Wow, you came to visit my page. Thanks. My name is Amanda, and I'm 22 years old--a junior in college studying clinical psychology. One of the things I have to deal with in my life is  depression, so my major helps me to understand what it's all about. Even without the psychology classes, though, I'd be able to tell you what it stems from. A lot of the triggers for my feelings are echoes of my being very sick as a child. For instance,  anytime I fall behind in class,  I remember how tough it was to keep up with the other kids in grade school. And when I find myself in small, pastel blue rooms, I get freaked because  I was in a small pastel blue ICU room once and I thought I was going to die. See what I mean? It's hard for me to shake difficult memories and feelings like that.

Are you wondering just what was going on with me as a child? I've never kept it a secret, so here goes...I have a very bad asthma problem. Life threatening, really. I've made the tour of just about every ICU in Boston, which is impressive since I live about an hour north of the city when I'm not in school. 

It was really weird growing up with asthma as bad at mine. When I was in elementary school, my mom couldn't have a job and had to carry a beeper in case I got sick since the attacks would come on so quickly.  I could never go on field trips, either, and of course I was excluded from sleep-overs; they were for the healthy kids. 
As bad as my breathing problems was, it was never just the athsma.  I'm allergic to some medications and all dairy products, too. The dairy allergy is another league entirely from lactose intolerance, and I hated explaining that all the time. Conversations would go something like this: 
"I'm allergic to milk" 
"Oh, you're lactose intolerant!" 
"No...I'm allergic to everything dairy." 
"Can't you just take a pill like Tonia?  She's lactose intolerant, too." 

At that point I'd throw my hands in the air and give up.  I'm also allergic to fish, shell fish,
hotdogs (never could figure out why), cocoa, raw eggs (no licking the cake batter for me), and walnuts (apparently they have a protein similar to milk).  Of course eating out has been hard my family...and me.  I can never have cake at birthday parties, and have to do without ice cream on hot days.  I have to read the ingredients in bread, cookies, salad dressing. . .you get the idea.  I've pretty much adjusted to it by cake is fine with me,  and I order lemonade at the ice cream stand. I even learned to make it something of a game.  When I go to a restaurant, it's  'will this, or this, or this make Amanda sick?' 

When I was little, though,  I felt so left out.  I had to take Prednisone (not a fun drug) for so long that it stunted my growth.  I'm only 4' 11", which is also not fun, since even the sensors on automatic doors often miss me, and I have the toughest time finding pants and skirts that fit right (that aren't designed for elementary school children). Other reasons I felt different from my classmates were my learning disability (dyslexia) that I inherited, and ADHD.

When I'm having an asthma attack I tell people not to worry unless I start to turn gray or purple, I'm that used to it now,  but for a long time I'd get so scared .Thank God I was able to develop a sense of humor about it.  My older sister once said that I turn a great shade of purple at the end of my nose when I have an attack, and that she wished she had a shirt that color. When I remember her way of looking at it, I still laugh!

One of the most important things I think people should understand, both about themselves and others, is that a serious illness isn't just a health issue, but rather a whole life issue.  It affects everything, making it hard to relate to other people because they just don't get how an illness can color life.  For instance, I missed a lot of school when I was a kid, so it was hard to make friends,  I was treated differently in classes in ways that made me seem "special" when I would have liked more than anything to be normal.  I even had to have special white boards in my classrooms because I was so allergic to chalk dust.  And I could never run around in gym class.  The teacher had me walk around the school doing errands because at least walking was exercise I could do.  Other kids got angry because I got to do
something different.   I would have rather played softball with them. 

You might think that my childhood was dreadful, but that would not be true. There are positive aspects to my life as well.  Like for starters, I'm a fairly good artist. Since I couldn't/still can't run around like other people,  I draw instead, and make things.  A lot.  I've learned patience, too, and how to make myself heard.  My mother taught me that.  "Just because you are a child" she told me, "is no reason for the doctors not to listen and take you seriously."  I figured that I knew what I was feeling better than they did, and they needed to listen to me, not just tell me what they thought I felt like.  My need to be so assertive, speaking up for myself, has definitely made my life better. It cured me of any shyness I might otherwise have had.  In fact, I like to make people stare  (I'm the girl that wears fairy wings to class just for fun) and I enjoy making new friends. 

I come from a loving family, the middle of three girls. We have learned to live with a lot of stress from the medical problems that live with us all. We all joke that we should trade our bodies in for new models.   My mom has asthma like me (actually I think I have it like her) and bad arthritis to boot.  Needless to say, when I'm aroud I get to haul the laundry up and down stairs, but really I don't mind.  You just do what you have to do.   My Dad has Crohns disease (so does my older sister) and late onset diabetes. I'm still waiting for one of those to show up in me.  I'm at the right age, and they run through his family. Can you imagine coming to dinner at my house?  No dairy, little starch, sugar-free desserts 

Friends.  I make some weird ones.  I'm something of a social cactus, but I get along great with the other cacti out there.  My best friend Emily is great.  We can share just about anything and we are often loud and obnoxious together.  We also write novels, and a great ego boost for us. They tell me that they like hearing about my "stories from the war", so I thought I'd share one with this web page.

Can you tell I like to write?  And I like people to understand.  To talk and ask questions.  I like it when people ask questions, it means they want to understand. And its a good way to get to know someone else. Thanks for spending the time to get to know me!

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Joan Fleitas, Ed.D., R.N.
Associate Professor of Nursing, Lehman College, CUNY
Bronx, New York 10468

Last updated: November 14, 2004