I have a complicated relationship with spring. I love it when the tulips shoot like rockets between rowhouses and mansions alike. When the perfumed magnolias scatter around campus, only opening once in their delicate surrender, just to fall to the cobblestones like late March snow. I most love the sunny days when the temperature breaks 60 degrees and everyone’s sprawled out on the Beach.
Each day is filled with different colors and aromas, and I’m left wanting more — I can be greedy like that. I want more short-sleeved days strolling North Calvert Street and Guilford Avenue, people-watching with the trees and fresh leaves. And then I’m hit with the reality of seasonal allergies.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, allergic rhinitis (referred to as “hay fever,” or seasonal allergies) affects between 10 and 30% of the world’s population. That’s potentially 1 to 2 billion people worldwide suffering from runny noses, itchy eyes and sneezing among other symptoms at the turning of the seasons.
And for people with allergy disorders, asthma and autoimmune disorders, the impact of seasonal allergies can be much worse than just a sneeze or itchy eyes. I grew up watching my relatives with lung disorders and severe asthma sometimes struggle to breathe when surrounded by trees, pollen, animals and other environmental factors.
In the first grade, I remember going to the nurse’s office almost every day for the entirety of spring because of my paralyzing headaches. And when the headaches didn’t improve with age and ibuprofen, I was diagnosed with chronic migraine disorder.
Anyone who has had a migraine at some point in their life knows how painful and debilitating it is. Migraines are often listed as one of the most painful medical conditions. And to make matters worse, the intense throbbing pain is often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.
In high school, sometimes all it took for a headache to transform into a migraine was the slam of a locker or even walking through the aisles of a brightly lit store. It’s different for everyone, but a common trigger for me and many others is seasonal allergies.
I ask myself how something so beautiful — the ritual cleansing of snow and sleet, daffodils and roses taking over the avenue, an unclouded sky that goes on for miles — how could this cause such suffering annually?
Anybody who’s ever talked to me knows how much I hate winter. Most years I wish winter ended at Christmas and we could celebrate the new year reveling in abundant sunshine, popping champagne over picnic blankets and pondering what we’ll do with the rest of our lives. This year, the chill of January reminded me that I was asking for too much.
I rely on allergy medications to (quite literally) survive the things that I can’t get enough of. Oddly, my immune system is constantly reacting to things I’m not even allergic to. Before meals, I take medication that helps reduce the risk of my body’s immune response to foods that may be cross-contaminated with things like dairy, wheat and corn. Sometimes, even a lettuce wrap or Chipotle bowl will leave me with the same symptoms as the foods I’m allergic to, just in a milder form.
This is also true with outdoor allergies — grasses and trees I never tested positive for on an allergy test still leave me in a perpetual state of headaches and sniffles. The Earth is constantly giving me more than my body can handle. I’m doing what I can to survive.
Last spring, after months of hiding away in my bedroom, I began taking walks with my friends as a way to cut through the thick sheet of depression that kept me from seeing the world, and even myself. Strolling along the streets as they thawed, I began to open my mind to the possibility of happiness; to new beginnings; to life after illness, after death, after grief, after it feels like there’s nothing left. Often I find myself asking, can witnessing the protest of the leaves greening amid a wintry scene really give us a reason to live?
Exploring nature has always intrigued me. As a child, my family would go camping often, and I couldn’t help but imagine the lives of the forests — how every breathing thing was placed on this Earth for a reason.
I can’t count the times I’ve been late to class because I stopped at a tree or flower to decipher its name, its origin. I even downloaded a free app called PictureThis that allows me to scan plants and identify them pretty accurately. Exploring my neighborhood through its flora has allowed me to ground myself in the present.
I feel more at home under a magnolia tree, or scanning the crepe myrtle that reminds me of snowflakes as a gust of wind knocks one branch into another, than I do anywhere else. I’m not sure if it’s the poet or the naturalist in me — probably a combination of both — but I’m obsessed with trees and flowers. I’m obsessed with what I know will hurt me.
Start of Spring
Sitting on a park bench, a bird
shit on my laptop, and normally,
I’d be pissed, but I can see
clear sky for the first time in a long while and the
pollen’s collecting on the keyboard, my fingertips.
I want to ask for more. More sun, more trees,
more bees propagating on spring leaves. Then
I remember: what’s beautiful doesn’t last.
That what your lizard tongue wants to lick
like Fun-Dip off the pavement (you are allergic to pollen)
will only hurt you.
This poem explores the feelings of being thrust into the abrupt start of spring, aware that often what I find beautiful — what I’m most attracted to — isn’t actually good for me. I wouldn’t call myself a masochist or anything, but only with pain can we choose what we are willing to endure, what we are destined to desire despite the suffering it incurs. And is that not desire? Hurtling ourselves towards what we know will obliterate us?
Christian Paulisich is a junior from San Leandro, Calif. studying Medicine, Science and the Humanities and Psychology.