Years ago my mom would come home with these face masks and tell me to wear them for dusty jobs. Hauling hay, cleaning the tack shed, stripping the stall, mowing, and more would come with the admonition that it would be better to wear one.
Flu season would come with the suggestion to wear one in public.
But being cool and not being seen as sick overrode wisdom. In all my teenage glory, I looked at parental concern and care and I scoffed. I was certain that they just wanted to ruin my life and make me look ridiculous to my friends, boys, the world. (Sorry Mom.)
As I got older, the cool thing didn’t play such a role in rejecting the masks, but not wanting to be seen as sick sure did. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of time pretending that my lungs work better than they do. Illness is so often seen as weakness.
Illness made me feel like I had to work twice as hard to prove myself. I’ve failed time and again to bring the proper medications and my nebulizer with me when I knew I’d need more than an inhaler. I’ve hidden in bathrooms using too many puffs from a rescue inhaler, trying to get my breathing back to normal (or at least to where no one noticed) and I could continue an event/activity/outing.
I didn’t want to be seen as less.
My husband has been kind to me these years we’ve been building a life. As he learned how reactive my airways are, he has swooped in to handle all the dusty jobs. When I’m talking about my to-do list or particular jobs, he’s known to ask, “But will it be too much for you?”
I’ve bristled at the question and even snapped at him. I refuse to live like life is too much for me. But I’ve had to admit defeat and that some jobs are hard for me.
Life has thrown transitions our way time and time again, and here we are, facing more of them. As I settle into my role keeping the home and farm on target and he travels, I knew I’d have to face some dusty jobs. So, while I was at the store, I bought masks. And I put off the first dusty job for a couple of days because I was struggling with wearing the mask.
The chicken coop – a dusty mess of feathers, wood shavings, and poop. Never a good combination, and an especially bad combination for an asthmatic. For the last two years, my husband has faithfully cleaned out the coop. But with his hours home shorter than we like, I don’t want him to be cleaning coops, I want him to be playing peekaboo with toddlers and driving dirt bikes with teenagers.
I conquered the job, in a mask and all. And I realized how much better it is to wear the mask and protect my airways and still get the job done. I didn’t have to bow out, pass it off, or neglect the task. I did it, no rescue inhaler needed, and the mask wasn’t as bad as I expected. In fact, I plan on wearing one when I tackle the next dusty job.
I’m learning that living with illness takes a measure of embracing that I am sick like it or not, which means taking measures to prevent flares. It also means doing the best I can with what I have, learning to rest when I need it, and learning that denial doesn’t make one healthy.
And we don’t get it all right, 100% of the time. As I was writing this, I was snacking on a bag of Skittles my husband left for me. And I realized that’s not the fuel my body needs to be as well as possible. So I put those up and switched it for carrots because I snack while I write. I am a work in progress and I am okay with that.
Struggling with chronic illness? What preventative (like a mask) or other change can you identify that will help you manage your illness? Tell me about it in the comments below.