I swear, 2010 was the year of ‘what’s in my bag’ videos on YouTube. That’s not a complaint – I was obsessed with them. I’m not too sure as to why I was obsessed with them, but I guess it’s because I’m a nosy bugger. I’d marvel at the fancy notebooks these vloggers had, and grimace at the expensive lipsticks they would carry around (thinking who on earth would pay £50 for a lipstick). I never really saw anything of myself in those videos; I was a teenager, I had a bag from Primark, and I had to carry around a lot more than lipsticks, pads, notebooks, and hairbands, but I still liked them. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had to carry around a heck tonne (that’s an official measurement) of medication and other items with me because of my allergies and illnesses.

Two pictures of Rosie Lewis - the first, Rosie is performing on stage, holding an epipen; the second, Rosie sat in a hospital bed, with a close up on her puffed up face, after an allergic reaction

At University, I had a chance to write a musical with my friends for our course, and we poked fun at it there (you can see me clutching an Epipen for dear life in the above picture). Next to that photo is the reality of why I need to carry this around with me; me, sat in a hospital, puffy faced and full of medication, after touching the remains of peanut butter (and that wasn’t even a full blown reaction). I’ve noticed that the general understanding around common allergies and illnesses is rather poor, which got me thinking; what’s a good way to get people thinking about disabilities and allergies? By mixing them with popular lifestyle posts and trends

And with that, let me show you what’s in my bag; allergy and illness style.

 

Two pictures against a light blue backgrounds; both are of a black, faux leather, bowling style handbag

Before we begin, let’s talk the bag.  This bad boy is from H&M approximately a childhood ago, and I’m sure would have cost less than £20. I love style, but bags for me have got to be practical and comfortable before style comes into the equation. My check list for a good bag includes –

  1. Can it fit three notebooks, a pencil case, a bag of medication, my purse, my phone, and other miscellaneous items?
  2. Does it have some form of extra pocket?
  3. Can I carry it as a backpack or over my shoulder with a long strap?
  4. Is it a neutral colour so it won’t clash with anything?

Clutches are not for me, nor are those tiny fashionable rucksacks. You can barely fit a phone in them, let alone a lipstick and a whole bag of pharmaceutical items.

Speaking of pharmaceutical items, let’s get into the juicy bits; what’s actually in my bag.

 

Rosie's hand holding two Epipens against a grey wall

First up, I have the lifesaver, the adrenaline giver, the awkward to fit in any going out bag, the Epipen. I carry two, in fact. An Epipen is an auto injector that is to be used in allergen emergencies. Basically, it’s a needle full of adrenaline. If I somehow ingest a particle of peanut, I could go into anaphylactic shock. This means that the throat starts to close up, the body swells and comes out in hives, blood pressure drops, breathing is impaired, and it could lead to suffocation, kidney failure, or heart failure. Sounds thrilling. So, the needle gets stabbed into my leg, and the adrenaline works to reverse the process of anaphylaxis  (someone still has to call an ambulance though, it won’t stop fully stop anaphylaxis). I’ve got to carry two with me in case the first injection does nothing to help, and another boost of adrenaline is needed. Scared of needles? It’s okay; I can confirm, if you are having some kind of allergic reaction, you won’t really notice the needle going in as you are focusing on trying not to DIE.

 

A Close up of a pack of antihistmaines against a grey background

Continuing on with the theme of deadly, life threatening nut allergies, let’s talk about antihistamines. I get my medication sent to me via Pharmacy2U (which is great for people with lots of medication and/or busy lives), so I get a mix of different branded medication; they all do the same job! I use antihistamines in relation to my peanut and nut allergies, specifically if I come into physical contact with them, or if I ingest particles of nuts that I am less allergic to, such as hazelnuts or cashews. The antihistamines battle the more minor side effects of an allergic reaction; itchy ears and throat, rash, burning skin, puffed up eyes. Those side effects may not sound minor, but as I’m prepared for throat closure and kidney failure, they are quite the norm for me. I tend to use antihistamines in places such as restaurants, festivals, and bars, where cross-contamination is impossible to avoid. Although, if I see a pub with peanuts on the bar, I’m out of there like a shot. This medication is also a double whammy; not only do I get to use it for my nut allergy, but also for my hay fever. What a score! Want to know what other pills I’ve got poppin’ in my bag? Paracetamol, ibuprofen, cold and flu tablets, and anti-depressants. Got a headache or period pains? I’m your gal. 

 

Rosie's hand holding two blue Salbutamol inhalers, against a grey background

From one condition to the next, let’s move on to my inhalers! I’ve been on asthma medication my entire life and I still have Google what the specific names of the medication are.  I always carry two types of inhalers with me; the blue reliever inhaler containing Salbutamol, and the purple preventer inhaler containing Seretide. When you are also on anti-depressants, the Sertraline, Salbutamol, and Seretide all get mixed up in your brain, let me tell you that. In my bag, I carry at least two blue inhalers (sometimes more, depending on how many litter the bottom of my spare bags). The job of the blue inhaler is to relieve the symptoms of asthma or an asthma attack, namely wheezing and tightness of the chest. Normally, a quick blast of this is enough to sort out a flare up, but it is also used in a more frequent manner if an attack happens. The purple inhaler is used to prevent asthma attacks, and works on making your airways less sensitive, meaning you won’t be as sensitive to the usual triggers. This inhaler is only meant to be used twice per day, so I know a lot of people leave it at home. Not me. Look, I was a Girl Guide; you never know when you will be caught out, or away from home.

 

Rosie's hand holding a purple Seretide inhalers against a grey background

Already, that’s four different types of medication before even getting to necessities like phone, purse, and keys. And I’m not done yet. It’s well-known that I tend to be the ‘Mum Friend’, and just like a well-prepared mother, I carry wet wipes with me at all time. Not because I am afraid of my baby being sick (simply as I don’t have a child); no, I am afraid of people leaving their peanut-y residue on tables. If I sound bitter, it’s because I am bitter. I used to reserve carrying these around with me for long travel trips, like going on flights. However, I’ve had some reactions in this past year alone which have made me incredibly worried about eating out. Notably, I was eating at my (ex-) favourite place to have brunch, Josie’s in Winchester, when BAM, my face blew up like a balloon. It turns out the people on our table had something with peanut butter in before us, the table hadn’t been cleaned correctly, and I made to smart decision to rub my eyes whilst I had peanut-y hands (although, I was not aware that I had just swiped my hands through peanut sandwich crumbs, I don’t think I would normally do that). That was a fun day of Epipen stabbing and ambulance riding. I also visited a ‘sports bar’ recently, which I soon learnt is just a code-name for ‘TV, Beer and PEANUTS’. Every time I touched the bar, I had to go and wash my hands, which meant touching peanut-y sink, and peanut-y soap. I left that bar very quickly, looking like an inflatable version of myself.  That, is why I now carry wet wipes everywhere; because I can’t trust table tops or sinks.

 

Rosie's hand holding a small bottle of green Lemon & Lime scented hand sanitiser, against a grey background

I also carry hand-sanitiser everywhere for the same reason, and also because I am wary of soap (I never thought that would be a sentence I would ever type, and yet here we are). You’d be surprised how many soaps contain macadamia nut oil, which would cause my hands to burn and itch. Also, so many of them contain coconut; something which I am intolerant to. I won’t go into anaphylaxis or have an allergic reaction if I smell or eat coconut; I’ll just vomit all over the place. And no-one really wants that.

 

Rosie's hand holding the pink packaging of Nivea's Watermelon Shine lipbalm against a grey background

Now we are getting to the more normal ‘what’s in my bag’ objects. Like lip balm! But, I’ve got to be careful with my lip balm choices. You’d be surprised how many lip balms and lipsticks have various nut oils in. Then, I always carry my phone – surely there is nothing allergenic about my phone! To be fair, you are right. However, I have to keep my phone unlocked at all times. Why? So my emergency numbers can be easily found, so my family and boyfriend can be contacted if I cannot do it myself. That might seem a bit dark, but I have to be prepared for everything.

 

I think that’s all … oh wait. How could I forget this? MY SPACER.

Rosie's hand holding an AeroChamber made up of a mask and a tube, against a grey background

The bad boy that takes up all space in my bag, and also makes me sound like Darth Vader. You stick an inhaler at one end, place the mask on your mouth, push the inhaler twice, and then breath in all of that Seretide and Salbutamol goodness. A spacer helps to get the medication into your lungs when you are struggling, and also provides entertainment to everyone around you. I recently used it at home, and as soon as the sound of the oxygen passing through the spacer started, I could hear my boyfriend crack up in the next room and shouting Star Wars puns at me. A silver lining to what can be a rather awkward contraption to use. 

 

So, if you see me out and about with a bag the size of my upper body, if you wonder why I don’t use a clutch, if you see me digging through my bag like I am searching for gold, you now know why!

 

Are any of you out there in a similar position? Let me know in the comments!

Rosie x

 

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