Weak is a four-letter word

Not-so-fun fact: I have asthma. Technically it’s a condition where the air passageways in your lungs inflame and keep you from being able to take in enough oxygen.

But if you haven’t had the chance to talk to someone with asthma about what it actually feels like, the best metaphor I’ve found (and the only way I’m able to clearly communicate the severity) is like an animal sitting on your chest. There’s a weight there, big or small, shrinking the space needed to breathe and making anything else more difficult. Sometimes it’s just a fat guinea pig, and it isn’t fun but it’s manageable. Sometimes it’s a gigantic dog that weighs more than I can lift.

This is not a new thing I’ve been dealing with. I’ve struggled with asthma for as long as I can remember, and it was quite a bit worse when I was really little. (Even then I was lucky in that I never had to go to the hospital or be put on much consistent medication because of it.) A lot of people at least mostly grow out of it, but it rarely goes away entirely. When I was younger it was often allergy-induced, but since late elementary school it’s been mostly exercise-induced.

I was running late yesterday and near-sprinted to make it on time, but after maybe 200 yards had to slow down and power walk the rest of the way because my asthma made the biggest resurgence it has in years. When I got where I was going I used my inhaler, but proceeded to cough for the next 3 hours while waiting for my breathing to feel fully normal again — which, unfortunately, took another 8 or so hours.

Now I’m not bringing this up for any sort of pity party, but rather because it highlights another, deeper issue that we all face in different forms: feeling weak.

I hate that I have asthma. I hate that my lungs don’t work properly and that any cardio-heavy activities are a risk. I hate not having enough oxygen to fuel my muscles on a run, and that more than a couple points of full effort when I play tennis means an immediate drop in my performance because, well, I can’t breathe.

I don’t like admitting that I have limitations, that certain things are more difficult for me than they are for most other people. It’s pretty likely that there’s something in each of our lives that makes us feel like this, whether it’s a physical impairment, mental health struggles, work-related difficulties, or something else entirely.

Demons come in all colors and contexts, but the common thread is making us feel weak or incapable. It’s true that we can’t do everything. We do have limits. But just because how you do something is limited doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of reaching your goal.

Start small. “Baby steps” is a clichéd phrase, but building up your confidence and ability makes a huge difference. A lot of obstacles will feel conquerable if you face them little by little. For my asthma, that means small amounts of consistent exercise.

It’s okay to take a break. Sometimes it’s too much, and you will need room to regroup. Giving yourself grace is healthy, not lame.

Use the tools you have. That might be a friend to talk to or a website for resources — or in my case, my dang inhaler.

I don’t know if you’re feeling exhausted, scared, or psyched about what life looks like right now, but I hope you know that obstacles and limitations aren’t weaknesses. They’re opportunities to grow stronger, even if it takes a while. What tools do you find most helpful when things are in your way? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and go kick this week’s butt!

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