Through the looking glass: Seasonal misery disorder

Enter any public place on any given day in any small rural town in Canada and you will likely be met with intimate details of any number of ailments afflicting folks. Topics may include, but are not limited to, Joe’s gout, Mary’s hip replacement or Frank’s success with Viagra. Apparently your mere presence in a doctor’s office gives implied consent to the notion that you’d like to hear about and perhaps share your own stories of sickness and health. If you’re lucky, you will enter at a time when another time honoured tradition is taking place: discussion about the weather. Nothing seems to cement a common bond between complete strangers like opinions on the current weather conditions. Did you know that in Westlock, Alberta we have now had snow on the ground for six solid months? I learned that at the bank. It was then confirmed at physiotherapy and further cemented at the grocery store. Frank’s Viagra can’t compete with this news.

Commonly, after this revelatory news, I get to hear what people think of this news. More often than not I am met with disgust, frustration, even contempt. As if somehow this is a slight by mother nature or perhaps she didn’t realize she’d kept winter going that long, and enough complaints will make her aware of the folly of her ways and set about to appease the populous. This is usually where I offer some quick encouragement like, “I hear it’s supposed to be warm next week!” Hopeful smile and exit, stage left.

[related_content slugs=”through-the-looking-glass-feel-the-burn,through-the-looking-glass-i-now-pronounce-you-house-and-wife,through-the-looking-glass-there-is-no-planet-b,through-the-looking-glass-forget-me-not-part-2″ description=”More from Jennifer Barry” position=”right”]

Now, please understand, it’s not that I’m antisocial and don’t like to engage in conversations with random strangers… well, that is true, but that’s not the only reason; I have a not so well kept secret: I love winter. And apparently any an admittance of a certain fondness for the season, which seems to most define Canada to any other country, is considered abhorrent behavior. The same complete strangers who, a moment ago, were prepared to cement a lifelong bond of weatherhood, are now backing away from me like I am carrying a communicable disease. This person, with whom I haven’t even gotten to the stage of sharing names, takes no issue in now publicly berating me my preference, quipping how crazy I am and suggesting I go live somewhere else! Ironic?

Perhaps I should save myself the lead up and don a scarlet letter “W” whenever I’m in public. That should save some time. Another interesting side effect of my admittance of guilt seems to be the assumption that I am sadistic and take pleasure in other people’s misery of the season. “Oh, it’s -50! YOU must be happy!” OK, to be clear: I don’t now, nor have I ever had any interest in freezing to death. I do like to feel my extremities. I enjoy feeling my lips and being able to speak audible sentences. I like having all my digits attached and functioning and I don’t particularly enjoy the sensation of snot freezing in my nose. And contrary to popular opinion, I’m really not a big fan of an impromptu game of ice-induced chicken or hours wasted shoveling our vehicles out of the ditch.

Now, again, please understand that while I detest the constant burn, blister, peel, repeat process that I inevitably endure every single summer (and before you suggest it, yes I wear sunblock with an SPF of 50; I’d hate to deprive the folks who like to make fun of my paleness), and I’m not a fan of sweating constantly or suffocating in 30 degree heat, there’s a much bigger picture to why I don’t enjoy the seasons spring through fall; I have allergies. Lots of allergies. Until recently my allergies were mostly environmental, but some recent allergy testing showed that, well, it’s still environmental, but… not. It’s OK, I was confused too. Every year from the first floating bud laden with pollen to the last stalk harvested in the field, I am miserable.

Enter the Allergist. After extensive questioning, and a quick consult with the doctor, his assistant administered the allergy test. The test consisted of numerous markings, drops of liquids to correspond with the markings and strategic poking in the center of each droplet. I was left with the instructions to not scratch. By the time the Allergist entered the room my arms resembled that of a Smallpox outbreak and I was close to fevered at the resistance of scratching. Ignoring my arms, he began his examination. Listening to my chest he instructed me to take a deep breath. Seconds into my exhale, he moved it and said “Again.” Quick inhale, began to exhale… “again,” inhale “again.” Seconds from passing out I felt what I assumed was an otoscope in my ear and not his pen. He continued asking me questions while sticking the otoscope in my other ear, then my mouth and just for good measure, up my nose. Feeling sufficiently investigated, I regained my composure.

The allergist made a few notes, tossed me a couple of wipes and instructed me to clean off my arms. I was a little taken aback. “Have you looked at them?” Nodding he continued with his notes. Handing my husband a wipe we both thoroughly scrubbed off the offending droplets. Immediately I was met with no relief and continued to scratch incessantly as the doctor relayed his findings.

“You have Oral Allergy Syndrome,” he declared. Immediately going down the wrong road, I began to formulate a tactful question when he redirected me down the right road. “It’s related to your birch tree allergy.” Struggling to make the correlation I decided to sit quietly to avoid embarrassment. “Basically there are proteins in fruit, vegetables and nuts that are similar to birch trees. Your body doesn’t know the difference. It sees those proteins and reacts the same as if you were ingesting birch pollen.”

“Huh. So, I’m not specifically allergic to raw fruits, vegetable and nuts, but when I eat them my body thinks I’m eating a birch tree?”

“Essentially, yes. Your reaction can be just as severe as it is with the birch trees.”

“Huh. But if I cook the foods I’m fine.”

“Yes because that protein is destroyed when heated.”


“And your lactose intolerance is due to the sugars in the milk.”

“I’m lactose intolerant?”

“Yes, but cheese and yogurt are OK because those sugars are gone after the processing.”


“And your bug bite reaction is just that your body doesn’t like bugs.”

I know how it feels. “Oh, so the painful welts and puss and oozing….”

“Your body doesn’t like the bugs. You can take Benadryl orally or try a cream. If it gets really bad your family doctor can prescribe something. I’ll send him a copy of my report. You’re also allergic to cats and dogs.”


“You have dogs?”


“How many?”


“Are they in your room?”


“Keep them out.”


“OK, I have your list here of all your allergies. Try and avoid them. We can consider allergy shots if you’d like but for now let’s try some other things.”

I take the sheet and start to read through the list. My husband reads over my shoulder. Willow, poplar, oak, elm, birch, cedar, rye grass, sweet vernal, timothy, grass mix, cats, dogs… My husband queries, “What’s the western tree mix?”

“Basically any tree in Western Canada.”

“Huh. Antarctica is looking better all the time.”

“Ok, so my assistant will come in and give you some information and treatments to follow. If you have any questions there’s my number.”

Still scratching my arms. “OK, thank you…I think.”

After a few more minutes with the assistant and a list of remedies to shop for, we left the office. I spent the better part of that and well into the next, rubbing the still swollen spots on my arms. The nasal rinse with salt and manuka honey was about as pleasant as inhaling Drano. After forcing the liquid through my blocked sinuses I then get to coat my nose with a nasal spray that will continue to slowly ooze out of my nose for about an hour following. Eyes watering and no longer able to breath through my nose, I move on to steroid sprays and Ventolin. Following that I am on to the oral allergy meds. Depending on the time of day I am either incoherent or vibrating from the effects. Once the bugs come out, I will engage in a daily regime of marinating in bug repellant. Couple that with sunblock and it seems I’ve found a perfect balance to attract all manner of insect. Each night I will apply Benadryl and an antibiotic cream to each painful oozing welt and then cover it with little band-aid circles. I will look and feel like death. And now despite the drug induced haze I will enjoy, I will be unable to sleep due to the sauna like conditions of my bedroom. I will resist the urge to suffocate my husband with the pillow as he softly snores beside me. And sometime around 3am, as I finally drift off to unconsciousness, I will likely dream of snowflakes falling softly against the light of the streetlight, and floppy hats and mitts, and snowmen and snowball fights, and the soft crackle of the fireplace after a good ski, and hot chocolate, and hot tubs in the snow and sledding with the children and…