NEWSFLASH: Pretending a problem doesn’t exist does NOT make The Problem Not Exist

NEWSFLASH: Pretending a problem doesn’t exist does NOT make The Problem Not Exist

Ironically, this will not be a COVID-19 post. Although I would like take a few moments at the beginning to reiterate how I still highly encourage you to STAY HOME as much as possible, and when you are out in public PLEASE wear a cloth face covering. A recent article from the New York Times cautions that “People may grow so tired of the restrictions that they declare the pandemic over, even as the virus continues to smolder in the population and before a vaccine or effective treatment is found.” Please check yourself and do not further contribute to the problem. I would like for all of us to remain Clearly Alive.

And now that disclaimer is out of the way, let us move on to the actual message. This blog post has to do specifically with me, and my grass allergy.

I have always been allergic to grass.

As a young toddler, my parents noticed that I would SCREAM any time I was placed on grass while barefoot. Many children seemed to love to run around in the grass, but I did not. Even if they would try to coax me, I would try to avoid grass at all costs. In 2006, they realized why. Allergy testing revealed that I was allergic to multiple types of grass.

Although I am thankful for the answers that allergy test provided, it was not an enjoyable experience. They drew a grid on my back, and then poked me with things that contained multiple allergens. They then waited to see if there were any reactions. The reactions were denoted by size in mm. Anything noted with a “ps” meant that it was highly reactive. For example, the results of Johnson Grass meant that I had a 6mm x 13mm itchy spot on my back. And that was just one example. I was miserable.

Results of an allergy test showing a high amount of grass allergy
Results from a back prick test given in 2006. This was not fun.

My grass allergy is a well established fact.

Sometimes, when I first mention my grass allergy to someone new, they like to instantly respond with, “Well grass makes everyone itchy!” Okay, thank you, and “all lives matter.” This is not a helpful response when someone trusts you enough to confide a struggle. If this is your go to response, do the world a favor and do not waste your breath.

green blades of grass with a clear blue sky as a background
Grass, My Enemy

Other times, I am met with genuine curiosity. Sometimes, people want to know how does this grass allergy affect me? To that, I explain how I have a few different symptoms:

  • Touching grass, my skin is itchy.
  • Running on grass, I wheeze and require the use of an inhaler.
  • Breathing the smell of too much grass, I get a horrible headache.
  • Prolonged exposure to grass, I feel awful.

I have also lived all over the United States, and in Asia, twice. Some places have been kinder on my grass allergy than others. I absolutely love the beach, as I am NOT allergic to sand! Other places, I had a perpetual headache and no amount of Tylenol or allergy medicine could rid me of it. I’m looking at you Waco, TX and Cedar Rapids, IA.

I am incredibly stubborn, sometimes to my detriment.

In high school, I would still run cross country races on golf courses. That. Was. Miserable. My 5k times for grass meets would be 5-7 minutes SLOWER than my 5k times for road races. I remember one particular race where a fellow runner turned around to make sure I was okay and that I did not require medical assistance because I was wheezing so loudly. But I still finished those races, all the while cursing the grass that others seem to love.

Female Cross Country Race
Do you see the crazed look in my eyes? It’s because this race is on grass, and yet I’m still running it.
Photo from either 2006 or 2007.

Sometimes, I like to pretend a problem does not exist.

In my post, “Three Tips to Help Keep Calm During a Pandemic” I stress the importance of establishing your own sanctuary. Gardening is a large part of my personal sanctuary. During this time of self-isolation and “life on pause,” I wanted to expand my garden beyond herbs. I invested in a keyhole composting raised garden bed. One of the things that drew me most to this style of gardening was the fact that it required significantly less dirt. Instead of 16 inches of dirt there were four separate 4 inch layers of cardboard, grass, cardboard, grass.

Description of soil layers for compost gardening
This is a photo from the instruction booklet.

Cardboard would be easy to obtain during this age of online ordering. Grass clippings (the enemy) would be more difficult, as I live in a community where yard work is completely taken care of by the HOA. However, I have friends with homes. I reached out to one of my friends and asked her if she was willing to bag up some grass for me the next time her family mowed their lawn. She graciously delivered three bags to my door.

In my eager excitement, I immediately got to work! I completely ignored my grass allergy because I was hyper focused on the thought of growing my own vegetables. I guess I did not completely ignore my grass allergy. A broom was used to spread the grass around, as I refused to touch the evil substance.

Newsflash: I AM STILL ALLERGIC TO GRASS

I came inside after my assembly adventure feeling quite accomplished, but also quite dizzy. The next day, I felt awful. I struggled to overcome the fatigue, had a horrible headache, and was genuinely concerned that my Addison’s Disease would flare bad enough to require emergency intervention.

My ever wise mother posed a simple question to me, “Do you think it has something to do with all the grass you played with the day before?”

Drat.

She was right. I had once again proven that spending several hours moving a substance that my body is highly allergic to made my body very angry at me. This was not a case of “mind over matter” and “no pain, no gain” (which, by the way, both of those are incredibly toxic sayings that should not be used as “encouragement.”). This was a case of me ignoring the known reality, to my own detriment.

I still have one more garden to assemble.

Two keyhole compost gardens, side by side.
The garden on the left has been filled with cardboard and grass. The garden on the right still needs to be filled with cardboard and grass.

I purchased two of these gardens, as I have grand dreams of growing many vegetables to harvest. This means I will have a second round of grass exposure. BUT I am going to do things differently this time. For one thing, I am going to wear a mask.

This mask is not ideal for being out in public due to the valve, but it is PERFECT for when I want to avoid breathing in allergens.

Pretending a problem doesn’t exist does NOT make the problem not exist.

I wanted to pretend that I did not have a grass allergy. Erroneously, I believed that if I just did not think about my grass allergy, my body would not react when I exposed it to grass.

That was stupid.

Yes, sometimes reality is incredibly inconvenient (like my grass allergy) or even scary (like when I am crashing towards an Adrenal Crisis). But ignoring that reality is NOT a healthy way to cope. Instead, acknowledge the reality and then come up with specific actions that you can take in order to modify the reality to a better outcome.

I will build that second garden, and I will fill it with grass. But this time, I will wear a mask so that I do not spend several hours inhaling a substance that I am highly allergic to.

I will remain Clearly Alive.

Amber Nicole is Clearly Alive