Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Pollen Is Not The Enemy
Where I live, in the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon, it seems like something's always blooming and pollenating. It's particularly "bad" in Springtime. I put "bad" in quotes because, after all, the plants are just having sex, not trying to mess up my head. Although I've been allergic to cats since I can remember, I never had or noticed that I had what's called "Hay Fever" until I moved here, What's been becoming clear to me over time is that I'm allergic to small particles of almost any kind: cats, dogs, dust, mold, smoke, pollen, whatever. My cat allergy is the most extreme. If I'm in a house with cats for very long, breathing becomes pretty difficult. I get very wheezy. Generally, my symptoms are less so around other particles but still no fun.
Over the years I've tried many remedies, the most effective being over the counter anti-histamines, especially Claritin, which makes me less sleepy than the others. I've also gotten relief from Chinese herbs, in particular a formula called "Jade Screen & Xanthium Formula" from a company called "Golden Flower Chinese Herbs". I get these through an acupuncturist and I'm not sure if they're available any other way. What I've found is that the Chinese herbs would gently tap my symptoms down to tolerable levels, while the Claritin would pretty much knock them out of the picture. My usual plan going into "The Season" would be to take the herbs regularly and rely on Claritin if my symptoms were particularly bad or I had to sing or teach or do something incompatible with having a constantly running nose. This worked pretty well, but in the back of my mind, something just didn't feel right. I don't like taking medications in general and taking them to fight something that's not even a real "enemy" didn't sit well with me.
This season, for some reason, I tried something new and it's really working well. Basically, I don't take anything. (If my symptoms are really bad and I have to work, or if I have to be around cats for an extended period, I'll take the Claritin. But that's only been a few times this whole year.) I just got fed up with taking medication for this. Pollen and pet dander is not the enemy. My body is mistaking it for something threatening, but it's not. Dust, mold, and smoke (mostly forest fire smoke around here) are not good for me, but my body is still way over-reacting. I decided to let my body figure this out on its own, instead of arming to fight a battle it shouldn't be fighting in the first place.
My attitude has been alternating gently between two views, two different approaches.
The first one is more masculine or "Yang" and I call it the "F**K YOU ALLERGIES!" approach. When this one feels right, I take the attitude that I'm not going to whine about the pollen and identify with my "sensitivity". I steadily, with minimal force, power through the symptoms by ignoring them. I just go right ahead with whatever I'm doing with no shrinking or pulling back of my intent or energy. I extend through whatever is in my way, as a warrior would extend through fatigue on a battlefield. I use much less force, of course, and the stakes are much lower, but the attitude is similar. I have even imagined a self-help empowerment guru who's message is essentially:
"Stop whining, start living and start saying, F**K YOU! to allergies! Don't take the drugs because they are a crutch which only makes you weaker....Buck up, shut up, and put up with your symptoms and get on with your life. Pollen is just flower sperm. It's not the enemy, you are...If you're feeling sick and tired of drifting towards this morass of pathetic "allergic" people who do nothing but complain about what victims they are...If you're sick of that crap and you've got some strength, some balls, some ovaries left in you...If you're sick of sneezing and coughing and watery eyes and all that..join me now and say F**K YOU! to allergies! Power through it! The best anti-histamine ever invented is adrenaline!"
Now admittedly, this approach is pretty harsh sometimes. When it doesn't feel right, I switch to my other approach, which is more Yin and based on surrender. In fact I call it the "Surrender Dorothy" approach, after the wicked witch's skywriting in "The Wizard Of Oz". When this attitude feels right, I take the approach that since pollen is not really the enemy, I should relax and let it in. I imagine myself as being almost transparent to it. I welcome the pollen in and let it go through me. I imagined another self-help guru who's message is essentially:
"You're going to die anyway...Life is largely out of your control...Better to accept our fate and roll with it than to waste energy fighting it...Just be whatever you are and do the best you can...Let go of your shame...We all have weaknesses and things we can't say "No" to...Some people are just better at hiding them...Don't wrestle with your demons or your allergies...Accept them and they will become less powerful...Your demons, like your allergies, thrive on fighting...Let them in and they relax and lose their power...Don't fight the pollen, that's the mistake, you're fighting too hard....Don't take drugs that just help you fight harder...Relax...Taking drugs is like giving an army more weapons to fight a war that you don't want to fight, against an enemy that isn't an enemy and that you shouldn't be fighting in the first place...Let the pollen in. Pollen isn't the problem, you are."
When one of these approaches isn't feeling right, I just switch to the other. This method evolved over time as I kept listening to what felt most deeply right, experimenting and noticing the results. And the results have been amazing. What happens most of the time is that the symptoms will start to appear, like my throat will get itchy and tight, or my eyes will start to sting, or my nose will start to stuff up, and instead of taking some medication or other like I'd usually do, I do nothing but adopt one of the above attitudes and just keep going on with my life. Usually what happens is that within 20 minutes the symptoms disappear or are much less noticeable. I think my body is finding its own balance instead of being thrown off by the medications every time I start to feel symptoms.
This has been, I am told, a particularly bad pollen and particulate year. It's been relatively dry and we've had some fires in the area. I honestly don't know if the above approach would work for anyone else but me. I practice T'ai-Chi regularly, drink plenty of water, do my best to get enough sleep, and I avoid caffeine and things that sap my energy. But I offer it as an example, at least in my life, of how "The Unforced Life" can unfold.