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Lived experiences of (sports) people with asthma:
“Conformers, Contesters, Creators”
Owton, H. University of Exeter
INTRODUCTION The majority of the research surrounding asthma has been quantitative and laboratoryexperimental, which has given precedence to the way the body is examined as an object (Gregersen, 2003). Childhood
populations have often been the focus, and sporting adult populations have been largely overlooked despite the strong
relationship between asthma and sport and increasing rates of ‘late onset asthma’. Therefore the purpose of this
research was to explore the lived experiences of adults who played or who had played sport. It provides insight into
sporting females’ and males’ embodied experiences of asthma through an investigation of their topical life histories.
Exploring these people’s perceptions, lived experiences, attitudes, beliefs, and preferences could help inform health
practitioners and sporting professionals about the implications for sport participation and treatment programmes in
their sporting lives.
METHOD In-depth interviews were the primary techniques employed, and through narrative (thematic) analysis, the stories of 14
participants (8 females & 6 males; aged 22 - 87 years) helped to inductively identify the following typology focused upon 3 ‘ideal
types’. This typology, it should be emphasized, is being used for heuristic purposes given the uncertain and illusive nature of
asthma, and the research fully acknowledges the mutability and flux of identities/subjectivities (Richardson, 1990).
Are those who tend to view their
body as a machine which they can
‘fix’ during an asthma attack by
using an inhaler. As Ellie states:
“I’m slowly coming to realise
that the only way I’m gonna fix
the situation is to take my
medication”. Therefore,
compliancy with their medication
means that they “don’t suffer
with it… because I take my
inhaler” (Brian). People have
faith and trust in ‘medicine’.
Their daily lives are more
constricting because they take
steps to avoid triggers so that
they are in more control of their
body and corporeal reactions are
more predictable; “generally
speaking it has no effect at
all. i.e. it’s under control isn’t
it” Despite this control they
seem to be disassociated with
their bodies, as Peter explains,
“I’ll get a heavy cold on my
chest and then I have to go to
the doctor’s and have it
cleared”. Conformers were not
inclined to listen to their bodies:
“No, I never listened to it
before and I don’t really listen
to it now… I’m in control… mind
over matter” (Brian).
Appear to be experiencing disruption. Some
who developed asthma at 8-11yrs were told
they “would grow out of it and never did”
(Mike). Matt said that if anything, “He was
growing right into asthma”. Contesters
distrust ‘medicine’ and doctors, “I don’t
really believe... that anybody can help
me so.. I’ve developed an idea that
they’re [doctors] incompetent, [laughs]
unable to do anything” and are generally
Creators view their body as changeable, a
project which they accept. They hold a degree
of scepticism about ‘medicine’ and avoid
medication dependency. They are experimental
and seek alternative therapies (e.g. yoga),
strategies (such as self-talk, imagery) and
medicines (e.g. herbal remedies) to suit their
selves. For example, Lisa describes how she
uses self-talk and imagery:
Imagine myself breathing freely. Yeah, so I
say to myself, you'll be fine. if you just
‘non-compliant’ with their medication. Mike
relax. yeah, just talking to myself.... about
says that he is “quite bad at managing it
how, it's more like, after the initial sort
really, cos I don’t take my inhalers very
of, like, you need to calm down. and then I
much even when I need it [laughs]”. He
sort of imagine myself, sort of, as I am, in
seems to think that “There’s no real
my head, um but like from an external point
reason [laughs] and I’m quite stupid I
of view. Like, taking in a deep breath and
suppose [laughs] but that’s the way it is
[laughs].... I won’t go and ask for help at slowing releasing it, um and that sort of
all”. They view their bodies as ‘threatening’ helps me get back into the normal pattern
of breathing.
(Leder, 1990) and often struggle and fight
through their asthma attacks. This lack of
‘control’ often means their sporting
participation is irregular. Akin to Frank’s
(1995) chaos narrative they live in a
‘disordered sense of time’ and do not have a
heightened awareness of their world.
Therefore, space constriction is perceived
as low because they often do not know what
triggers their asthma. Instead, they “try
and mask it” and pretend that “I’m not
struggling or [sigh] er... I don’t know, I
try and control my breathing. Try and...
well try and resist it basically” (Matt).
Because of this experimentation, and the ways
in which they are reforming their bodies, they
listen to their bodies as a source of valuable
information and so are highly associated with
their bodies. They regularly participate in
sport or have adjusted to different forms of
exercise; because of these skills they feel
more in control and less anxious about their
asthma: “I know I can use these sort of
skills. I don’t worry about carrying it
[inhaler] around” (Lotty). Furthermore, for
some, this newly ‘tuned-in’ way of being was
“transformational for me” (Peter).
‘Ideal types’ The “Ideal Type” never seeks to claim its validity in terms of a reproduction of or a correspondence with social
reality (Calhoun & Gergeis, 2007). Similarly to Frank (1995), it is important to stress the fluidity and context-dependency of the
types; people do not always fit neatly in the typology and may be a mixture depending on the circumstances. Furthermore, they
may cross the categories depending upon time/context. At certain times, people may change from one dominant aspect to
another, for example, during the period of winter or summer which might ‘flare up’ their asthma.
Concluding thoughts... An ‘asthma identity’ as investigated by Adams et al. (1997) seems to be a more interactive (with other
identities) and complex process than simply accepting or denying. The typology describes how people contest, conform or create
their sense of self and identity in relation to asthma, sport, occupation, and gender through a dis/association from/with their
bodies. Conformers are those who tend to comply with medication and feel in control of their asthma because of their inhaler.
However, even if people are ‘non-compliant’ with their medication, it does not necessarily mean that they are not ‘in control’ of
their asthma. A heightened association with mind and body, suggests that creators are people who are more in control of their
asthma and highlights the importance of mind-body association which was somewhat overlooked in Adams et al.’s (1997) study.
addition, there is a need to acknowledge the importance of ‘power-balance’ and trust within the doctor-patient relationship.
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