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Sharon Bill Music Tutor & Author

A Journey of Self Discovery

Ventolin and Salbutamol are words that I'm accustomed to as an asthmatic - albeit a mild case. However, participating in a medical research programme taught me more than I could have imagined. Know thyself, as the wise man says!

The research team were looking into the correlation between long term illness and both depression and joint pain. I suffer from neither of these symptoms and would hardly term myself as having long term illness. Nevertheless I have had asthma since I was a teenager and I am a valid part of the subject pool, and so I have an authentic place in the research statistics - if only to represent a narrow spectrum of the study group. I'm always keen to participate in research and surveys (I find it an enlightening experience and one of new learning opportunities - I'm also very nosey!) As such I willingly agreed to be interviewed. I was surprised by the outcome of the meeting.

Routine questions were quickly covered but I was surprised by some of the answers that the more abstract questions raised. I was asked if I ever felt that there was any stigma associated with taking my medication and shocked by the realisation that my answer to that question was, 'Yes.'

I know that my asthma is mainly triggered by an allergic reaction - to pretty much anything and everything. My husband can't wear aftershave and has to be careful about which deodorants he uses as so many give me an instant headache and can affect my breathing. I need to prepare in advance if I'm to visit friends with pets and I have to take a double dose of antihistamine some hours in advance. Even then I often have to curtail the festivities and head back home to recover. There is no shame in this just as there is no shame in suffering from impaired vision or hearing, or in having a skin rash and needing ointment.

However, I do admit that a certain exacerbation of symptoms is no doubt owing to the fact that my fitness levels are distinctly below average and my weight is slightly higher than the average for my build and height - these are things that should be inside of my control. The need to puff away on an inhaler for these reasons is the root of my embarrassment and also the reason that I have put off taking steps to build fitness and muscle toning. Exertion creates breathlessness before any improvement can remedy the situation, and so the spiral descends… Nevertheless, since embarking on a level of physical activity my symptoms are still evident, if not worsened and unknown triggers are adding into the mix. I realise now that I'm acutely embarrassed at having to take my inhaler even when prompted by circumstances outside of my control. I'm ashamed of being ill!

During the interview I was surprised to admit that I rarely took my inhaler in public, choosing instead to lock myself away in the bathroom where possible. I would only take my 'medication' in plain sight if symptoms were too bad to be overly worried or if no alternative was easily available. If you've seen me taking my inhaler then you're part of a select inner circle and you should feel honoured!

I hadn't realised that I was as shallow as all that and hadn't noticed that I was quite so bound by prejudice. My line of self judgement is that we take inhalers because of our own stupid fault - I judge myself so and must therefore judge others likewise. In reality, although there is some grain of truth in my assessment of my own situation this is by no means close to the whole story. Who knows what struggles people face? We display our vulnerability every moment of every day. Let's give pause for the benefit of the doubt before making assumptions.

In reality I have no qualms in showing kindness in my perception of others, I just need to extend the same courtesy to myself.