“The Happy Wheezer”

When I was an infant, my doctor nick-named me “The Happy Wheezer.” This name was invented when I was in the office for a checkup. According to my mom, I was happy and responded to the loving touches of the adults around me with smiles and giggles. But when the doctor placed the stethoscope on my chest, it became apparent that I was having severe asthma. My facial expression should have been far from smiley; my airways were unbelievably tight, and I could barely breathe. My asthma was severely affecting me, but my attitude did not reflect the pain I must have been in.

What at the time was just a situation-appropriate nickname, I have turned into a self-diagnosis. I am a chronic sufferer of the Happy Wheezer Syndrome. Having food allergies means that you often have to go without. Although this sacrifice is difficult and usually unavoidable, the attitude that you choose to reflect to others is your choice. Nearly every social event involves food, and at college that means deciding to either take the time out of your busy schedule to prepare food, or simply being willing to go without. With homework to complete, shifts at work, plans with friends, or even simply the innate desire to finally sleep after late nights studying, I frequently chose to forgo a proper meal. This means I might have eaten a partial meal at late hours after the events, or maybe I did not eat at all. Often, no one knew this except me, and if they did I reminded them that it was no big deal. I kept a smile on my face, and the Happy Wheezer Syndrome continued to prevent my friends from worrying about me.

After finals ended, my friends and I gathered at a nearby friend’s home for an end of the year dinner celebration. One of the first things I said to her mom upon arrival was a lie.

“Don’t worry about me, I already ate dinner tonight. But thank you for your offer to help me!”

The lie escaped easily from my lips after years of practice, and I delivered it with a smile. I did not have time to eat before we left, but I know that it’s not safe for me to eat food that someone else prepared. The assurance that I already ate instantly eases any obligation a host might feel to feed me, which is exactly what I want. It’s the quickest way to remove any awkwardness from the situation. And thus, the Happy Wheezer Syndrome struck again, and no one knew any better.

The Happy Wheezer Syndrome can be an active choice to maintain a positive attitude. You can complain about not being able to eat, or you can go about like you’re not hungry (even if you’re starving). The social events that involve food (aka all of them) are not about the food for me, but instead are about the the experiences that come with them. Meals are a way to deepen friendships, and I simply decide to place value on the friendships rather than the food. It’s an active choice for most, however, I’ve never thought of it as a choice, but as an instinct. It’s worked for me so far!