"I was two years old when I had my first asthma attack, triggered by the grass that my father was cutting. From then on it's been a part of the way I live my life.
“When I was a child I was terribly embarrassed to have asthma. I tried my best to hide it from everyone I knew. So some of my book’s focus is on just how prevalent asthma is. Plenty of athletes, celebrities and remarkable people have asthma. Charles Dickens had asthma! I wish I had known that growing up. It would have made me less afraid. The book also has diagrams to explain asthma, and it definitely would have been good for me to know what was causing me not to breathe.”
“When I was young I didn't fully understand what triggered my asthma, and I didn't prepare for situations the way I should have. I remember putting myself in plenty of dangerous situations because I didn't plan for the worst and didn't ask for help when I needed it.
“Since then I've learned so much - by living day to day with it and listening to my body and my doctor. My reliever inhaler is on me, or close by, at all times and I use it when I know I'm going to be doing something that triggers me.
“Remembering to take my medication is easy because it's so ingrained in my mind, but the fact of the matter is that no one’s perfect. My best tip is to leave it where you can easily see it, like on a nightstand or the kitchen table. When I keep my medication tucked away in a cabinet or drawer, that's when I forget.”
A shock to the system
“The asthma attack that inspired my book was not the worst I've had but it did land me in hospital, which was a real bummer. I had a chest cold and all of a sudden one night, my medication pretty much stopped working. I just wasn't responding to it and that made me feel helpless and confused. I was blindsided. Afterwards I made a pact with myself to not only watch my breathing more but to live better, get more exercise, eat better, just live healthier. And I think that I have.
“I specialise in painting, collage work and illustration, and I wanted to make something fun and engaging because there's very little out there like that about asthma. I created a Kickstarter page for ‘Shake Well Before Use’ and the reaction was terrific – 150 people pledged money to get it off the ground. Whether it was fellow people with asthma, their friends and family, or just lovers of art, people from all around the world wanted to be a part of what I was doing.”
Sources of support
“When I think back to what I was like as a child, or even just before that asthma attack, I would say: It's not embarrassing, more people than you'll ever dream of are going through the same things. If you take care of yourself and prepare, there's nothing that asthma can stop you from doing. There's nothing wrong with asking for help sometimes.
“I definitely feel that people with asthma ‘put up with’ symptoms rather than seeking help to manage them - I did that on and off for 20 years. In any case, it can be hard to notice yourself slowly getting worse, but it can really bring down someone’s quality of life. I wish I had listened to my body more and taken better care of myself. I know now to be very careful and really watch myself when I have a cough or it's flu season.
“My friends and family have been great at reminding me to take my medicines and eat healthily, and noticing if things get worse. My mom's always asking me how my breathing is - she's done it forever and will probably never stop, and that's amazing. That's really all you can do for an adult living with asthma.”
Stay in control
“My advice to parents of children with asthma would be to do your best and educate your kids. Don't just tell them but show them what asthma is and why it's so important to keep it under control. As a child I was constantly using my inhaler which saved my life more times than I could count. But looking back, I wish I'd known how to prevent the asthma rather than constantly treating it. Make sure your kids understand that asthma doesn't have to be a big deal if you're prepared, but if does become a big deal, treat it as such and ask for help.
“I definitely use art (in many forms) as therapy for the challenges in my life. But I find that I don't really need to ‘cope’ with my asthma. I've come to terms with it and I'd say it's something that I'm mostly at peace with, because I don't really know life without it."
“It's like having a cut on your finger - I make sure to take care of it, bandage it when I need to and sometimes modify the way I do things, but I don't think much of it in the meantime unless I need to. I try not to let asthma define me.”
Celebrate World Art Day
“Being a mostly visual artist I tend to think in terms of drawing or painting, but you could really do anything to celebrate World Art Day! Make a song about how you feel, get some clay or papier mache and do a little sculpture of something you love but are allergic to. I found that drawing the anatomy of lungs was a lot of fun.
“Or you can take a crack at drawing your interpretation of the medications you use every day, bringing something ordinary to life. I'd say the best art comes from someone’s experiences and heart, so drawing or painting how you feel is usually easy, and it feels great.”