What my allergies have taught me about human connections

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I have allergies.

Nasty, inconvenient allergies.

I'm allergic to completely innocuous things like pollen, dust, strong scents and certain types of beans and nuts.

This may not sound like much but I'm usually…

The girl who sneezes when I'm in a garden

The person who feels light-headed if someone in the room is wearing a strong perfume

The girl who starts coughing and sneezing when the incense sticks are lit

One whiff of passive smoke has my eyes and throat burning for a day or two

And I’m usually one of the few people that will come down with something after a day’s exposure to paint and dust — one visit to the National Capital on a particularly smoggy day could really make me unwell.

Unwittingly eating the stuff I’m allergic to takes me out of commission for days! Even if they’re consumed in small quantities, I will inevitably need immediate medical attention.

To people who don't have these allergies, these descriptions sound like exaggerations.

But they're not.

The funny thing about these allergies is that barring a few triggers such as smoke and smog, none of them are bad for health generally.

Pollen is harmless.

Nuts and seeds are just food.

Perfume and incense sticks are in fact pleasant things.

However, I don’t enjoy any of them due to my peculiar biochemistry. In fact, I’m mildly terrified of these things because I associate pain and discomfort to them.

The interesting thing is that these allergies vary in intensity based on the seasons of the year, time of day and on whether or not I'm on anti-allergenic medication.

People who don't know about my allergies inadvertently do things that expose me to these allergens.

The key thing is that they don't know.

Once they know, they stop doing it.

And I let them be. There’s no harm done. I understand that they only set off my triggers because they didn’t know any better. They weren’t deliberately trying to hurt me.

I’ve noticed that I find it hard to extend this level of understanding to situations when my friends trigger me emotionally.

One sarcastic comeback, or one tasteless remark at something that I’m a little bit sensitive about is all it takes to unleash my wrath!

How dare they?

Don't they know this about me already?

They're doing it on purpose

They're bad people

I automatically think that any emotional confrontations are born out of hate or bad intentions.

I have never paused to think it could just be plain old ignorance.

Once I started to give people the benefit of the doubt, I realised that most people really aren't out to get me. They're fumbling awkwardly through life as well. Sometimes they say dumb shit.

No, they weren’t scheming or plotting to attack me verbally

They were being careless or worse they were trying to look good or trying to sound witty/funny/intelligent.

There’s no way to know unless I tell them what they said didn’t go down well with me.

If they do it again, repeatedly, they may be doing it out of spite.

And I’m better off without people who disrespect you like that. Quite like the people who expose me to the triggers of my allergies even when I’ve told them I don’t like it.

The lesson here is the first thing to do is to never attribute to malice what is easily explained by ignorance.

Learning this principle has done a lot for my peace of mind. I don't pointlessly pick battles or assume the worst of someone when they're out of line. I see that there could be simpler reasons for such behaviour.

Even when I encounter people that are genuinely coming at me with a hidden agenda, being open about what I don’t like shows me in clear terms who I’m dealing with. There’s no ambiguity about whether they meant to say something to hurt me or if it was a harmless joke.

When I'm open about what is acceptable and what isn't, boundaries are drawn. Crossing boundaries is a clear red flag that I can deal with unhesitatingly. Without it, I would have been left with a sense of vague discomfort about people's intentions towards me.

The other benefit of doing this is it makes me more assertive. Instead of taking unwelcome comments, I respectfully say how I feel about things. Being respectfully upfront is an art. And it requires practice.

And most of all, despite everything, this reminds me of the fact that at the end of the day, no matter what people say to me or about me, it can never really hurt me. Not unless I let it in and react adversely to it. Unlike physical allergies where I'm powerless against the triggers and will suffer through the physical discomfort, words are just words.

Just because someone devalues you or disrespects you does not mean that you are incompetent or unworthy.

Be too big to let careless words bring you down — you have a world to change, and a legacy to create. Don’t let pointless chatter slow you down.

The aim is to expend energy only on those things that help you get better at things that matter. Pausing to clarify your intentions and trying to learn the intentions of other people is the biggest time saver out there. The best way to do that is to never assume. Always ask. And move forward confidently.

Author of 'How to be a Lighthouse'. I write for those pursuing excellence and meaning.

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