Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Best Advice I Ever Had

When I was in my mid thirties I had an allergy. I don’t really know when it started. One day I realized I had it. I could not be in sunlight. Even indirect sunlight caused my face to swell up and become red. If I was inside and walked outside I could feel my skin crawling and in minutes I was swollen and red. Once the allergy had flared up it did not subside until the sun went down. Only the next morning would I look near-normal again. It lasted more than ten years. I coped as well as I could.

It affected me in several ways. There was the physical discomfort. That was trivial in comparison to the helplessness I felt. I wanted to go hiking with my children. I wanted to play golf. I wanted to be outside. I wanted to take photographs. I wanted to sail. Any of these things caused extreme discomfort.

I experienced shame. That may sound odd, but I felt I was abnormal and somehow responsible. There were days I regressed to 4-year old. I hid.

I took cortisone. I wore big hats. I pasted sunblock on my face. It affected only my face. The rest of my body was okay. I saw doctors. I saw specialists. They medicated. Nobody expressed a diagnosis or a prognosis. They evaded my questions.

I went to see a doctor in Seapoint. “You are allergic to yourself. Something, some secretion from your skin is causing this. It reacts with oxygen in the presence of UV light and you are allergic to this oxidised form of the substance. There is no treatment.” I said, “What am I to do?” and he said, “Get a job as a pool room attendant.”

I thought, you insensitive bastard. How can a man, a doctor, be this brutal and tell me to be a pool room attendant and he does not even bother to hear me and that I want to sail with my children and play golf.

Many years later I still have a slight allergy, but I can do some of the things I wanted to do then. But above all I can look back at the pool room advice and see the value, not the brutality. I can see that, were I able to at the time, I could have learnt acceptance of what is. In some way it helps me today. It did not help me at the time, but today I can look back and say, you have a situation, not what you’d like it to be, but live within the limits of your situation—It’s plenty good enough—Enjoy it.

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