a campsite with a put out fire with smoke billowing up into the shape of lungs

No Great Love Story

In my second year in college, I dated someone from my hometown. We kept in touch casually, visiting each other once every month or so. We would order in or head to a movie matinee, and there were times we took car rides enjoying the simple company. One weekend we went to his cabin eager to escape the stress of life for a few days. Hoping to connect more intimately, this rendezvous did not turn out quite as we had expected, throwing us in different directions on our life paths. I learned a little something about relationships, lifestyle choices, and, more importantly, my health. To be honest, this trip more than likely sealed the fate of the relationship, and it was no great love story.

Mind Drifting

A rugged outdoorsy man, he loved to be up a tree for days in hunting gear. In casual talk, he would touch upon his time in the woods, seclusion, sitting fireside, especially during the winter months. He spoke of hunting deer, hare, or wild turkey dependent on the season. After one such chat, he nonchalantly invited me to his haven just outside of town. Suffering through a hectic semester, it did not take much to persuade me to take him up on the offer; a chance at shared solitude, rest, and relaxation.

The trip to the cabin took place on a late January evening. Relief came over me during the early part of the drive. My mind drifted to the scenery and scents I had imagined it to be like; in my mind, a perfect escape. Enthusiasm did not last long, though. Anxiety whipped my mind into a frenzy as we drove down the isolated, pitch-black back roads toward the dense thicket. First thoughts were of how far we had gone off the grid. Questions started swirling...the most crucial of which was...Should something happen, how in the world would I find help?

I have rarely, if ever, been in this state of pure panic or distress. But, the dread I felt come over me as we traveled deeper into the thick of the woods was paralyzing. Worry flashed over me. My chest tightened and my heartbeat increased. Angst in my gut grew and my breathing shallowed. I closed my eyes, lowered my chin, and repeated a familiar mantra, "YOU are safe, you ARE safe, you are SAFE," though I was not convincing myself one bit.

Frightfully Cold Truth

Dirt road ending, a log structure barely 300 sq. feet appeared in the distance. We parked under a canopy of pine trees and stepped out in the cold. At 10 degrees cooler than the city, my out-breath lingered in front of me, attesting to this frightfully cold truth. Silence in the woods was broken only by the crunch of snow under our boots and hoots of an owl in the distance. Growing anxiety and bitter cold urged me onward toward the shack, seeking out safety and warmth. As the brumal pine air crept swiftly into my lungs, an irritating cough began.

The odor of musty burnt wood hung in the air of the interior cabin. Logs in the fireplace lit - a crackling fire was ablaze. Half hour later, planted on the rug, I was busying my mind, tracking shadows dancing on the wall, mindfully aiming to ease this asthma attack. Burning embers rose from the hearth of the chimney like fireflies, smoke swirling around the small dwelling, attempts at easing tightness in my lungs waning with each full breath revealing an ever-increasing audible wheeze. Having glanced my way, I felt the burden of his eyes bearing a silent tone of both worry and disdain, and with wave of my hand passed it off as if it would soon settle.

Struggling nearly 2 hours to get my breathing under control, each gasp of air taken in sync with rising and falling shoulders, my cough became heavier and raspier. Not needing a rescue inhaler much the 6 months prior, I had not thought of bringing it on this trip. I was quite ignorant to asthma triggers that dangerously reveal themselves. Circumspectly, fearing I would stop breathing, my brawny chum re-packed the truck and doused the fire. We headed back to the city late in the evening, wheezing and coughing conspicuously the whole way home. It was quite awkward, this silent drive, though quite telling.

This was no great love story

I must confess this outing to the woods and back was not as nearly romantic as portrayed in great love novels. The triggers were a harsh revelation that rustic woodsy retreats, especially so isolated and wintery, sitting fireside, were not in my future. It became utterly apparent I would never be the outdoors kind-a-gal he was hoping I would be. I considered it an "aha moment" where a cold hard "truth" came to light...people in relationships need to be compatible, in lifestyles and goals. We were not, and I was okay with that.

Knowing my asthma, and putting health first

Suffering through this fiasco, I saw I was at a juncture when I needed to prioritize my health and wellness. The stress-induced attack I suffered on the way to the cabin was a huge wake-up call. Truly an eye-opening event, it set me down a road of discovery to de-stress and reduce anxiety triggers. Lessening events causing panic or duress in my life was put to the forefront. New and better choices to improving my health have been made where lifestyle changes, breathing techniques, and mindfulness have all positively eased the frequency and duration of my asthma attacks; this is an essential "safety net".

Knowing little about asthma triggers in my early life, years have educated me. Living with the chronic illness of asthma I have discovered a plethora of activities and environments simply off-limits. Many, many more triggers have come to light as well through learned experiences such as this. I continue to remain vigilant around irritants and avoid "fire" at all costs. Cats are out - of the house literally. No, I cannot go horseback riding - not in this lifetime. Exercise is a pre-medicated event with a shot or two off my inhaler. I will quickly move away from smokers and perfumed-drenched individuals, and no, I do not take a roll in the grass, ever - All very smart choices in my case.

What is a scary experience that opened your eyes and helped you take your health more seriously? Ever have an experience where you needed to make better life choices? Have you ended a relationship because of a partner's lifestyle?

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