that people have respected what I need to avoid or need to do, but without making me feel like I’m sick. I know I have asthma—I have mental checklists that I don’t even think about anymore about triggers I might encounter in a given place, and how I might avoid them or deal with them—so I don’t need to be reminded of my disease. But, a caring nudge when it’s needed doesn’t hurt! Like my friend in the story above: I’ve known him for two-and-a-half-plus-years, and that’s the first time he’s ever been like “Do you need to take your puffer?”—the situation certainly warranted the question, his tone was open—not nagging or like he knew the answer, and I could tell that he trusted my judgement when I said I was okay–but also that he would have probably pushed me if I didn’t sound okay! Once again, if these things are done respectfully, it can be a game-changer.
Asthma is a part of my world, whether it’s making its presence known or not. Some of us are okay with talking about it, others want to just live their lives. Especially those of us with more persistent or severe forms of asthma, we know our lungs—everyone has a different understanding of what their body is able to handle, but for example, if I asked you how many push-ups you could do, or how many slices of pizza you can eat, and you gave me a number, I’d trust your knowledge of your own body without much question, right? Asthma is much the same as pizza in that regard—trust our instinct unless things are not looking great (you know what I’m talking about—that moment where you’re mid-slice and start slowing down like “Must. Finish. Pizza.” but are getting clearly dominated)—we’ll know when it’s time to do what we need to do, to avoid making a mess of things… We might just need that reminder again.
“Dude. Enough pizza, you’re getting dominated,” and “Okay, seriously, you sound terrible—where’s your puffer at?” are both pretty solid reminders for us to do the right thing, and that someone cares about us enough to be worried about the consequences if we don’t do the right thing to ask us—again—to reconsider our choices.
Like most things, it’s a balancing act. Breathing is kind of important. Asthma isn’t the focus of our worlds, nor that of our friends—and if it is, it shouldn’t be—but it’s not a taboo subject, either. That balance will vary for everybody, but most importantly, it comes down to respect and education—and instinct, in some cases. Trust your instinct. Nobody’s going to be mad at you if you are genuinely concerned and react appropriately to that.
If they are, well, at least they’re alive to be mad at you.
Or, if they’re mad at you in the pizza scenario, because you cut them off of the pizza before they got sick, well… I guess your next party will just have more pizza.
(Seriously, if they’re that mad at you about pizza, you need less negativity in your life and more pizza, anyways. Your life will be fuller for it, or something.)
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