Cat vs. Allergies: A Devil’s Bargain

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by Brianna Albers |

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I never think about my life after 7 p.m.

Years ago, I stumbled across this particularly helpful life tip. As someone with anxiety, I have a hard time shutting up my brain, especially after the sun sets. Depending on my mood, I can easily get wrapped up in worst-case scenarios, wearing my nerves thin. So it helps to know that, after a certain time of day, I’m no longer allowed to engage in what I call “deep thoughts.”

I don’t think about the state of the world. I don’t think about my career (on the rocks), my love life (nonexistent), or my credit card debt (hefty). For the most part, I stick to shallow things, like “Star Wars” or whatever Dungeons & Dragons show I’m currently bingeing. If I find myself going astray, I ask my dad to remind me of my golden rule.

I never, under any circumstances, think about my life after 7 p.m.

For the most part, it works pretty well. But no plan is foolproof.

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The banner for Brianna Albers' column depicts a wolf howling against a background of mountains and trees, with the words

Having a Body Is a Full-time Job

A few days ago, I was nursing a particularly gnarly sinus headache. For those who don’t know, I have capital “B” bad allergies, caused by mold, mildew, and an array of seasonal triggers. Twice a day, I take a concoction of allergy medications — prescription drugs, over-the-counter vitamins, you name it. If it’s on the market, I’ve probably tried it.

For all my experimentation, though, I’m still pretty miserable. I’m not breaking out in hives or sneezing constantly, but I pretty much always have a low-grade sinus headache. Over the years, I’ve learned to manage the pain, but there are days when no amount of essential oils can take the edge off.

I recently had one such day.

Because it was after 7 p.m., the pain was taking me to some less-than-ideal mental places. I was tired of being in pain. I was tired of slathering peppermint oil all over my face to open my sinuses. All I wanted was some relief.

Right on cue, the traitorous, post-sunset voice in my head whispered, “You do know you’re allergic to cats, right?”

I’ve been allergic to cats all my life, but that’s never stopped me before. I’ve had cats for as long as I can remember. At one point, we had three cats of varying sizes and temperaments running around our suburban home. One of our cats, Oreo, used to sleep on my collarbone, curled against my face.

Still, I couldn’t help but wonder. Was Rey the reason for my woes?

allergies | SMA News Today | Brianna takes a selfie with her cat, Rey, who's curled up on her lap.

Brianna and Rey, featuring some groovy Hawaiian pajamas. (Photo by Brianna Albers)

I’ve written previously about Rey and the difference she’s made in my life. I’m not exaggerating when I say that she’s the one thing that’s gotten me through the pandemic. When Oreo died in 2018, I didn’t notice a significant change in my allergies, so I felt it was safe to get a new cat.

That didn’t stop my mind from going haywire, though. As I got ready for bed, I asked my dad if I was stupid for having a cat when I’m literally allergic to them. The symptoms are unfortunate, but for me, the benefits of a support animal far outweigh the temporary discomfort.

Life with SMA is a series of choices. Do you leave the house and risk getting sick, or do you stay home and deal with the side effects of social isolation? Do you take the new medication knowing it’s still under review, or do you wait and decline even further? Do you undergo an operation that could significantly increase your quality of life, even though anesthesia can be dangerous for people with your disease?

My cat vs. allergies dilemma is comparatively low stakes. But it points to an overarching truth of chronic illness: You can’t always win. Inevitably, you will find yourself taking a devil’s bargain. There is no universal right choice — only what’s right for you.

I wish I could have the best cat in the world and clear sinuses. But I can’t. Other people might judge me for choosing Rey, and that’s OK. What matters is that I know the reasons behind my decision, and I do.

I just need to disavow post-sunset pity parties.

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Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


jerry armstrong avatar

jerry armstrong

I read your well written post and share your allergy to cats. I find that a small dog is a better support animal. My own is a 10 lb. min-pin (miniature pinCHER). I believe dogs can be trained to use a litter-box like cats do. I'm relatively sure you could be helped by choosing a house trained pup or adult dog to love by making a few personal adjustments (i.e. a treadmill for it if no OTHER WAY FOR IT'S EXERCISE. Good luck with youur next pet.


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