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How Not to Kill Me

January 15, 2012

18/01/2011 Update: I should really re-write this to be gentler.  It’s a post about what does and doesn’t trigger my asthma and is, I guess, asking for people to be understanding that if they want my company there are some things I can’t be in the same room as and I’d like them to take that into consideration.  My health is my own responsibility and avoiding asthma triggers is down to me not down to anyone else.  I get that.  Only it does help considerably towards me being able to be in the same space as my friends and coworkers if that space has air I can breathe.  And it helps if people understand I’m not intending to be rude if I have to leave somewhere because my lungs are getting affected.  It also helps if people don’t feel that I’m ‘getting at’ them if I have to be in their company and I mention something about the environment we share or that they’ve invited me into that’s an asthma trigger.    None of this is personal. 

I see the same anger and irritation I express below in other asthmatic persons and hope 2 things here.  One is that anyone reading this who has asthma or any illness or disability that requires other people to be considerate sometimes will be aware there are other people going through similar.  The other is that I get my point across in a way that gets people to think.  Writing this made me think I could be doing more to be aware of other peoples’ illness and disability stuff, or other differences or limitations so I’ll be endeavouring to do just that – be more aware of the impact I make and hope it’s more a positive than a negative one.

I thank my friend S, for inspiration for the title of this post.  Ok, so I plagiarized a bit.  My apologies.  But this post is just about due.  I won’t be linking to it right away but now is a good time to get it written.  The whole “I might be in danger of death if you do this” thing is of course a bit over the top, yep.  “How to not make me feel like shit for ages” doesn’t have the same attention-grabbing factor, however.

I have asthma.  When I encounter an asthma trigger and can’t get away from it then I get really physically uncomfortable.  It starts to hurt to breathe.  None of this is immediately visible.  If I started to get a sudden, very visible, rash on my face when I got triggered then I bet people would notice.  What happens isn’t as visible as a rash; I’ll start to look like I’m uncomfortable but nobody will generally know what’s going on unless I announce it.

I announce it because I’m either
a) asking for the trigger to be removed (if possible)
b) announcing that I have to leave because of the presence of the trigger

This leads to one of several reactions from people.  Some people are immediately concerned and want to do all they can so that I can remain where I am or, if that isn’t feasible on that occasion, they undertake to do what they can so that the incidence of my asthma getting triggered on future occasions is minimised or removed.  Some people are a bit put out that they are being asked to make a change and may see me as being a bit fussy – they may not quite ‘get it’ because they don’t notice any difference in how I look but they’ll go ahead and remove the trigger or try to remember in future.  Some people quite actively do not give a shit – rather it annoys them very much that I am saying that something they have done is causing me a problem and they quite actively do not want to do anything about it – I think these people see me as having caused the problem by being asthmatic.

None of the examples above are any one specific person – I could group ALL of the people I know (where this situation comes up) into one of the above categories.  If it was a rash appearing on my face I’ll bet the contents of my bank account that most people’s reactions would move into a different category.  I can’t make it that I get a rash instead of difficulty breathing even though I wish that was the case.  Instead I’m going to do my best to educate by writing this and linking to it in various places so most of the people I know (and who either want my company or who have no choice about being in my company) can read it.   If, after this, some people choose to remain in the ‘not giving a shit’ category, and they will, I will have to just limit my exposure (including my exposure to them) as best I can.

First things first: I AM NOT GOING TO APOLOGISE FOR HAVING ASTHMA – ok, I used to smoke, but asthma runs in my family and various family members who also have it have never smoked.  It’s a fact about me and it’s not something I’m doing to be awkward or picky.

Next thing: Let’s make it visual.  See this page here for a video about what happens when someone has asthma.

Now let’s say I’m briefly exposed to a trigger – if I can move away quickly and be breathing in clean air as soon as possible then it’s unlikely I’ll have too much of a problem.  If I can’t get away or I decide to stay and put up with it (because I feel socially obliged or because I have no choice) then it’s not just for the few hours’ duration that I’ll be experiencing breathing difficulties – nope, I’ll go home and still be having difficulty breathing, I’ll spend that night having trouble getting to sleep because I have difficulty breathing – sometimes it will roll over until the next day.  I can improve things a bit by taking medication but the medication will make my heart race and my hands shake.  I vastly prefer not getting triggered in the first place.


Everyone with asthma has a range of triggers.  Some of the things that trigger my asthma won’t trigger someone else with asthma and vice versa.  When I’ve been stateside I’m told I have “allergies” and I think that’s a better way of looking at it.  Let’s look at what I’m actually allergic to (as opposed to things like ‘yoga’ which I just like to say I’m allergic to):

  • Cigarette smoke – If someone is smoking indoors I can’t be in the same room
  • Perfume – particularly strong perfumes and specific perfumes – if someone’s wearing just a dab and not too near me then all is usually fine but if you can smell it from across the room then I can’t be in that room.  Breathing in perfume is like breathing painful, toxic gas.
  • Incense sticks / Joss sticks – The 2 things above combined! I can’t be in the room and will need them put out and the room aired before I can be in the room
  • Candles – One or two candles on a table I’ll probably ignore.  A room full of them?  I’ll be having trouble breathing
  • Mildew/damp/mould – I can’t be in the room
  • Cold air – I have to minimise my exposure to this.  Outdoors I can put a scarf over my nose and mouth but if the air is chilly indoors then I can’t be in the room
  • Fresh paint – Unless it’s hypoallergenic paint – if a room has just been painted, I can’t be in the room
  • Cow dairy – I don’t eat it, it makes me wheeze (this is the one people have least problem with because it doesn’t affect their own pleasure or behaviour, it compromises them the least – hurrah! more cake etc. for them so they are more obliging in remembering)

Some things are triggers more of me sneezing and getting a bit congested than asthmatic.  For these I can usually take an antihistamine and stay put:

  • Some flowers and plants
  • Cats and dogs
  • Dust

So what am I asking of people who read this?  Just that, if you want (or have to endure) my company, please try to be a bit aware, especially if I bring it to your attention.  I am in no way trying to make anyone feel bad about themselves or their choices – some of the people I like and respect the most are among the worst offenders for not being bothered one bit about me being triggered and I just have to work around that as best I can.

I hope that I will not have got too many people’s backs up by writing this.  I think I said earlier in the post that I’m not looking to pick on any individual and it’s true that I don’t aim to compromise anyone’s freedom of choice or liberty.  Live your life absolutely however you wish!  Just, if you want my friendship and company and you want me to be able to stick around then, for the time period when I’m with you, please make an effort not to expose me to things that will trigger my asthma.   Please remember that while I don’t tend to have severe attacks requiring hospitalisation –  I’m lucky there, asthma can and does kill people.   I may be only 43 but my lungs are  functioning as would be expected if I was 72 (as shown by respiratory testing).

If you want to answer this post with anything critical, please be brave and honest enough to do so by commenting HERE in response to this post where others can see what you’re saying.  Stand by your words.  And remember, I am not picking on any particular one of you – if it was just ONE of the people I knew that needed educating around me getting triggered then there would be no need for me to write a post about this.  It’s not ONE of you, it’s EVERYONE who I need to tell.

Supportive comments are also welcome and I would prefer for them to be made HERE in response to this post also.

After asking all this of you, it’s only fair I outline what action I’ll be taking myself to make the situation better:

  • I’ve got an appointment due soon for full respiratory testing and will hopefully get some good advice and info there.
  • After being really anti “having a TV” for ages, I’ve given in and allowed my partner to buy us a TV so that I can do dance and other exercise workouts like Dance Central in the comfort of home.  If I can get into a routine with this I’ll be exercising regularly and I always notice an improvement in my breathing when I do that
  • Although I don’t notice dramatic differences depending on what I eat (apart from the dairy thing) I have read enough stuff telling me that a healthy diet helps asthma so I’ll be working on getting and keeping my diet healthy
  • I’ll be being assertive around needing to keep away from things that trigger me – assessing the risk in each situation;  speaking up if I need something to be changed and moving as far away as possible if that thing can’t be changed

Thank you for reading, anyone who’s made it this far.


From → Self-Improvement

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