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Coping with the self consiousness of an attack

Hi all!  I’m new to the community and am loving what I see so far.  I was wondering how you all cope with Asthma attacks/flares in public.  I’m not typically a very open person publicly and, by nature of my work, never like to feel “out of control” or not “in control” of a situation because the public expects you to be the one to put things back in order/control.  Because of this feeling I’ve even left the “field” for a desk job, but I still struggle with the same feelings.  I’m sure having an attack makes everyone feel vulnerable and it is by all means scary for anyone.  I’m just having a hard time coping with that feeling of vulnerability, of being out of control.  I don’t mind it so much in private, although it’s still unnerving, but in public I feel weak, vulnerable and (though it’s not likely) feel like I’m being judged.  I was diagnosed a little over 4 years ago and I had initial self consciousness about using even maintenance meds around anyone but my spouse.  I’m fine with that now, it’s just who I am.  I still struggle with the attacks though.  Do you all have any suggestions on coping with the feelings of personal insecurity?

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  • Brenda Silvia-Torma

    Hi Brian, Welcome to the forums!  We're so glad you found us!

    I've only recently (since June 2018) had issues with my asthma, even though I was diagnosed in 2013. The first attack in public that I had was in July, at a Washington Nationals baseball game…I was anxious to get out of there, but more worried about having to change family's plans since we had only arrived an hour earlier–although they were more than ready to go once they found out I was having a problem breathing.

    I also tried to not seem panicked, since my 7 yo DD was with me. I used to be nervous about taking my medicine and with wearing my mask in public but I've come to the conclusion that everyone has something they are dealing with and it's okay.

    One thing that helped me greatly was telling my co-workers in advance about my change in health before I had any asthma symptoms in front of them. This way they knew what to expect if I had a problem.

    I've also realized that your health can change in an instant–it's not something I've accepted, but I've come to realize that some circumstances I am just not in control. About 14 years ago, my former boss took me to the hospital after having had a few hours of severe lower back pain at work…turns out I had a kidney stone. I was grateful for the ziplock bag I with me, because I threw up a couple of times in his car. Thankfully, I was neat and no evidence was left behind 

    That was definitely NOT my proudest moment…but I got through it. 

    My job does not require me to serve the public as closely as yours does (being an EMT), and perhaps that is why you're more concerned about appearing out of control, since you're the one that is expected to help others. Are you more concerned about your coworkers thoughts/expectations or the general public that you serve?

    Brenda

  • emtwallace

    Thanks so much Brenda.  The worry is a combination of co-workers, the public I served and just public in general.  I left the field about 4 years ago because of my personal health being able to change instantly and completely not within my control.  My health changing instantly could not only have a negative impact on those I served but in certain ways put those I served with and myself in physical danger.  So even though I’ve been gone a while, those instincts and feelings are still deeply rooted and affect how I feel about my attacks when jn public.  My office job isn’t as demanding in all aspects and co workers are amazingly accepting but as I said those feelings are still deeply rooted.

  • Brenda Silvia-Torma

    Brian, You're most welcome!  I totally understand…I also imagine that there is some grief that comes with having to leave a position that you loved, was rewarding, and that you were good at.

    I have friends who have had to leave the health profession because of a latex allergy and they've shared with me their sadness and disappointment with having to change jobs after they worked so hard to get what they had. 

    How often are you having symptoms? AAFA recently posted a which may help. It includes information about how to know if your asthma is not under control and why the fall is especially hard for people with asthma. 

    In addition, do you have an ? This me greatly because there is little room for gray. If I'm feeling this, then I have to take this medicine. It gives me some control when I don't feel like I have much because I can at least follow my doctor's steps. It takes away some of the uncertainty that I feel when I uncertain if I'm having a problem.

    Brenda

  • K8sMom2002

    Hey, Brian … I hear you. There's such a stigma about people being sick, and coughing often makes people pull back. They assume at first that whatever I have is catching. It's so sad that you felt you had to give up being in the field!

    I think it's wonderful that you are still in the business of helping people, though! I also think it's very insightful that you realize that you fear losing control and showing vulnerability.

    But isn't the flip side of being vulnerable being courageous? And I know, you being an EMT, you have to be a very courageous person — you've run into all sorts of hairy situations to take care of people, I'm sure!

    You asked how I dealt with asthma attacks in public …Oddly, I think it was having it happen over and over again that made it bearable.

    Back a few years ago, I worked an office job where there was no window. People would come to me highly stressed.

    Since it was a government building, no smoking was allowed inside. People would take a few minutes before their appointment with me to fortify themselves with a … cigarette.

    They'd come in with the smoke all over them, and it would be an instant asthma attack. The first time it happened, I was mortified — along with the second, third, forth and so on …

    But gradually I noticed something. Their minds were on their problems. I mean, they were concerned about me, of course, but their problem was a big, all-consuming one, or they wouldn't be in my office. 

    So it got pretty matter-of-fact. I'd use my inhaler, ask their pardon, say, "Hey, it's just my asthma," open my office door, and motion for them to keep on talking. If they paused, I'd say, "Let's concentrate on you. I've got me in hand."

    Nowadays someone looks at me as I bring out my inhaler, I can choose to tell myself:

    • "I'm the center of that person's world, and they think I'm weak and sick and contagious."
    • Or I can say: "My unexpected movement and the sound of my cough caught their attention, and they're staring just long enough to figure out what's up and if I need help."
  • LK

    Welcome Brian!    

    I was diagnosed six years ago with adult onset, severe persistent asthma.  I'm in my mid 50s now.  As you say, it is scary when we have an asthma attack.  I hear you on all the feelings, as you well said – "it is by all means scary for anyone.  I’m just having a hard time coping with that feeling of vulnerability, of being out of control. "  

    For me, it is the being out of control that makes me feel vulnerable and scared.  Well, that and not being able to breathe well!    

    I don't know how it is for others, but having adult onset asthma causes such a change in our lives that it is definitely hard to cope with.  For the first five years or so, I tried to keep doing the sport I have done for most of my life – riding and showing horses.  It is a physically demanding sport of staying in riding shape and show jumping.  I dearly love horses and all things associated with them – grooming, daily care, everything.  I found these forums a year ago and have finally realized that there are others with severe asthma like me.  Also, realized that there were so many of my triggers at the horse barn and at shows that it was wisest for me to stop doing those things with horses.  Before I knew a few people who had asthma but it was mild and intermittent, so for them just a puff or two on their inhalers would clear up their breathing completely.

    I don't know if we ever can completely get rid of the onslaught of feelings when we have an asthma attack.  I think the struggle for breath just naturally leads to the more primal survival instincts of vulnerability.    Maybe??   It's as if all my senses and concentration (what there is of it at the time, which isn't much!  )  turn inward and I am pretty much unaware of what is going on around me.  Maybe that has something to do with the feelings of vulnerability?  All I can think of is using my inhaler or nebulizer.

    It has gotten easier since I know there are others who also have such strong reactions to their triggers.  Doesn't necessarily make it easier at the time of an attack, but it has helped me immensely in the aftermath.  

    I give you credit for taking your asthma seriously and changing your job location.  That takes courage to come to that realization.  Thank you for being an EMT and for making that difficult decision.

    Hope this helps some!  Again, welcome!  These forums have seen me through many rough times with asthma.  Hope they are as helpful for you, too.  

  • Melissa G

    Welcome to AAFA Brian! You have already received some wonderful advice, so I just wanted to say hi and welcome. 

  • emtwallace

    Thank you all for the welcome and the encouragement.  I had initially asked this question after having a major attack at work and then had another yesterday, also at work.  It’s something I’ll have to continue to adjust to but, I suppose every obstacle and fear is just a battle waiting to be won.  Until then I’ll keep singing puff the magic neb lives by the couch.  😝.  Off to the asthma doc for some steroids I suppose.  First of the season which is better than last year so I am great full for that.  Thanks for all of your support and it’s great knowing you’re not alone.

  • Deborah Bartlett

    Welcome! So glad you joined our group! Lots of friendly and helpful people here. I see that you"ve gotten alot of good advice. I had a severe asthma attack at the grocery store a few months ago due to an employee who loads up with strong 💨 perfume and baby powder. Those are my 2 worst triggers. (I also have COPD) I used my ProAir rescue inhaler and customers stood there staring at me. One man said I looked like I was about to fall asleep. I don't let it bother me. I have to be concerned about my own survival. If I put on a show, then I hope the audience enjoyed it. Now I wear an RZ mask to the store. I have no choice. I need to breathe!! Live each day, one day at a time and enjoy each day to its fullest! Be positive and keep on going. You can't always worry about what others think. You have to take care of yourself. Have a wonderful day! Hope we hear from you again soon! 

  • PaulB
    emtwallace posted:

    Hi all!  I’m new to the community and am loving what I see so far.  I was wondering how you all cope with Asthma attacks/flares in public.  I’m not typically a very open person publicly and, by nature of my work, never like to feel “out of control” or not “in control” of a situation because the public expects you to be the one to put things back in order/control.  Because of this feeling I’ve even left the “field” for a desk job, but I still struggle with the same feelings.  I’m sure having an attack makes everyone feel vulnerable and it is by all means scary for anyone.  I’m just having a hard time coping with that feeling of vulnerability, of being out of control.  I don’t mind it so much in private, although it’s still unnerving, but in public I feel weak, vulnerable and (though it’s not likely) feel like I’m being judged.  I was diagnosed a little over 4 years ago and I had initial self consciousness about using even maintenance meds around anyone but my spouse.  I’m fine with that now, it’s just who I am.  I still struggle with the attacks though.  Do you all have any suggestions on coping with the feelings of personal insecurity?

    I am new here too… but have the same feelings… Today I was supposed to be in NYC for work….. I had a severe attack at the train station… in newark…. and I tried to tough it out…  Bad Idea.  I made it to the city, but was in real bad shape when I got to the place I was supposed to be… Of course Public place.. and I was so tight I could not even talk.. I saw a friend and told him I was in trouble.  Then people started gathering around me asking me lots of questions….. I just wanted to give up right there…. But my friends helped me.  Rode the train back with me and paid for an uber so my wife could ride home with me.   Now that its done and I am home I feel better but I feel like a jerk and I dont want to be this way anymore.   Advice?  I too am looking for some.. But I would say you are not alone in the way you feel.  

  • K8sMom2002

    Oh, my goodness, PaulB! What a really awful way to end a trip to NYC! I hope whatever you needed to do today, you were able to reschedule. So glad you are okay and you had friends to help you. 

    It sounds like you really hated being the center of attention. It's hard when strangers are all around — whether it's from an asthma attack or from something like a tumble to the ground. What IS it about falling that makes me feel so embarrassed? 

    What way do you think acted like a jerk? I think when we're sick and we're stressed and we're concentrating on the next breath, we may not be as charming as we usually want to be. But I also think most people get that, and they can see that we are embarrassed and upset.

  • LK

    Welcome PaulB!     

    I am sorry you had such a difficult time today.  I hear you on not wanting to be this way anymore.  Don't think any of us do and we still wish for the "good old times" when we could do many things without having to watch each breath.

    Sometimes my asthma attacks kind of creep up on me.  Don't know if that makes any sense but it's like I am so focused on what I am doing that before I know it I am short of breath and my chest feels very tight and I KNOW I need to use my rescue inhaler or nebulizer NOW.

    If I may ask, do you carry a rescue inhaler with you and were you able to use it?   The times I have had to use it or my nebulizer in public I do feel like somehow I should be able to get through the difficulty on my own.  That is not the case for me though because if I wait to use my inhaler or nebulizer then my breathing takes longer to recover.  It's taken me a long time to learn to listen to how I'm breathing.  Still learning!

  • PaulB

    Thanks for the reply.   I had both rescue inhaler and portable nebulizer  I had just used the Neb in my car before I got the train station.  It finished as I parked and I headed in to the train.  

    I do feel better now… but as you all know during… I could only think… I am stuck here.. and I am either off to the ER… or I need to get home and then I could not help but feel vulnerable as I read here in another post.  When I read that I was like…Yes that is how I felt.  I was embarrassed to be in this state in public.  Which is why I replied I also feel self conscious.  I need to work on not worry so much about what other may think and try to just relax and breathe. 

  • K8sMom2002

    It is good that you feel better! And it sounds like you were as prepared as anyone could be, and this was just one of those things.

    Still, I hear you when you say that you felt trapped in a situation with no good options. It must have felt extremely claustrophobic and scary, and you must have been thinking, "If they would just step back and let me think for a moment, maybe I'd be okay."

    Can I ask this question? Think of the coolest, most put-together person in your life — the one who always has a clean house, razor sharp creases in their trousers, a neat-and-tidy desk (can you tell where I fall short here? ). Or maybe for you it's the guy who knows where to find first editions or rare wines or complex cheeses or however you judge perfection … You know the type. The old saying is that their bread always lands butter side up.

    Now put that person in your shoes today, and imagine this: They did everything they could do, and yet they still wound up with an asthma attack.

    Could they have done anything differently than you did? Would you have judged them for it?

  • Marie E Natzke

    EMTWALLACE , PaulB

    Welcome to the group…I've had asthma my whole life. I have allergic asthma. My trigger is coming in contact with animals fur/feathers. 5 years ago I had an asthma attack. My symptoms were not the same as they were when I was a child. I felt like a fool after my attack. I should have realized that's what was wrong but it has been a long time since I had an attack.  

    Asthma is a part of who we are. I too hid in the beginning when I needed my nebulizer treatment. But now I don't hide anymore. If I need my rescue inhaler I use it no matter whose around. It's better to use it then get so bad that I have have an attack. 

    I don't know what it's like not to have asthma. As far as both of you feeling embarrased. Don't be. The less you stress yourself worrying the easier it will be to breathe.

  • Pljohns

    emtwallace and PaulB-I'm sorry I'm just now joining in this thread but things have been a bit hectic lately for me.

    I could have written either of your posts. I have severe persistent uncontrolled asthma-adult onset 8 years ago.  As I read both of your posts, it brought back such memories for me.  I can't use inhalers-there is something in the propellant that my lungs don't like so I have to use a nebulizer all the time.  I have an ultrasonic in my purse and a portable in my car, desk drawer and several at home. 

    I've had really bad experiences trying to do nebs in public places and because of that, I'm in the same place you both are-if I have to do one and can't wait, I hunt a restroom stall so I can "hide"..  I've had mall cops called on me for using a crack pipe(they thought it was hilarious when I explained to them it was a nebulizer), a person I work with literally yelling that they didn't know I vaped (like someone would actually vape at their desk!) and recently in an airport on a business trip, the airport security offered to show me the smoking area and told me that vapes can't be used in the public areas. I absolutely won't do a neb in public because of these past experiences.  Does it put my life in jeopardy-yes, but I don't handle being humiliated well and am not to the place yet that I can blow it off.  I so admire those here who have made the jump and are OK with it-I'm still trying to get there.  I can use a neb at work when I need to, but only if my office door is closed and if my clinical director walks in (he's made some comments in the past too), it gets put down very quickly.  

    I do have a mask that i wear when I have to but it took everything I had in me to wear it in public.  I ended up wearing one for over 2 months last year during flu season to try and avoid catching it (and it worked).  

    I too left a job I loved because of asthma.  I realized the stress and long hours were major triggers for me and that wasn't going to change so after being in the hospital 4 times in less than a year-several days in MICU and 30 days of medical leave, I knew what needed to change.  I have a much less stressful job now and regular hours and haven't been in the hospital in over 2 years.

    You have been given some really good advise/suggestions from other community members who have gotten over this hump.  You will find TONS of support and suggestions here and a wonderful community that truly does understand what it's like to live like we do.  Welcome!!!

  • K8sMom2002

    Oh, my goodness … I just want to say that everyone is doing the best they can with their own limitations, their own needs, their own situations.

    Each of us has our own comfort zones. That may be a forever comfort zone, or that might change over time. And we have to be kind to ourselves, be gentle and forgiving. We deserve that forgiveness as much as anyone else would.

    A dear friend pointed out that when I berate myself, I speak more harshly to myself than I ever would to a friend or even a stranger. So she encouraged me to think of me as at least another family member … and speak to myself as kindly as I would to them. 

  • LK
    K8sMom2002 posted:.

    A dear friend pointed out that when I berate myself, I speak more harshly to myself than I ever would to a friend or even a stranger. So she encouraged me to think of me as at least another family member … and speak to myself as kindly as I would to them. 

    Cynthia,  Hadn't thought of it in those terms but that's a very good point.  I do that, too.  Thank you for sharing this!

  • Melissa G
    K8sMom2002 posted:
    A dear friend pointed out that when I berate myself, I speak more harshly to myself than I ever would to a friend or even a stranger. So she encouraged me to think of me as at least another family member … and speak to myself as kindly as I would to them. 

    Love it! 

  • Brenda Silvia-Torma

    @emtwallace , did your asthma doc provide you with steroids and are you feeling any better?

    @PaulB, Trying to just relax is easier said than done, for sure!!

    I hate being out of control too and so I try to remember that where my strength lies is in what I can prepare for.  

    “Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don't.” Steve Maraboli,

    Hoping you're both feeling better now and through the weekend!

    Brenda