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When I was a kid I remember other kids having allergies. They missed school for special shots in obscure office parks. In carpool situations they fielded questions from their moms: “How were your allergies today?” “Did going on that field trip to the nature trail make your allergies bad?”
I didn’t get allergies and neither did my brother or parents. I thought maybe they weren’t real, or that people who had allergies were allowing themselves to be affected by something that could just be ignored. When people with stuffed up noses talked about pollen, even as an eight year old I frowned internally: “Look, I’m over here breathing the exact same air, through a clear nose. You need to get it together.”
Do you know where this is going ? Do you know that I spent the weekend neti potting over the kitchen sink? Do you know that someone had to go buy a very expensive box of Benadryl at the Chevron minimart last night? Do you know that today I blew my nose into a dish towel in front of a guest for whom I was preparing a meal? (I did wash my hands.)
I got my first allergy attack when I was 34. It was my third spring in Southern California, 2004. I told my friend my nose wouldn’t stop running and my whole head felt tingly and bad. This had been going on since the day before, I said, but I didn’t feel at all sick. “It’s just that there’s something wrong behind my face,” I said.
“You have allergies,” she said.
I told her that was impossible, that I didn’t get allergies. She was positive that’s what it was. She said she’d started having similar symptoms yesterday too.
“Symptoms?” I asked. “Symptoms of what?”
“Allergies,” she said. “We are talking about allergies.”
“You’re talking about allergies,” I corrected her. “I am talking about having a lot of sudden congestion and otherwise feeling perfectly fine on a warm, dry spring day.”
"Ok, well,” my friend said. “I have allergies, and you should know this because I complain about them constantly. Don’t you remember that time you were staying over and you went with me at like midnight to CVS because I had to get Claritin? What did you think we were doing?”
I said I thought it was just fun to go to CVS at midnight. An adventure. “I thought only children had allergies,” I said. “Or I think I thought that.”
“Well,” she said, “Excitement over late-night trip to CVS notwithstanding, you’re not a child, and you have them, so, what can I say, other than “Welcome.”
My allergies went away while my friend’s persisted through the rest of the season. If you simply do not admit to having had allergies, I said to myself, if you do not think of yourself as a person who gets them, you will not get them again.
I had three or four more allergy attacks in Southern California and then when I moved to Northern California in 2009 they became more frequent. I tried not to talk about them, as I was wary of people who were like how I used to be, people who thought they didn’t exist. My allergies got worse, and that brings us up to the present moment where I am mouth-breathing. Yesterday, either right before or right after I neti potted and blew my nose into a dishrag in front of a guest/relative stranger, she told me that her husband got really bad allergies too but only when he was worried about seeing his mom.
“Seeing his mom?” I said. “What does seeing his mom have to do with getting allergies?”
She said something about stress.
“I don’t know if stress makes people get allergies,” I said. “I think they just happen.” Did she think I had allergies because I was stressed? Did she think I was suffering from hysteria? What was I going to do, now that I was this person who got allergies, who identified other people with them? I was in so deep now. How would I ever think my way out of this?
I texted my friend from Los Angeles after I completed this piece (or so I thought) to tell her I’d written about allergies, mine, hers, allergies in general. “I had a sinus operation years before I met you,” she said. “I haven’t had an allergy attack since.”
I guess I compressed every person I knew in Los Angeles who had allergies into one person, my closest friend, who had her last allergy attack years before we met? Not good, but not surprising with how much Benedryl I have taken in the last 24 hours. Speaking of fabrications, I told another friend of mine I was writing about allergies and she left me a long voice note about how she cured herself from both chocolate and bee allergies by simply deciding she was no longer allergic to them. By the way, this person is not “against science.” Her tone was self-mocking. But she also believes herself. And the last time a bee stung her, she was fine.
This is The Real Sarah Miller, where I write about …whatever I want. Last week I wrote about spies. Before that: nude natural hot springs and people I punched, semi-related to current events but also just for fun. A few weeks ago I wrote about people who order food slowly. I do a podcast with Joshua Clover called Didn’t See It, Don’t Need To, where we review movies we haven’t seen. Please support if you can.