First, there will be more road trip pictures eventually. But because I do things non-sequentially, we’re gonna roll on.

The mirror mantra for this week [because, dang it, I forgot to leave a mantra for the housekeeping staff in Watrous, SK last Monday]:

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The above mirror mantra may have to be a permanent addition to my bathroom, unless my mom gets rid of it like she has some other ones after a few weeks [she actually is responding rather positively to the mantras. Win!]. Once again, thanks to Jay for that piece of focus, and Dia for being my teammate in the crazy journey of asthma, perspective, #kinwin and keeping me accountable to it all.

Today is World Asthma Day.

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[Good picture there, right? #sarcasm. You get the deodorant and the ID bracelet and some med boxes.

Also the intended World Asthma Day tree tee I designed a couple years ago.]

My Facebook status, Facebook page status and earlier tweets today have been variations on this same theme:

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Okay, so I can’t go down on my own encouragement to kick ass and get active. Because “k-i-c-k-a-s-s, that’s the way we spell success”! [Thank you Giant by Matthew Good].

Really, the only ass I am kicking, or plan to kick, is my asthma’s [and my own].  I am pretty sure I picked something up on the road and am getting sick, because the three day mild sore throat has gone but turned into some increased sinus issues, dyspnea and coughing. Obviously the asthma finds the need to make itself known on World Asthma Day.

So what do I do? Well, my lungs feel like shit anyway, so might as well go take some meds and do a breathing treatment and give the neb an “eff you, asthma” finger for some perspective, strap the Garmin on it and ride that new bike, right?

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If the right answer today was to sit around because of the asthma . . . I’d rather be wrong. [The professionals would say I’m wrong. I’m not practicing what I preach either]. Come on, what is more appropriate than riding the bike called INSPIRE on World Asthma Day with the mantra of Being Intentional? Answer: not a lot.

So . . . I was intentional at kicking my own ass. Good enough, right? Also why is it not possible to not look like a total dork when protecting my brain? [The other part of my helmet is pink with flowers, but of course you can’t see the awesome half, right?].

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Representing for the Asthma Society of Canada.

So I got out there for my first bike ride in . . . years. [I am not very good at riding straight again yet. I can’t do sharp turns. Also when I met up with a lady with a stroller on the sidewalk I totally just pushed my bike along so as to not, you know, ride into them.]

Was it coughtastic and breathless? Yep. Will I pay for it later? Probably. Am I exhausted? Totally. Do I wanna go out there again? You bet.

Was it worth it? You know it.

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World Asthma Day or not, “We breathe it in, the highs and lows.” [Needle and Haystack Life, Switchfoot].

The goal? Do Good Things. Make a person or two think differently. Kick my own ass. And keep on doing it. And the disease? Kick it even harder.

Having chronic disease isn’t a choice. Perspective? It is. What I’m going to continue in regard to the asthma. I’ve made those choices:

Owning it. Being intentional.

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I think why I health blog is too mangled and twisted and big of a story, one that is better suited for a Starbucks with iced white mochas in hand.  Regardless, let’s try it here, without the ambience and white mochas.  Even though Starbucks would be much more fun.

The time my actual blogging started was probably over five years ago. Since then I’ve had countless blogs with varying focuses, and finally, ended up here, with a .com address to my [user]name (which was thought up by my amazing friend Danielle on a joint blog we had together at one point).  So the original reason I started blogging is a mystery, maybe it is because that is what all the cool kids were doing? [Lies, actually. I’ve always been immersed in social media, and few of my real-life friends could care less about blogging].

Health blogging, and becoming a health blogger, started quite by accident. Asthma was my initial focus in health blogging, because getting thrown a chronic disease at almost-seventeen is, you know, crazy. One day I could breathe, the next day I was at my old school for a choir event and the whole breathing thing was not so easy. And then it took months to actually BE diagnosed because I didn’t have a doctor.

Almost-seventeen year olds typically think they are invincible, and to suddenly realize you’re not is hard.

I always say though, if I didn’t get asthma, I probably would still be sitting on my ass. And not doing this. This blogging thing. This kinesiology thing. This:

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So why do I blog about my health?

Because one in ten Canadians has asthma, but nobody talks about it.  A tenth of the population has an incurable lung disease, but it’s been passed off as so common, so normal, for so long that people think it doesn’t matter.

Seven words: It’s not normal to have trouble breathing. And to think anything less is absolute bullshit.  No matter how common asthma is.

And at the same time, just because it’s normal to society, it’s not usable in the excuses that people try to make. My friends Natasha and Elisheva? They ran a 10K last weekend, inhalers in hand, to support an Israeli asthma organization. My friend Steve has walked three Boston Marathons with 34% of his lungs because his past and this stupid disease has destroyed them.  One by one, we are changing the standard of thinking around physical activity and asthma. Because perspective and physical activity . . . even if you’ve got a chronic disease . . . are choices.

This is why I make the choice to health blog. To reinforce to myself the choices that I make on a personal level, and hope that others who read this realize that life is about choice, even with chronic disease in the mix. Choice to do Good Things, whether that is for my body or my feelings or my mind or my heart . . . or my community.

Asthma may be a speedbump, but it is never a roadblock. I may have to choose a different route to get where I’m going. I may have to take some time off training for an exacerbation. I may have to modify how I do something . . . but can’t isn’t an option.

That message, and the next, which I’ve used in a #hawmc post already, are why I health blog. I health blog because

Perspective is crucial, positivity is essential, and ignorance is a curable disease.

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For April 2012, I’m taking another shot at completing the wegoHealth Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge. Like BEDA, or Blog EveryDay April, the aim of #HAWMC is to complete thirty health-related blog posts in thirty days. With finals and a road trip, it’ll be a tough go, but I’m going to once again try giving it my best shot . . . And hopefully complete it this time!

Health Time Capsule: Pretend you’re making a time capsule of you and your health focus that won’t be opened until 2112. What’s in it? What would people think when they found it?

Twitter – My Twitter account, as it stands now, is very health-focused, but also very diverse. Because I have asthma, I obviously follow many people with asthma [but not as many as I’d think considering 10% of Canadians have asthma]. I’d say I might even follow more people with diabetes, type one, type two, or LADA, than I do people without diabetes. I follow people with cystic fibrosis, people who have or care for people with severe food allergies, fitness and nutrition bloggers, physical activity and health organizations, people with a host of other chronic diseases such as Crohn’s and lupus, the list goes on and on.  And of course, I follow a bunch of accounts that have nothing to do with health at all.

School – I often forget to really appreciate all that university has done to amplify my focus in regard to health knowledge and current topics in health. My favourite courses thus far have been Physical Activity: Promotion and Adherence, Issues in Health and Adapted Physical Activity, because of the desire to encourage and implement positive health-related behaviours to as many people and special populations as possible. My focus thus far is always chronic disease or disability and physical activity, from a physiological, psychological and sociological perspective, so many of my courses have been able to tie into that passion.

Asthma – The first Ventolin inhaler, the one that started it all. The huge Mini-Wright Peak Flow Meter I got about a year after being diagnosed would have to be included, because it’s so ugly. I then moved forward to a little green TruZone meter and since then, a digital. The first beat-up AeroChamber. The nebulizer. And of course, the bottle from my first course of prednisone.  The chronicles of the constant inhaler switches and doctors visits in my first few years with asthma. Conversation snippets from friends far away, like Natasha, Elisheva, Steveand many more, and pictures of meeting my friend Rona in Chicago who I met through the (smallish) Twitter asthma community and has been a huge supporter for many years. A shot of the Second Cup where Dia [who not only is a badassmatic, but a kinesiologist working in adapted physical activity] and I met in Real Life for the first time. Amazing people who I never would have met if I didn’t have to live with chronic disease.

Exercise – In this I would have to include many conversations with Steve above on how to figure out making the exercise/asthma thing work. Steve has been a huge supporter of mine over the years since my asthma diagnosis [hello, the man finished multiple Boston Marathons on far less than half his lungs. So badass]. I’d throw in the first pair of Saucony shoes that made me a convert. An UnderArmour shirt which made me a convert to the tech-shirt side permanently. The encouragement of so many amazing people on Twitter.  The discussions on exercise and chronic disease via e-mail with Jay–along with his constant motivation to focus on the Good Things. And of course, my Team Asthma.ca t-shirt and the support of the Asthma Society of Canada in my crazy projects [like the TeamAsthma-based Intervention Project for Promotion and Adherence] and endeavours in advocacy through physical activity.  My motivational dailymile friends. And finally, my Fitbit, which makes me increasingly intentional about my physical-activity choices throughout the day. Because the truth is, if I didn’t have asthma, I wouldn’t have met Steve, and I’d still probably be sitting on my ass :].

Perspective – The blog posts and journal entries that encapsulate transformation in my own thinking and attitude towards living with chronic disease. Because in this journey, it all comes down to choice, and the road that it took to get me to the place where I realized that it came down to my thoughts.  With this, finally, I would enclose my personal mantra:

Perspective is crucial, positivity is essential, and ignorance is a curable disease.

Last week I had a really awesome track workout.  Because of the awesomeness both Sam and I experienced, we decided to go back this morning before class.  Now, to be perfectly honest, because I’m in the gym at least one class a week, my exercise train has not derailed as much as it could have potentially during midterm madness [three exams in less than 36 hours is not fun], so Movement Ed, I am grateful for you, as am I for having a job where i can play around in the gym . . . and get paid for it [noodle hockey anybody?].

So this morning, I told my Twitter friends to have an intentional day, and went to school two and a half hours before my class started, and got the exercise train back on the literal track. And despite my breathing not being fantastic (mornings sometimes a little rough), I was determined to make the most of it and try to go kick my own ass out there.  Because “K-I-C-K-A-S-S, that’s the way we spell success.” (–Giant, Matthew Good).

Today’s workout? It was hard. I left it feeling more exhausted than energized, and basically forced myself around the track for 45 minutes. I was TRYING. I was trying to be like “Yeah! This is awesome!”. Except it wasn’t.  My cousin Dean was there too, along with Sam and I, and the kid just effortlessly basically runs straight out for half an hour (It blows my mind that people can still breathe when they do that, and then I remember that only 10% of us have screwed up lungs. And 50%~ of that 10% of us with asthma do not exercise. In Canada, that amounts to 1.5 million people.  And now I have gone and scared myself with statistics about exercise engagement and asthma and want to go change the world.

And you know why half of asthmatics probably don’t exercise?  The conclusion I came to on the track today while slogging through 5K:

A thing I hate about asthma? I feel like I can never have a consistent workout because there are about 8000 variables at play.

First it’s dependent on how I feel when I wake up. If I’m a little tight, or feeling a little “off”, I’ll still work out.  if it’s anything more than that, I’ll push it off till the middle of the day or evening, or defer it until the next day. How I feel when I wake up in the morning though is also dependent on about a million things: my environment, the weather, the season and my own body.  Identifiable variables today perhaps contributing to the not breathing my best: it snowed late this morning, hormones and a basically empty inhaler of Atrovent.  So ALL of these things contributed to both how I felt when I woke up, AND how I felt during my workout. During the workout? That’s dependent on how my warm-up goes, how I FEEL about how my warm-up went [if it sucked, I’m less apt to push myself harder], the air quality in the locker room or gym [ex. intense fragrance, how dry the gym air is, etc].  And of course, the stuff I put into my body. So, food, water, and medicine.  See the above point about the dead Atrovent, maybe didn’t give the Ventolin enough time to kick in, note that I didn’t eat before my workout, and realize that I forgot my water bottle in my locker? Less than perfect lungs, little fuel stores and probably some dehydration at play.  So consistency? Not going to happen. That changes day to day.  Once again, I’m sure most of you with any chronic disease can identify with this.

As I am winding myself around the track at the beginning of a sprint [running is a big deal, people. I used to only be able to do a quarter of the track, now I can do a whole lap with a long walking break between], and I’m fighting my lungs, fighting my legs, fighting my brain. Focusing on the breathing, focusing on ignoring the legs, focusing on telling my brain that it is the thing that wants me to BE INTENTIONAL about my choices.  And fighting to let the zen that should be running take over.

The realization comes at this point.

If you don’t push through the shit, you don’t grow.

I run.  I don’t run fast, I only complete that one lap, but . . .

I pushed through the shit.  Like a flower.

When encouraging people towards living more active lives, I always try to stress that there is NO positive change that is “too small”!  I find people really minimize their accomplishments if they are starting slowly, and this is really unfortunate because small steps can lead to big change AND show others that anything is possible . . . and everybody has to start somewhere!

Today, my friend Clare from the UK [who uses all kinds of UKisms. I am a fan] shares her story of her journey with severe asthma and a downward spiral of negative choices with profound negative impact on her health . . . and her recovery.  Her recovery lead to the motivation she has found to keep moving forward with exercise following rehabilitation for steroid-induced myopathy [extreme muscle weakness/wasting]–her dog, Pip, and a marked improvement in her asthma!  Her journey began through walking: an activity that seems deceivingly simple . . . and has helped her go farther than she’d ever dreamed!

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clare%25201.jpgI have had asthma since I was small. I am now 27 and I’d love to say it hasn’t had an impact on my life at all but it’s basically dictated most of my life.

From a young age as well as asthma attacks I also had epileptic seizures frequently. I always had an inhaler on or around me and relatives also had inhalers kept at their houses for when I stayed. One of my earliest memories from childhood is not a happy one playing, it’s of me sitting in my buggy unable to breathe, my mum giving me ventolin syrup and yucky intal. Most memories seem to involve a time of fun times being cut short by an asthma attack or epileptic seizure. Apart from that I was quite a normal little girl!

I had lots of time off school. In my last year of primary school I had 6 months off school for repeated pneumonias and lung collapses that left me very ill in hospital. After that episode every cold or viral infection had me ending up in hospital. The attacks just got worse and worse, I began to need more and more drugs to control them and was often hooked up to IVS for a long time. At the age of 10 my consultant decided a home nebuliser was the only way forward. It didn’t help really just made me more reluctant to go to hospital. I could have nebulised steroids via it but that didn’t really help much. All through my teens it continued with me ending up in hospital every few weeks/months with a bad attack. My epileptic seizures had thankfully stopped so I was glad of a reprieve from them.

I just wanted to be like my friends and at the age of 15 rebelled big style. I tried smoking and would regularly get drunk on a school night and sometimes joined my friends in smoking weed staying out till all hours. I continued to have regular attacks, and in between my asthma never let up—I was constantly attached to my neb but hated to say I was feeling ill, so I’d wait until I could take no more before reluctantly asking my mum for help, I just hated the attention. One day just after I had started my last year in senior school I woke up having an attack, what was different was this one came on so quick, and within minutes of the ambulance crew arriving I was unconscious and had stopped breathing, my heart slowed down . . . if it wasn’t for the prompt action from the crew I’d probably gone into full cardiac arrest. When I woke up I was on a ventilator in ITU [editor’s note: this is what our friends across the pond call the intensive care unit].

I was in hospital for a month recovering, I was so scared at first to go home and that it would happen again that I kept making excuses not to go home, eventually they realised and I was able to talk through what had gone on and any worries I had. I wasn’t home long within 2 weeks I was back in hospital with a very bad attack that needed very high amounts of steroids, it lasted a long time and I was in bed for 2 weeks. That coupled with the high amount of steroids gave me steroid myopathy. I couldn’t walk at all it was quite scary, I went to get up after being in bed for so long and my legs just could not take my weight, they wouldn’t do what I wanted them to do. I had various neuro tests and finally an EMG revealed very weak and wasted muscles in my legs. I had intensive physio, at first I could only stand up straight using a special standing frame with the physio, we then after weeks of hard work moved on a rolator frame, basically a Zimmer frame. I couldn’t go home as we had too many stairs and I was too weak. I had missed so much school it was decided I’d fall back a year so whilst in hospital I started to attend a special school for people with problems. To cut a long story short I was in hospital for 6 months having physiotherapy. It was very strange being back home after so long! Due to the myopathy, for a while the doctors were reluctant to give me any oral steroids, if I needed them they would just hit me with tons of reliever and IV aminophylline.

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I finally left school aged 18, college wasn’t for me trying to be independent I moved out of home aged 19, I hated the fuss. I got a job as a care assistant, my long term goal was to become a nurse. I worked for 2 and a half years, struggling into work every day. I did have a bit of a reprieve from the life threatening attacks for about a year, no hospital admissions for a year! It didn’t last long, work understood when I was poorly I’d be off for quite some time. Then in February 2005 an attack that didn’t get better, all IV drugs failed I was getting worse they took me to ITU and I had to be put on a ventilator again. My family were told to prepare for the worst. After 10 days ventilated I pulled through, recovery was tough. I was in hospital for 6 weeks. I couldn’t return to work, just getting out of bed left me gasping for breath.

I got depressed not being able to work, I piled on the weight. The longer I was off the more scared I got, the more depressed I got, I lost all confidence and hated going out. I used a mobility scooter when I was brave enough to venture outside. Asthma did that to me! Still in and out of hospital the doctors didn’t know what to do with me. For 3 years I was a recluse, the safety of my flat was comforting. I stopped taking some of my medication, what was the point it didn’t seem to help. Around this time I also found Asthma UK, I thought I was alone in my suffering, suddenly I found all these people going through the same! In September 2008 I was in hospital on IV drugs so long and unable to get off them without getting poorly again, I was started on sub cutaneous Bricanyl. 4 months in hospital with 2 weeks at home. I was now attached to a syringe driver 24/7 but once I was home and had recovered for the first time in years I felt better!

My symptoms had improved; I could walk again without gasping for breath and needing a nebuliser. Feeling better I also sought help for my depression,

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finally revealing how down I felt. I was put on anti-depressants and within months I was slowly feeling like my normal happy self. I enrolled on an Open University course, went on a diet and started doing some gentle exercise. I got a dog and he helped me with my recovery. I had to go out to walk him! The walks got further and further, the weight was dropping off and I didn’t have a hospital admission for 9 months. Unfortunately a cold turned into a nasty attack whilst on holiday in Scotland, I was very poorly in ITU. I recovered quickly and was soon back to walking and losing weight.

2 years on I have lost 7 stone [editor’s note: 98 lbs! GO CLARE!] and have completed 2 open uni courses. It’s been over 6 years since I had to give up work and now I finally feel ready to get back out there! I’ve been told not to rush things, so I’m not. I am currently looking for work but have a voluntary job 2 days a week at my favourite charity, Asthma UK! I love it and am learning so much. It’s been a great way to ease me slowly back into the world of work. I exercise regularly now, I walk 3 miles every day and am constantly out and about doing something, a total opposite to my once reclusive self, who would sit and watch TV all day eating rubbish food hiding from the world. I don’t even have a TV any more—who needs one when there’s so much of the world to see and more interesting things going on! If I’m bored I’ll go for a walk. I love exercise now! I wouldn’t have said that a few years ago, I would do anything to avoid any form of it! I know my weight and lack of exercise didn’t help my asthma, I’m determined not to get like that again.

Thanks to the right treatment and regular exercise for the first time ever I feel like asthma is not dictating my life. I still require a large amount of medication and have daily symptoms my lung function is still only 60%, to some I might not appear controlled but for me this is the best I have ever felt. I have had some admissions but they are not as bad and I seem to recover more quickly. My last one was Christmas 2010. I had not been in hospital for 6 months and was on a roll, the week before Christmas I got a nasty chest infection and had to spend Christmas in hospital. Not the first time! And now I’m whole year out of hospital! A little lie there I had a brief admission to get off my subcut Bricanyl in August, which went very smoothly and I am now line free!

Who knows what the future holds but while I’m enjoying this spell of good health I’m determined to make the most of it!

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Thanks for sharing, Clare!

Clare’s story has also been featured in That’s Life! magazine.  Clare lives in the UK with her dog, Pip, and is studying Health and Social Care with the Open University.  She is a volunteer with Asthma UK, the UK’s leading non-profit benefiting people living with asthma.  Clare blogs at Clarebear’s World, sharing her story of getting back to work, fitness, school, asthma, fun stuff, and life!  You can also find her on Twitter.