My son (aka "Spiderman") has asthma, primarily induced by a host of environmental allergies. It's one of the few things I can blame on my husband Rob's otherwise perfect genetics. We work hard to help keep the allergies, and therefore the asthma, under control. The worst "offenders" are household pets and dust mites. The latter is kept at bay with special covers for Spidey's mattress and pillow, chemical treatments to rugs and curtains and lots of cleaning in general.
The pet exposure can be trickier to control. Although we don't have animals around, it's amazing how many people do and how quickly a reaction can occur before we even realise exposure has happened.
Still, with the "episodes" fewer and farther between, we decided that less daily medication was preferable at one point and took Spiderman off the allergy meds. Luckily one of the first signs before the wheezing, is a traveling rash of itchy hives. It may seem strange to call hives "lucky" but fair warning before someone has an asthma attack is a good thing indeed.
Once when I was away on business Rob noticed a rash brewing. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that there had been cats at a horse barn my son had visited with friends earlier in the day. (He's actually not allergic to horses or hay so the field trip would have been otherwise risk-free.)
My husband quickly gave Spiderman the appropriate dose of medication via nebulizer which keeps the wheezies away. However, with the allergy itself left untreated, the itchy rash persisted. Poor Spidey scratched and scratched.
Knowing that we sometimes give Benadryl for allergic reactions, Rob found some of the medicine in liquid spray form.
Unfortunately, as soon as the first couple of squirts hit Spiderman's skin, he started screaming in pain. Where he had been scratching, the broken skin was left vulnerable to the harsh sting of the Benadryl spray.
Ultimately a cool wet cloth, some time and a dose of the correct (oral) medication, plus some hugs and kisses of course, made everything right again.
I was walking through a DC airport when I got this "play-by-play" on my cell phone. Even though it was a relatively minor mishap, I felt helpless and anxious to get home. Maybe guilty for leaving in the first place. My mind formulated an unhealthy list of "shoulda, woulda, coulda's." My heart became heavier as I remembered other times when I'd not been home to provide the care needed.
Not to discount the capability and the feelings of dads out there, but there is a unique myriad of emotions which working moms experience, especially those of us who must travel for business.
As I reached my gate and tried to find a seat that didn't look sticky, I was keenly aware of my physical fatigue. The effects of my hectic travel schedule, too much work and way too much food and drink in the days prior further added to a growing cloud of regret.
My flight was delayed. Of course. As I sat, I felt anxiety and annoyance rising to the surface like little hives. Despite my awareness of this growing negativity, I couldn't stop it. Or more honestly, I chose not to. My drained mental, physical and emotional state left fertile ground for acrimony to spread.
Arms crossed, I observed (among other irritations) the hostile, rude behavior of other passengers who more outwardly expressed their frustrations. Someone rushed past me in a huff and accidentally whacked me with their carry bag. I fumed. I judged.
On the plane with a little space and time, I kinda knew I needed to get a grip. The negative energy was clawing at me. "Just gotta get home," I thought desperately.
Each minor occurrence sent bolts of anguish.... from the plane, to baggage claim, to trying to find my damn car (I could have sworn I parked in "Constitution" but after 40 minutes realised it was actually "Minuteman"), to the two hour drive in rush hour traffic to home. I felt that at any moment I might just burst into tears. I was raw.
Eventually I got home. Home sweet home. The one place I most wanted to be in the world. The thing to make everything else better. The Benadryl spray to finally free me of the persistent, irritating rash. (You see where this is going, right?)
Instead, little things kept happening which made it sting. As I should have expected, my young son tested the boundaries to see if the usual rules would be enforced "after-mommy-travel" as they had "before-mommy-travel." My daugher literally attached herself to me from the moment I got in the door, not even wanting me to go the bathroom alone. Most of the time I don't mind, but I swear that child is part Velcro.
"What is UP with everyone??" I seethed to myself. Even my husband's breathing was like nails on a chalk board. I found myself painfully impatient and intolerant. I burned.
Suddenly I remembered that quote which basically says if everyone around you is annoying the crap out of you... it's you, (i.e. if you meet more than two jerks in a day, chances are pretty good you're one of them.)
Clearly I needed a "time out" and some serious internal medicine.
"I know I just got home," I pleaded with Rob. "But if I don't take 45 minutes to myself right now, things are going to get really ugly around here."
(How I could have used my "Wanna Get Away?" strategies!)
I locked myself in the bathroom, filled my jacuzzi tub and breathed slowly.....deeply. The knots started to untangle. Even the loud whir of the tub jets provided immediate solace. I ran through several simple mediations to ground myself and visually sweep my racing thoughts out the door.
There's a meditation which I learned from an amazing acting teacher (and one of my first mentors), Richard Toma. I'll post it more detail another time, including my initial experience in 1987. It involves finding one's "inner sanctuary" and "spirit guide." If you're not into this sort of thing, don't be freaked out. It's actually a great tool for finding peace and the answers we need which are often within us if we take the time to listen.
I went to that (finally) calm place inside and waited.
Believe it or not, it was only at this moment that I made the whole Benadryl spray connection. Instead of a usually peaceful dawning from my spirit guide, I heard a Homer Simpson "DOH!"
With this correlation now in mind, I realised that there was a point earlier in the day, maybe earlier in the week, when I could have taken preventative action. This wasn't another "shoulda, woulda, coulda" moment. Yet, I thought of the steps I so often teach others:
1. Internal --> transform thoughts, feelings, words, feeding only positive energy
2. External --> engage in healthy, healing actions
3. Support --> ask for help, whether it's feedback, physical assistance, accountability or just the time and space for #1 & 2 to be possible
It's a formula which I know works no matter where one is mentally, physically or emotionally.
Reclining in the tub, I made a promise to myself that I would keep this formula front of mind for my own life. Gosh, practicing what I preach can be a real biotch sometimes. But like anyone I guess, simple steps make it easier. Internal. External. Support. This, I can remember.
At some point before I do the "book version" of this blog, I'd love to come up with a cool acronym to make my formula even easier for people to remember, especially at those crucial, stressful moments. Like the "ABC" procedure for CPR: Airway. Breathing. Circulation. Comparitively, "IES" isn't nearly sexy enough. Luckily this stage of my journey is about progress, not perfection. But I'll be thinking about it....
In the meantime, the next time you start to feel the emotional hives popping up, you find yourself scratching, or even if you're starting to wheeze... think about your plan:
1. Internal --> Transform thoughts, feelings, words to the positive.
2. External --> Take healthy actions.
3. Support --> Ask for help.
PS: #3 is really good for hugs and kisses too.