Allergy season is upon us here in Eugene. For asthmatics like me, things get a little complicated. You wake up in the middle of the night feeling as though someone was giving you a bear hug without letting go after you’ve said, “Mercy.” Warm sunny days are great only from a distance, like admiring the sunlight through the trees from your living room window, which is closed as well as every window and door in the house/apartment. Taking out the garbage, cleaning the car, and going to the grocery store remain rainy-day activities. And if you have to go outside, always, always, always take a box of tissues.
In recent months, though, my asthma has worsened – and that’s apart from it being allergy season. I’m not sure if it’s because I haven’t worked out in a while or because I haven’t been to the doctor in years (or a little bit of both), but for some reason I’ve had far more asthma attacks and difficulties in breathing than I had all last year (and the year before that). Back then, my asthma only seemed to kick up whenever I worked out or played football. Recently it has acted up while sleeping or sitting on the couch watching TV. Maybe it’s a sign that I shouldn’t be idle for too long, but I like to think it’s because I have some imaginary, incurable disease that only one doctor in the entire world is capable of treating and he happens to be on vacation… I imagine things like this when I get really bored.
What all of this breathing trouble led to, though, was me finding a way to see a doctor so that I could be prescribed for another inhaler. At the time it wasn’t desperate because the inhaler I did have had a few puffs left in it (and yes, “puff” is the technical term doctors use… I think). I didn’t think I’d need one for another month because I thought I could handle it. I thought I could just keep drinking coffee, which does help on a temporary basis. I thought I’d be fine.
But then there were several nights in a row where I woke up unable to breathe. Some of those nights I could tell by the way that I gasped as I woke up that I hadn’t been breathing for a minute or more. My asthma wasn’t as bad as I thought it was; it was worse. What was holding me back from getting another inhaler? I thought I couldn’t afford one.
Seeing doctors without health insurance is expensive. Not only that but who’s to say they’ll agree with you about your asthmatic condition? Maybe they decide you should be on a different, more expensive inhaler? Maybe they decide you don’t need an inhaler, but instead an expensive pill on a daily basis that you’ll have to buy again after 30 days? Trying to be independent about even something so basic as breathing can cause all sorts of unnecessary worries.
I had sent my pastor, Scott, a text about my situation. He said he’d email a few people in the church to see what kind of finances they all could gather. In that moment, I must admit I felt guilty. I felt a little ashamed for asking others for financial help because I knew that if I had been wiser with my own money, if I had lived within my means, I could have paid for a trip to the doctor and got an inhaler myself. If I hadn’t purchased that cool jacket or gone golfing that one time or bought lunch for a friend that one day, I could have taken care of myself. I wouldn’t have had to ask for help.
Independence is destructive because it makes you think that receiving help – even asking for it – is weak. Taking care of yourself and being self-sufficient is important, but not to the point where you rely only upon yourself to get everything done. You can’t be part of a community if you rely only on yourself.
“I know that people would want to help,” Scott said in a text after I told him I was really uncomfortable with the idea of my church – not random people, mind you – helping me get an inhaler.
“Okay,” I replied, “Whether I want help or not, I need to breathe, so I need the help. Thanks Scott.”
Days later I received enough money to pay for a trip to the doctor and the inhaler, which happened a few days ago. During this weekend, I was hit hard with allergies and if it wasn’t for that inhaler, I believe I would have had to go to the hospital because my breathing – or rather, my lack of breathing – was that bad. It is very possible that accepting the help saved my life.
Needing to breathe goes beyond physically being able to gather oxygen; it’s about a posture of the heart, like I talked about last time, that allows people to help you. Let’s think about it this way, when Jesus tells us to love others as we love ourselves, doesn’t that imply we allow others to help us? If we go out of our way to help someone else, to love another, then we’re asking them to let us help them. And if that is how we want others to love us, then doesn’t it mean we ought to allow others to help us?
Allergy season is like a mini purgatory for asthmatics. If I hadn’t have sent Scott that text and received the help I needed, I may not have made it through. In a similar way, what else can I do, what other area do I truly need someone’s help in? If I’m honest with myself, I already know those areas; I just haven’t admitted them. It might be the wisest thing for me to do since I don’t know when or where my next battle with allergies will be. And yes, “allergies,” in this case, is a metaphor.
We need to breathe. And I ask you as I have asked myself, what do you need to do – what area do you need help in – in order to breathe? Admitting those areas opens our lungs, opens our hearts, and opens our souls to God and His people. May we admit them before our next allergy season.