Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

living-with-asthma
photo: Thalia Ortiz

It’s safe to say that winter can be one of the most brutal times of the year, especially if you’re a person living with asthma like me. Unpredictable weather changes can spring on asthma attacks and complications.

What's more, this medical condition affects a disproportionate number of Latinos every year, with 10 percent of Latino children under the age of 18 suffering from this chronic respiratory disorder. Nearly 25 million people have asthma in the U.S. and the number doesn’t seem to be dwindling any time soon. Many sufferers don’t even realize they have asthma due to limited awareness in the Latino community about the condition. Although asthma can determine a number of things in your life, I’ve learned that it does not have to define who you are.

I’ll never forget the first time I stopped letting asthma hold me back from doing things that I was passionate about. I was in high school getting ready to enter a two-week military-style boot camp program. In order to prepare for its physical demands, I had to train with my classmates for weeks and participate in a series of workouts. Everything was going smoothly, until running was thrown into the mix.

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To excel in the boot camp, I needed to run a minimum of five miles on a daily basis, something I was told by doctors my entire life that I could never do. I was warned on numerous occasions that I could fall into an asthma attack if I pushed myself too hard physically and that running was a huge trigger.

I was always excused from physical activity in gym class ever since I was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma in elementary school. In the winter, I would miss class for weeks at a time if I caught a cold and had an asthma-related complication. 

Asthma was like a security blanket that I hid behind my entire life because it was easier than attempting new things and risking failure.

Feeling absolutely terrified, I decided to break out of my bubble and committed to taking baby steps to becoming a runner. It wasn’t easy, but there was nothing more gratifying than running more than I ever thought possible and speeding through five miles without having to reach for an inhaler. I felt like I had finally taken control of my asthma.

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Since then, I’ve had similar challenges that have made me more health-conscious about my asthma. It’s something that I will live with my entire life, but making major dieting and lifestyle changes in my early 20s have kept me in control.

I no longer hide in the shadows embarrassed to talk about my condition. For the first time, I finally feel comfortable discussing it openly and have learned so much about how other people have overcome it. Although I’ll probably always have some sensitivity to cold climates and strenuous exercise, I’ll never allow myself be pigeon-holed by my asthma again.