by Sarah Ashe
Breathe, they all said.
How hard it is to try to take a breath when your body won’t let you. When your airways have narrowed and the air simply can’t get through. What a dark place you enter into. A time where you’re scrabbling to try to stay alive. Where panic starts to engulf you like a dark wave, which essentially makes things worse. Where ‘keep breathing’ just isn’t possible.
Only now, nearing 30, as I’ve started to venture on a personal healing journey, have I begun to realise that this disease isn’t just physical. That it’s seeped into the very core of me. So, here are my words, here I am trying to make sense of how asthma has affected me as a woman.
Every portrayal of an asthmatic is the not so popular kid at school, a geeky character, one you eventually warm to yes, but it’s never a powerful, successful woman. Imagine Wonder Woman taking a moment to have a puff of her inhaler before she continued flying through the air to save suffering people. Imagine Erin Brockovich stopping mid trial, as the jury looked on, to step outside and get rid of an asthma attack. Imagine Samantha Jones pausing sex with a gorgeous stranger because the orgasm he just gave her has caused her airways to close and her lungs to tighten.
I know that there are reasons that these scenarios haven’t have been written into a movie or TV script, but you catch my drift. Asthmatics are portrayed as unsexy, unpopular, average people. Being an asthma sufferer and seeing other asthmatics stereotyped like this on the big screen is bound to have some sort of affect right?
Newsflash Hollywood, asthma can inflict anyone at anytime. It happened to me when I was a little girl curled up in my mother’s embrace. When I was in my school uniform, shoes pinching my toes, in the playground. When I was a teenager out at a party, a bottle of wine under one arm and my inhaler, buried deep inside my clutch bag, under the other. When I was in a lecture at University scribbling notes furiously. When I was on holiday lying on a beach the sun kissing my skin. When I was at the office in an important meeting filled with newly ironed shirts. When I was in the arms of my partner as we lay entwined under a downy duvet.
Asthma, maybe it is you who’s made me feel like less of a woman. You’ve pounced on me at the worst of times. You’ve made me feel ugly, you’ve exposed me and made me vulnerable causing me to bear my true self, often to strangers. You’ve repulsed my partners or lovers when you’ve appeared mid throes of passion. My self confidence is low, my self love is low, I struggle to feel beautiful or sexy. Is that because of you?
Asthma, you’ve made me feel lonely. Even when I’m surrounded by everyone who loves me they don’t understand what you’re doing to me. They can’t even hug me because that would close off my chest even more. So I suck it deep down inside and deal with it on my own. Could this be why I struggle to communicate how I feel and rarely ask for help or support or to simply be held?
Asthma, you leave me frightened. You make me sit and fight for my life. No wonder anxious and toxic thoughts swirl around my head. No wonder my heart beats fast when I am out of control or thrown into something uncomfortable. No wonder butterflies flap around my belly when I feel unstable or unsafe.
Asthma, it’s time for you to step back. Yes you’ll be here physically but I don’t need you emotionally any more. You’re a part of me, you always will be, but you don’t own me.
Follow Sarah on instagram at @flowwith_sarah