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I Have My Asthma to Thank for Making Me Smarter

Young boy pouring over a book as his asthma can stop him from playing outside
Getty Images / Imgorthand

As a child, John Bottrell was often stuck inside as his four brothers played outside. But that time indoors opened up a whole new world for him.

Seneca was a Roman senator and one of the most important people of his time. He lived a fascinating life from 1 B.C. to 65 A.D. He also had asthma and became a prolific writer, including about his own experience with asthma, which he referred to as “a shortness of breath.”

Seneca could have sat around feeling sorry for himself, but instead he took a different approach.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes of Seneca:

“It is your body, not your mind as well, that is in the grip of ill health. Hence it may slow the feet of a runner and make the hands of a smith or cobbler less efficient, but if your mind is by habit of an active turn you may still give instruction and advice, listen and learn, inquire and remember. Besides, if you meet sickness in a sensible manner, do you really think you are achieving nothing?”

There were undoubtedly things Seneca was unable to do. But he spent time learning, reading, and writing.

This seems to have worked out pretty well for Seneca, despite his asthma.

Seneca’s thoughts on asthma struck a chord with me. It made me think of my own asthma and how it made me different from my dad and brothers. It definitely led me in a different direction.

The limitations of asthma as a child

I was the second of five boys. The area where we grew up was replete with many trees and hills, where my brothers spent many winters skiing, sledding, and enjoying the fun outdoors. But I was often forced to stay at home in my room, since the cold air triggered my asthma.

My brothers and I built a huge fort from scrap wood we found and laid old carpet inside. We spent many hours playing there during warmer months. But mold grew inside the fort after a few long, hot summers. My brothers continued to play in the fort as usual. I had stay at home in my room to avoid the mold.

On weekends Dad cut down trees in the woods. My brothers and I usually accompanied him to gather and stack wood in the truck. I went when I could, but sometimes I couldn’t due to my asthma.

Dad loved to take us camping in his old 1950s camper. It smelled of dust and mold inside. This never bothered Dad or my brothers, but it sometimes triggered my asthma. When this happened, Dad had to cut our trips short to take me home. Sometimes I just stayed home with Mom instead.

Choosing to stay productive

With all of the time I was stuck indoors, I could have done nothing, or felt sorry for myself. Perhaps it was because Dad encouraged us to be industrious that I decided to forgo the self-pity and make the most out of these occasions.

On days when I couldn’t play outdoors, I went with Mom to the library and brought back stacks of books. If I was trapped inside my room, I read. Sometimes I’d read all day.

All this reading activated my imagination and got me interested in art. When I was 10, I made a huge drawing of a bird flying over a field of grass. I colored it in nicely with colored pencils and showed it to my art teacher. She helped me to make it better and entered it into a contest. I won first place!

I also wrote. I listened into what the adults at home said and thought about their conversations. Sometimes I’d turn what I’d heard into short stories.

One day my brother David challenged me to a writing competition to write a book for Mom. She’d be the judge.

David was done with his book in an hour and went to the fort to play. Since I couldn’t go outside due to my asthma, I stayed in my room and continued writing my story. It took me over a week to finish. I easily won this competition.

A lifetime inside led me to college

As I got older, I realized I needed to start thinking about a career. Dad owned a car lot, but I knew wouldn’t be going into the car business — too many irritants for my asthma. I also couldn’t work in a factory, which wasn’t uncommon for young men where I grew up.

I had no choice but to go to college. In fact, I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. My experiences not only made me smarter, they allowed me to pursue a career that’s near and dear to me: respiratory therapy. I also became a writer, a dream job of sorts.

Asthma made Seneca smarter. It helped him learn the skills necessary to become a Senator and philosopher. I’m not famous like Seneca was all those years ago. Still, I can’t help but think asthma made me smarter. It helped shape me into the person I am today. And after all that, I kind of like my life — despite asthma.

For more information on how to manage asthma, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team. 


The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 


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