People often ask me, “What are the things you can’t do because of your asthma?”
The truth is that I actually feel like I’ve done more challenging things while living with asthma than I did before my diagnosis. Call it what you will, but sometimes I’ll take on a challenge in spite of or even because of my asthma — I refuse to be limited just because I have a chronic lung disease.
Here are three challenges I’ve tackled while living with asthma.
First challenge: Exercising with asthma
Within a year of my asthma diagnosis, I found myself in a dance class. My high school offered the dance class for credit, and I wanted to leave my first-period law class.
It might seem surprising that I was open to taking a class that involved so much physical activity. After all, the semester before I had struggled through 12th grade gym class with extremely poorly-managed and uncontrolled asthma. And then I willingly signed up for a dance class. Why?
Because I could do it. My asthma was better controlled. And, at that point, I’d met people with asthma who pushed me in the right ways. They encouraged me to better myself and not let asthma dictate my choices.
It also helped that my dance teacher was understanding of my asthma, my lack of coordination, and the restricted movement in my joints. She was patient when I had to sit out in class and she encouraged me to do what I could. Somehow I finished with an “A” — which I believe was clearly for effort and sticking it out, and not because I was actually good at dance.
My choice to take that dance class helped to increase my interest in physical activity and health. The interest eventually led me to study kinesiology and applied health at university. I wanted to learn and understand more about exercise and chronic disease.
My activity patterns still go up and down. But I won’t let asthma hold me back. Asthma is among the many reasons I try to move more — not the reason I don’t.
Second challenge: Travelling with asthma
Travelling with asthma comes with a few challenges: unexpected triggers, recycled airplane air, airplane germs, and a bag full of medications. But despite those obstacles, I love to travel and I won’t let asthma stop me.
It was sometime after I was diagnosed with asthma that I was bitten by the travel bug. In the last decade, I’ve completed 80 flight segments — that’s counting each individual airplane ride. My 81st flight will happen just a few days after my 10-year “asthmaversary.”
(That’s if I’ve counted right, and a few more flights haven’t sneakily slipped my mind.)
The farthest I’ve gone from home was Zurich, Switzerland. I haven’t done anything too remote or wild, but asthma triggers and unexpected situations are still everywhere. For example, on my first trip to California I experienced a serious asthma exacerbation and wound up needing extra medication. After that, I knew I could basically handle whatever came up while on the road. Much of my travel has also been related to asthma, such as speaking at events and conferences about asthma. So, in some ways, I guess I have asthma to thank for many of my adventures.
Third challenge: Writing with asthma
Writing, as an activity, is not exactly asthma-inducing. (The big word for that is asthmogenic, which is rad). But if you’d told me a decade ago that I’d be sharing my story about asthma online or that I’d be flying to conferences because of my blogging, I wouldn’t have believed you. I couldn’t have guessed that my asthma diagnosis would lead to this ridiculous adventure that started because I decided to shout my story quietly with keyboard clicks into the void that is the Internet.
I've always loved to write, and asthma gave me plenty of stories to tell. Somehow, I got lucky enough that it became my job to tell them. Not all of my stories are happy ones. There’s a lot of frustration involved with living with asthma. But I’m incredibly thankful that I get to write, share my stories, and help others, too. The reality is, I didn’t ever really believe I could be a writer. Well, it seems asthma changed that!
Over the last couple of decades, the stigma and perceived restrictions around asthma have been decreasing. Each generation is learning more and becoming better educated. Kids should know that they can still do things with asthma — sometimes, it’s just a matter of changing how they do a particular activity. And, as always, it is important to check with your doctor before you begin any new activity. Maybe it’s because I was diagnosed when I was a 16-year-old, or maybe it’s a byproduct of education, but I never felt that asthma limited my choices in life. Instead, I was motivated to take asthma along for the adventure.
NPS-IE-NP-00040 September 2020