So…. I heard somewhere that this season’s allergen load was going to be the worst in many years, partly because of the climate change weather extremes. I heard that, because it was going to be so bad, many folks were going to experience seasonal allergies for the first time. As someone who has lived with seasonal/environmental allergies (and the asthma induced by them) for many years, I took this warning seriously. I’ve come to expect that I will generally have a week in the Spring and Fall where I am largely incapacitated — I just had come to think of that as par for the course of my life. But when I heard this warning, from the Farmer’s Almanac or somesuch, and the thought of more than a week of that being likely on the horizon, I decided not to chance it.
So I went to the allopathic doctor and said, “Drug me.” My doctor was funny and dry and laughed at my matter-of-fact way of describing my current baselines. “Basically, what I think we have to do is actually get your asthma under control.” I realized that I had always gone the other way — manage the allergies, and the asthma will take care of itself, or so I thought. But as I was gearing up to go see her, and becoming hyper-aware of my body so that I could faithfully report what I was going through, I also realized that I was basically living with a low-grade asthma attack most (okay — all) of the time. She prescribed three different inhalants in various forms, with various routines for me to follow. And I followed them.
And, like my doctor thought, once I’d stabilized the asthma, the more allergy-oriented inhaler became superfluous, and I stopped using it. (My body also seemed to reject it — but that’s another story.) The other thing that became clear is just how much I’ve fundamentally normalized my cycles of better and worse breathing. That’s just how I breathe. I didn’t even know what 100% relief felt like — turns out, to me, it kinda feels like nothing. As I know is common, it wasn’t until my primary maintenance inhaler ran out about a week ago that I took notice of how basic relief — full lung breathing without effort or constraint — had quietly become my new normal. Frankly, outside of certain measured activities like meditation and yoga, I don’t think about my breathing all that much. Even though it hurts a little pretty much all the time. I’ve actually had to find different cues to catch my attention so I’ll notice when I’m having an attack, and then maybe do something to relieve it, because slightly shallow, slightly pained breathing is… well, just how I breathe “normally,” right? But after roughly two months of feeling something else, I now know that asthmatic breathing isn’t categorically intrinsic to who I am.
Though I have to tell you — this feeling, this light pressure on my sternum, this ache in the middle of chest — it does *feel* intrinsic to who I am. I just thought it was something else: a kind of melancholy that never quite goes away, a tinge of brokenheartedness that is just always with me, how close tears (a closed throat, a gasp) often feel and how much that points towards the beauty of this world and how precious, how hard-won each breath is… As a fellow asthmatic and friend once said to me, having this kind of environmental and stress-induced asthma feels like a way our bodies keep us from diving in too deep too quickly towards the world, no matter how much we both dearly want to (and do, consequences be damned). I’m always a little skeptical of poetic meanings ascribed to bodies and ailments and abilities — if it’s useful to you, if it makes you kinder and more compassionate, then sure. But be careful — I think there is also use and meaning in the clarity and spaciousness of a full breath, even if I don’t quite know what it is for myself yet. My momma always said to be careful about how much you love your own misery. I’ve clearly found ways to love these aches of mine, but no matter how much it felt familiar to me, or how easy it felt to just slip back into a habit of half-breaths these last few days, or how much all of that poetically confirms something to me simultaneously about how tough and secretly tender I am… I still called the pharmacy tonight and refilled my prescription. Because I’d like to keep discovering, one day after another, all of what these lungs, this heart, the oxygen in my veins and the sound of my own voice can be.