Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Co-Workers Worried by Reader’s Allergies

DEAR HARRIETTE: It’s allergy season again, at least for me. I find myself sneezing and sniffling all the time, even though I use allergy medicine. Sometimes I can tell that my co-workers back up a little when I have allergic reactions. I feel confident that I am not contagious. It’s just allergies, but they do present like a cold sometimes. How can I reassure my co-workers that I am not going to make them sick? -- Allergic

DEAR ALLERGIC: Your allergy sniffles and sneezes may seem like nothing to you, but to most people, it does seem like you are spreading around your germs -- which, in fact, you are even if you’re not sick. When you are in the throes of allergy season, be sure to walk with tissues and hand sanitizer. Sneeze and blow away from the group, even if you have to excuse yourself from a meeting or a dining table. Keep your area tidy, and be mindful of touching other people until after you clean your hands.

Check in with your doctor to see if the prescription you are using is strong enough to manage your allergies. Sometimes a medication change can ward off allergy attacks.

Finally, when you are in the midst of an allergic reaction, let your co-workers know that it is allergy season, and you will do your best to stay clear of them. They will appreciate that.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I went to an event the other evening, dressed in my finest -- or so I thought. When I arrived, several people, including the greeters at the front door, complimented me on my outfit. I appreciated that, especially since I haven’t been out for a while, and I have gained quite a bit of weight.

Anyway, at a certain point during the evening, I saw a man who I have known for at least 20 years. He walked up and smiled, and as he was saying hello, he grabbed my arm and made a comment that I looked good -- even though I have put some meat on my bones. I didn’t quite know how to react to that. Yes, I have gained weight, but is that what somebody should say -- pointing out that I have gotten bigger? He unnerved me for a minute. I didn’t say anything, but it bothered me. What do you do in a situation like that? -- Half-Baked Compliment

DEAR HALF-BAKED COMPLIMENT: It sounds like you are especially sensitive about the way your body has transformed over the years. That’s natural. The fact that this man you have known forever obviously noticed that you look different but also complimented you on looking good in your new skin can be taken as a compliment. I doubt that he meant to insult you. He saw you and reacted to the person he saw with honesty and flattery. Sometimes it can be hard to notice a compliment when it is cloaked in a truth that reflects your particular sensitivity.

To be fair, it’s best if people do not address weight at all in conversations. It is so hard to do so without stumbling into offensive language. But, in this man’s case, it seems that he meant to celebrate you, just as those people who didn’t know you were doing that day.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to askharriette@harriettecole.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)