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Why I Can't Just 'Get Some Fresh Air' as Someone With Chronic Illness

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Go outside and get some fresh air — it’ll be good for you!

That may be true for most people, but it’s not always for me.

I’ve got an array of chronic issues, including hives which are very reactive to heat and sunlight, and vocal cord dysfunction which makes me feel like I’m choking and unable to breathe in heavy humidity.

I wasn’t always hived up and unable to breathe, though, so on warm, sunny, glorious days, I remember the fun I always used to have outside, and in my heart there’s nowhere I’d rather be than out in the sun.

I’d love to float in a lake, cheer on my favorite baseball team, spend all afternoon wandering around an arts and crafts fair, or participate in any of the countless other activities I used to enjoy prior to the onset of my chronic illnesses.

But the reality is, despite how much my heart wants to be
doing those things, my body more often than not won’t cooperate. As a result, I often isolate myself inside the clean air and shaded comfort of my home.

I know I’m far from the only person who has received unsolicited and off-base healthcare advice from unqualified people, and I’m probably not the only one who still gets offended when it happens (I’m trying not to, I really am).

But this particular bit of advice cuts deeper because often those suggestions are accompanied with invitations — to join someone at the lake, the ball game or the festival. Then I’m faced with the prospect of turning invitations down — even though in my heart I really do want to go! — and having to explain why to people who don’t know my situation or who do know but don’t care to understand, because otherwise they wouldn’t have asked.

Now my goal is to thank those people for their suggestions and invitations and then swiftly move on to finding ways to enjoy the day which actually suit me.

One of the ways I’ve done that is by rediscovering the library. My local library has great air quality and squishy chairs near sunny windows — perfect for me to enjoy a little bit of the bright sun without suffering its wrath. The fact that I get to enjoy an uninterrupted hour with a good book is a nice bonus.

Since I’ve always been a night owl, I now take advantage of that by getting my fresh air after the sun goes down with nighttime walks around my neighborhood. I have to play it by ear regarding air quality and temperature, but I can still get outside and enjoy nature.

When an alternative activity won’t do, I’ve found I can still sometimes enjoy events I really want to attend by carrying an umbrella to act as my personal, mobile shade source. Even though the arts and crafts festivals or my nephew’s football games will be super sunny, by using the umbrella I’m still able to be with my friends and family when they gather on those occasions.

I’ve certainly gotten my fair share of sideways glances while sporting my umbrella on bright sunny days, but for the sake of my physical and mental health I’m no longer willing to allow any space for shame in my game.

I hope you’ve gotten to the point where there’s no shame in your game either, and that you prioritize accommodating your needs, despite what others suggest. After all, you know yourself better than anyone else.

Getty image by Halfpoint.

Originally published: January 27, 2020
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