“I always say that for most people, having safe sex is knowing where the condoms are, but for my husband Lee and I it’s knowing where my reliever inhaler is!
“Severe asthma can be such a mood killer - I often start wheezing loudly during sex and feel like my chest will explode because I can’t get air out of my lungs. So Lee and I have to stop so I can take my inhaler and catch my breath.
"This can be really embarrassing and frustrating, and for a long time after I was diagnosed I was too scared to have sex or be intimate. Lee stopped initiating anything and I started to panic that he didn’t fancy me anymore.”
A life-changing diagnosis
“I was diagnosed with severe asthma after several years of struggling to keep my symptoms under control. I was using my reliever inhaler more than usual, despite taking my preventer as prescribed, having frequent asthma attacks and taking courses of steroids several times a year. In 10 months alone I had 12 emergency hospital admissions and was seeing my GP at least once a week for a nebuliser. So when I was finally diagnosed after a year of tests it was a huge relief, but I quickly felt overwhelmed by how much my life had to change.
“I’ve gone from being a career woman training to be a teacher - who enjoyed ballroom and Latin dancing and running the family home - to jobless and struggling to walk some days. I take a high dose of long-term steroids, so my body shape has changed and I’ve gained weight. My body confidence is low and I often feel anxious and stressed for no reason - crying at the drop of a hat. All this, combined with the fact that I start wheezing whenever we have sex, has had a huge impact on my relationship with my husband.”
Strain on the relationship
“Lee and I worked together for six months before we started dating, so he’s always known about my asthma, but we’ve had to completely readjust as a family since my severe asthma diagnosis.
“Some days I have to stay in bed, so Lee’s taken on more responsibility – like doing the housework and looking after our two children, Emily, 11, and Joey, 8. This can be frustrating, especially when Lee doesn’t do things the way I like – such as hoovering or dusting. But if I try to do it myself, it can trigger my symptoms. This is upsetting for Lee and our shared frustration causes a lot of friction.
“It can also be hard for my family to cope with my mood swings, and at first Lee didn’t understand my lack of confidence or why I found it difficult letting him do things for me. I’m still just coming to terms with my diagnosis and so I’ve never fully explained my severe asthma to him.”
A turning point
“It was about a year after my severe asthma diagnosis that I realised Lee and I couldn’t carry on as we were. Our sex life was on hold and we had been keeping our feelings to ourselves out of fear of burdening each other with more stress. But this was making things worse.
“So one day I sat him down and explained how I felt about my severe asthma, and that I was worried he no longer wanted me. He looked at me like I was crazy. He said he was scared to initiate sex because once when he did, it triggered my symptoms and I had an asthma attack. He also said he didn’t know how to approach the issue with me because of my mood swings and felt helpless that he couldn’t help me.
“This was such an eye opener for both of us, and a turning point in our relationship. We’re now more open and honest with each other, and I no longer worry so much about my symptoms or feeling like a burden. I’m also much more understanding of how Lee feels.”
“Having regular therapy has also helped our relationship. I’m seeing a psychologist who specialises in working with people with respiratory conditions like asthma. It was such a relief to speak to someone who understood how I was feeling and could reassure me my mood swings were normal and I wasn’t going insane.
“My psychologist helps me work through my anxiety and body image issues – giving me mindfulness exercises to help me deal with my mood swings. With her support, it’s easier for me to ask Lee and friends and family for help when I need it, and I’ve used my new-found confidence to sign up for an online degree in English Literature and Creative Writing with the Open University.”
“I’m lucky that I have a supportive family and fantastic friends. While I’ve slowly lost contact with some people, my close friends will always be there to listen and try to be supportive even if they don’t fully understand. Sometimes when I feel down about my weight I’ll just call my friend Emma who helps me work through my feelings.
“I’ve also found the Asthma + Lung UK website really useful for getting advice on how to cope with my severe asthma, and I’m always checking the Facebook updates. I like knowing what’s going on in the asthma community, and I’m always using the forum to follow conversations on topics like benefits. Reading other people’s experiences helps to reassure me and makes me realise I’m not alone.”
What I’ve learned
“Coming to terms with my severe asthma diagnosis and how it’s changed my life has been hard, but it’s easier now I’m better able to communicate my needs and how I feel. Keeping my feelings to myself only makes me feel more stressed and my symptoms worse, while talking to Lee means I can put myself in his shoes and see things from his point of view.
“When it comes to sex, we’ve learned to just roll with it. If I start getting symptoms and I need to stop to use my nebuliser or inhaler, we just laugh and joke about how hot I look with a nebuliser mask on! It’s funny to think that while some people take toys into the bedroom, I take inhalers.”
Can you relate to Callie’s story? Here’s some simple steps to help you turn things around:
- Take a look at our advice on sex and relationships with severe asthma
- Call our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (Mon-Fri; 9am - 5pm) to speak to one of our friendly asthma nurses for confidential advice on coping with symptoms
- Find out more on getting emotional support to help you cope with your asthma
- Read our blog to find out how other people in the asthma community are coping with asthma in their relationships.
Last updated February 2017