I was nine when I went on my first date. He was a boy from elementary school who lived in the neighbourhood and invited me over to his house to watch a movie. Everything would’ve been absolutely fine except that he had a dog (and his place might have been dusty) — and it ended up triggering an asthma flare-up. Cut to: me using my inhaler and leaving early.
And that, more or less, set the precedent for my dating life as an adult. I’ve whipped out my inhaler mid-drink or mid-dinner or mid-dance, and I don’t even think twice about it. If my date asks, I say, “Oh, yeah I have asthma.” I’ve learned to find the humour in it, like stopping to puff my inhaler during a date. Is it the sexiest thing to do? No, but it’s what I need to do to breathe through it.
I’ve had severe asthma pretty much my entire life. My mom says I was around two or three years old when I began to show symptoms. Growing up in Brooklyn, we had pets in the house and we were always in the park. At a very young age, my parents quickly realised that my allergies were not only severe, but they were also impacting my breathing. My earliest childhood memories are of going to allergists, being tested to see what was going on, or having asthma specialists make house visits, hooking me up to nebulisers.
My life was a revolving door of asthma experts, allergists, and doctors, punctuated by hospitalisations for severe asthma attacks. I also recognise how privileged I was to grow up in a household with health insurance that afforded me these options, and with parents who brought me to the right doctors to find the right treatment plan for me.
To be honest, every day is a struggle, whether it’s wheezing or catching my breath or living with questions about whether something will trigger my asthma. But because I was diagnosed so early, I’ve evolved with it and learned to not let it inhibit the way I live fully. My inhaler, which helps support my breathing, is pretty much always connected to my hand (my dating profile at one point even had a picture of me using it).
Outside of external triggers, like pets (my biggest loves!) and pollen, I’ve learned that unexpected and hard situations can be as well. I was in an incredibly unhealthy, toxic relationship in college — my partner at the time was a controlling person, who put a lot of stress on me and the relationship, which triggered my asthma. After almost two years, I had to be really brave and cut off that relationship. I learned to put myself first, lead a healthier life, and focus on the things that were important to me.
I’m now in a very healthy relationship with someone I dated in high school and a little bit in college, who I rekindled with about a year ago. I asked him recently how my asthma impacts our relationship, and he just shrugged, “You live with it, and here we are.” My asthma is simply a part of our lives, and he’s supportive of my treatment journey.
As much as my asthma is a part of me, I’ve had to work really hard at making sure it doesn’t define who I am. I’m committed to living the life I want — and I don’t want to miss out on things because of my lung capacity, so it only makes me more proactive about my journey. That means holding myself accountable to my asthma management and being honest with myself about my limits. I’m one of those people who loves to do everything, who wants to be involved with everything, who wants to pet every dog. But I’m now really intentional about what I do, about practicing self-care, about putting my breathing first. A lot of it has to do with maturity. At 26 years old, I’m doing everything I can so I can get to a place where my asthma feels like less of a presence in my life, but when it does take over — when I have my triggers or attacks — it can be really hard, and to put it plainly, it sucks. But I try to focus on what I can control.
There’s still a lack of education about people living with severe asthma. I’ve been asked, “Why can’t you do this? Can’t you bring your inhaler?” And I’ve had to explain that if I have an asthma flare-up, I’ll be out for days. I think when friends or a partner don't understand the things that impact your health, it’s on them to learn more about what you’re going through. It's important for those in my life to understand my asthma.
Don’t settle for someone who's not going to support you at your worst. There have been days where I've had an asthma flare-up and I'm in bed all day, puffing on my inhaler. The key to dating is finding the one who will breathe with you through it all, who is going to love you for all of you, including your asthma.