Nasal Spray: An Awkward Addiction Story

I have a fairly high pain tolerance. I’m able to get through most instances of discomfort by simply telling myself that it’s not permanent. Either the pain will end or I will die. It works surprisingly well! I also don’t have an addictive personality, generally speaking. I am wildly turned off by the idea of being out of control of, well, anything. Let alone my own mind. So drugs and other such things never really appealed to me.

But the one thing, THE ONE THING, I have absolutely zero tolerance for is a stuffy nose. Ever since I was a little kid, a stuffy nose meant a lot of misery and absolutely no sleep. Even a little bit of congestion would spark the tossing and turning. I needed my nostrils to be absolutely clear.

I was 8-years-old the first time I had Afrin. I was going on a field trip to see the Secret Garden. My mom knew that I really liked theatre but that I would be really unhappy if I had a stuffy nose throughout the thing, so she gave me the good stuff. I remember it so well. The instant feeling of absolute, total relief. I sat on my Sun Bonnet Sue comforter, utterly obsessed with my new ability to breathe. In and out. In and out. How glorious! How exhilarating!

And how dangerous.

As a child, my parents were able to monitor my nasal spray use when I had a cold. It was essentially for sleeping or special events such as the one listed above. Otherwise, I had to tough it out. It meant 7-10 days of being the mouth-breather kid, but I was mostly okay with this.

Ay, but that’s the problem with youth. Who thought it was a responsible idea to let 18-year-olds out of the house? To unleash the monster within? One good cold in college set me back one year in smelling things.

The stuffy nose appeared. I thought I could control it. I thought, I’ll go to the store and get some nasal spray and I’ll just use it to sleep and everything will be fine. I didn’t and it wasn’t. I found myself in class thinking it would just be one time. Then one time turned into every time.

And the thing about nasal spray is that, if you use it more frequently than every 12 hours for no more than 3 days, it can actually cause the congestion to get worse, which causes you to need more nasal spray. It’s a vicious cycle. I became completely dependent upon it. Would have to have it in my pocket at all times. Would have to make friends drive me to the store to get more since I didn’t have a car. Once, I woke my friend up in the middle of the night because I realized I’d left it in his car and needed it to sleep.

I was pumping this stuff into my nose probably once every hour. If I let it wear off, it would feel like someone had flipped my over and poured cement up my nostrils. Then I would sit up at night, my heart beating fast, full of anxiety about the unhealthiness of it all. I visited doctor after doctor that winter for chest pains and palpitations, oblivious to the fact that I was worried about myself and the poison I was pumping into my body 12-15 times a day.

I think I could finally admit I had a problem when I stopped being able to smell or taste things. That’s probably the only way I could ever admit I have a problem with anything: if it comes between me and food.

And so I began my journey to recovery.

I started with doing my research. It turns out this is a fairly common problem. Which is on some level comforting and on some level frustrating because if I was going to be addicted to something, I at least wanted to be original. It was common enough for there to be a nasal spray weaning kit, which involved diluting nasal spray with saline every night until your nose adjusts accordingly. So simple! So ingenious! Yet, I mentioned already, even the teensiest bit of stuffiness won’t do.

Cue the hardest weeks of my life. There was no sleep. There was no happiness. Just lunches not tasted and a nose filled with despair. The best phase was when stuff just started coming out of my nose, like an elegant bidet. All I wanted to do was sneak into the bathroom when no one was looking, and shove more spray up there.

But a little voice told me that this isn’t permanent. That one day, either the stuffiness will end or I will die.

And so, my addiction subsided and one day my nose cleared up like the hand of God poking through the clouds.

I would like to note that I am not belittling or mocking addiction in any way. Addiction is a serious issue that we need to come together to combat as a society and find ways to help people who truly need help.

It’s just that…nasal spray addiction is such a J. Awkward Prufrock thing.

And now the cruel joke is that I have a thyroid problem and can’t take any decongestants or else it will contraindicate my medicine. Thanks a lot, Jesus.

 

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