Asthma and Friendships: High School, University, and Beyond

When I was diagnosed with asthma in grade 11 I had several friends who also had asthma. While our asthma was different (I would later learn I had severe asthma, while many of them had asthma that decreased in severity as they grew older) this was fortunate, because I was always surrounded by people who understood me.

In fact, the very first time I had asthma symptoms, my friend was much quicker than the doctors to consider that I might have asthma, and even offered me her inhaler! I did not take it, but thinking back now, it astounds me (though it probably should not!) that she got it right so quickly, whereas it would be another 2.5 months before I would leave a walk-in clinic with a rescue inhaler of my own and a "possible" diagnosis of asthma.

Beyond all my internet asthma friends (heyyy), I have been fortunate to have friends (most with asthma, some without!) who understand me and have had my back ever since!

Asthma and friends: My university years

Moving from high school to university, I became closer with a high school friend who also had asthma. I do not think we talked about it a lot, but just knowing there was a mutual understanding there was helpful. Other friends came in and out of my life throughout my university years who also had asthma, and we talked about our experiences. I do not think we really shared strategies or tips, but just had brief little commiseration sessions when things came up.

During my first several years with asthma, I talked about my asthma a lot (while simultaneously never taking my inhaler in front of anybody--still don't--go figure that one out!), because it was such a ridiculous thing to learn to live with, and I could not breathe well a lot of the time. It was so different from my friends' asthma experiences, or what I had learned in school, or seen portrayed elsewhere.

It turned out, that was at least in part because I have severe asthma, and would not know that for nearly a decade! Fortunately, my friends without asthma were patient and compassionate, and my friends with asthma were able to level with my experiences in many ways. They were flexible about rescheduling trips to the gym or going without me, were patient and willing to learn, and adjusted when there were things I just could not do that day, such as ridiculous demonstrations when we were coaching.

Making friends as an adult

By the time I graduated from university, I was in a much better place with my asthma. I was a skilled self-advocate in terms of my asthma and other health care needs, and had also spent many years working with kids--several of whom also had asthma and found a connection with me because of our shared experience. My asthma was under better control overall, and I had solidified my asthma support system, mostly in folks like my friends Dia, Stephen, John, and Kat.

It was not for many, many more years that I would make another real-life adult friend with asthma, but I did--I actually found 2, but 1 I did not know had asthma for quite a while! I had been particularly sick with asthma and lonely month in November 2019, and, needing new friends, signed up for Bumble BFF. It is hard to make adult friends.

One of my first matches and I clicked right away, going for lunch not long after we connected on the app. Well, as time went on we learned we had a lot more in common than enjoying baking and not using Bumble BFF to find gym friends (...contrary to my friends being understanding when I could not go to the gym due to my asthma, I have not gone to a gym since probably 2 years after those particular experiences!) Among many other far more fun things, she also has asthma, which means we have a mutual agreement that one day if/when we live together, she will use fragrance-free products to keep me healthy, and I will clean up my breadcrumbs and flour and not cross-contaminate things with gluten because she has Celiac disease. Pretty easy deal especially when neither of us has to have further awkward conversations about our medical needs!

Finding friends with asthma

Do you need to go out and find friends who also have asthma? Of course not, especially if your friends are compassionate and willing to learn what they can to keep you healthy. But I know my life with asthma is better for having people who get me, and whether it is online or in-person, if you feel you need it, I think it is important to find that support. No 2 people's experiences with any chronic illness or disability are exactly the same, but I still find great resonance in my friends, not just with asthma, but with other health conditions or disabilities as well--a specific, shared understanding and empathy that only comes of lived experience.

Do you have friends with asthma? How did you meet them, and what are those friendships like?

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