Sunday, September 11, 2011

It Gets Better

This blog was sparked by an aggravating incident I had with someone in a work context. I have never met this woman and hope never to do so, but the exchange left me upset and bewildered. She was under the impression that I never left the house because I was far too sick to do so; so, I needed other people to take over for me. She kept repeating that I was too sick and couldn't leave the house. Since I had to leave my house for my job, it was a bizarre statement to make.

I don't have the specifics on why she was under that impression. I clarified my condition for her as it pertained to my work at the time. I would have liked to tell her that her suggestions and tone were inappropriate, but frankly, I was too shocked. I haven't been spoken to like that in years.

Honestly, my asthma, eczema and allergies can make things tough if I have to be outside for long periods of times. And, as I've mentioned in a previous post, smoking and misused chemicals seriously aggravate my condition. However, these aren't common occurrences. I don't view my conditions as disabilities. I seriously dislike being pitied and I have to hold back a groan when someone calls me a "survivor". I wasn't marooned on a deserted island.

So, this all got me thinking and I think there's a lot to be learned from the "It Gets Better" campaign developed by the LGBT community. I'm in my 30s and while I unfortunately still have to deal with ignorant people, it doesn't happen often. My skin can never be perfect, I can't eat anything I want and I have to be honest about being allergic to pets and cigarette smoke when people invite me over, but most people don't care.

Things as a child were far more difficult. Frankly, children can be evil, little jerks willing to pounce on any perceived difference with which they're not familiar - race, disease, health conditions, homosexuality and the list goes on. So, while I don't think it's a bad idea to start educating all children about conditions like eczema, food allergies, asthma (and you can add a whole host of conditions to that list), at the end of the day, the message is that it gets better.

My intention isn't to compare atopic and allergic conditions to homosexuality directly. The latter is not a health condition. I also don't want to make it seem like children with allergies and atopic conditions don't have a difficult time simply growing up. They do and they need emotional support.

As a child, your concerns are pretty limited to "Why can't I eat that birthday cake?", "I hate feeling different" and "I wish I could stop being itchy so I could sleep". As you grow up, those concerns accumulate. "Will I have real friends who don't tease me because I'm allergic?" "Will someone want to date me even though I have scars?"

And the answers are that you can't eat the birthday cake because it will kill you (but grocery store cake is kind of gross anyway), being different is far better than being a clone and yes, someone wonderful will want to date you and won't care one whit about your scars.

No one knew I had those questions growing up. And, I had to learn those lessons by myself. But, I learned them. And, I hope that more allergic and atopic adults start speaking out so the following generations know that yes, it gets better.

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