I’m allergic to exercise

I finally went to the gym!

…in order to cancel my membership…

…for the sake of my health.

“Can I help you?” the manager asked.

“I want to cancel my membership,” I said. Please don’t ask why! I know you have to ask why, but please don’t. I just want to have a normal human interaction for once.

“What’s the reason for canceling?” he asked.

“Health issues,” I said. Go me! That’s what normal people would have said. Brief, sufficient, no oversharing. Maybe I have a future in subtly after all!

“Well, there is the option to freeze you account if you would like…”he said.

“I am allergic to exercise,” I interrupted and then gave him my serious face. No, buddy, this is not a punch line.

“Like actually allergic?” he asked.

“Yep, I’ve got my Epi Pen right here, “ I said, patting my purse, ready to whip it out à la Annie Oakley at the first sign of disbelief.

“I guess I know someone who is allergic to water,” he said or asked. I’m not sure.

“Yep, allergic to that too. I can only drink Fiji water,” I said. He tapped on his computer and I squirmed from the self-inflicted awkward silence. “I mean I do try to exercise. I just can’t do this stuff. There’s like a sweet spot of adrenaline ­– about 30 seconds. I can only run for a minute or two.”

“I guess I should feel lucky I’m just allergic nuts,” he said.

“Yep.” Okay, he kind of gets it.

***

I hadn’t gone to the gym in two years, but I clung to my membership and the belief that one day I could return. Because an allergy to exercise sounds like the greatest excuse, right?

The truth is I can barely even get to the gym. Most weeks, I struggle to get to the grocery store because I’m allergic to the weather (sun, humidity, cold, pollen) or I don’t have any energy left. Some weeks, I am nursing injuries related to my hypermobility. If the journey to the gym isn’t exhausting enough, once I’m there, I risk exposure to fragrances, cleaning chemicals, and germs.

When I exercise too much, bad things happen. Simultaneously, I need to lay down, puke, and poop. I struggle to breathe and think, while my organs continue to burn, swell, and spasm. And you thought your workout was hard.

The benefits of regular exercise do not outweigh the consequences of a mast cell reaction. Sometimes my reaction lasts for days, affecting my ability to do basic activities like eat or work.

However, I’ve found ways to exercise at home in small doses when I am feeling up to it. Any exercise starts with Benadryl (in addition to the eight antihistamine pills I take daily). I stretch gently, walk on my treadmill, lift light weights, or run for a couple minutes. I also have two toy poodles that are pretty demanding. Some days going to work, taking care of my dogs, and making meals is a workout in itself.

Breaking up with my gym was hard, but necessary. They say you’re supposed to work on your revenge body after a break up. I’m guessing that doesn’t apply here.

I survived the salt cave

When my friend invited me to the salt cave, I was excited. Retrospectively, I’ve realized that’s because I was on oxycodone.

On the day of the event, I contemplated skipping it. I am not a woo woo person, but I am trying to be more positive (without the help of narcotics, which I should mention I was only taking for my epic flare). I thought, okay I’ll show up for the nap.

My biggest concern was that someone would fart in the tiny room and I would giggle or gag. My second biggest concern was that I would die from a mast cell reaction. In that order. Because some farts are more miserable than death.

The staff had assured me the salt cave was scent free, but when I walked into the waiting room I was assaulted by a pungent smell. My friend sprang to greet me and, after a year of not seeing her, I replied, “Hi, I might die.” I sat in a corner and focused on breathing deeply, until I realized my throat wasn’t swelling and mast cells didn’t care about the salty smell.

Just as I was starting to calm down, we were ushered into “the cave,” a small room dimly lit by salt lamps. The pink and yellow glow illuminated the walls plastered in white salt. Some sections were stacked with salt bricks, others seemingly dripped down the walls. Everyone trampled across the salt covered floor as if it were a gravel playground. Suddenly, the taste of salt hit me, the door to the room slammed shut, and I panicked.

I wasn’t aware that salt therapy involves aerosoling salt, but suddenly I was anxious for air. To be clear, I’m not claustrophobic. I can enjoy an MRI (not the one that requires a full bladder), but a small room of strange people and substances is terrifying if you have mast cell disease. Again, I signed up when I was on narcotics.

I committed to sitting, refusing to lay down like everyone else, in order to be vigilant. I had a moment of regret when I realized the salt floor was heated, and likely felt like a beach vacation when laying down. But then the singing bowls started.

As it turns out, I didn’t just sign up for the salt cave, but also a “sound bath”. A woman sat cross-legged in the middle of the room and began tapping on three large bowls. Unfortunately, singing bowls remind me of air raid sirens and the book, 1984. I was sort of hoping the vibrations might disturb my mast cells and then I would have avoid my singing bowl allergy for life. But they didn’t, so I resorted to trying to relax.

As the ringing ebbed and flowed, I envisioned myself riding a roller coaster, swooping in circles and losing momentum just to drop again. Like one of those roller coasters that you realize it not so scary and a little fun, but you still want to get off as soon as possible. I don’t like rollercoasters either. So I diverted my attention from the singing bowls.

I looked around the hazy room. I tried to imagine being on a beach. I would definitely be drinking something fancy. I missed being able to drink alcohol. I wondered how many margaritas I could make with all of this salt.

I realized I’m probably not allergic to salt. My favorite kind of chocolate is sprinkled in visible granules of salt. And I remembered the first time I tried salt on watermelon. So good.

I missed normal yoga classes, in which the biggest threat was losing balance. I wondered if I was subconsciously punishing myself. Why couldn’t I just take a normal meditation class? I promised myself I would sign up for a normal meditation class.

Eventually, the bowls stopped humming and they let me out. I hugged my friend. She thought it was because I was grateful for the experience. Mainly, I was just happy to be alive.

In sum, I didn’t die and all farts were masked by salt. I’m actually stunned I didn’t react at all. The next day, I noticed my eczema wasn’t searing anymore. Apparently, salt therapy can do wonders for allergies and asthma, but I’m unwilling to further test that claim.

New experiences are emotionally exhausting when you have a chronic illness, but I’m glad I went.

When things fall apart and you want to throw things

Last week, I picked up When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chöndrön, because things fell apart during my recent flare. Namely, my false sense of security.

Over the last year, I’ve rebuilt my life to accommodate MCAS and avoid triggers. My steady progress boosted my confidence in my ability to manage this disease. I thought I had woven my own safety net with a series of daily precautions.

But this last major reaction sliced that safety net in half and I plummeted without knowing how far I would fall. Overnight, I lost my ability to work, eat, or sleep. I reached for help but the hospital wasn’t safe and the emergency doctors were reluctant to do anything for fear it would make me worse. No one, not even one of the world’s leading MCAS specialists, could tell me for certain what was happening or how to fix it.

I was terrified.

So I read  When Things Fall Apart in search of peace. I found comfort in Pema’s wise words, but the funny thing is I don’t remember any of them. The only thing I distinctly remember is that she threw a rock at her husband when he told her he was having an affair and he wanted a divorce.

I never scored well on reading comprehension.

Upon further reflection, I realized that’s how I felt when I lost my sense of security. I wanted to throw things too. Specifically, I wanted to whip a full set of ceramic dinner plates against a wall like frisbees. The pain was too much, the situation was too scary, and I wanted to protest its unfairness.

I think I’m supposed to just acknowledge these feelings. However, I’m still holding out for a box of plates and a sturdy wall. My second takeaway from the book is I think I’m still eligible to become a Buddhist nun.

I probably should re-read the book.