I Have That: Snatiation

A few weeks ago, a story came across my desk from a woman who said she has snatiation. “Has what?” you say. “Snatiation,” I respond, and then proceed to interview her, Gillian Weeks, about the condition none of us has heard of.

Jane Marie: So you have a thing called snatiation. I’ve never heard of this! What is it?

Gillian Weeks: Snatiation is a portmanteau of the words “sneeze” and “satiation.” It means, in short, that I sneeze after large meals. And I’m not talking about a single dainty, baby panda-like “achoo.” I mean a dozen (or, Dear God, DOZENS) of robust, juicy sneezes. All because I overate.

There’s also a handy backronym for snatiation: Sneezing Non-controllably At a Time of Indulgence of the Appetite — a Trait Inherited and Ordained to be Named. I have a feeling the scientific community is having a big laugh at the expense of sufferers like me. Dicks.

JM: “Backronym.” You’ve got all the words. Okay, so, snatiation. That must be so annoying! Is this a real, medical thing or is it liiike, I dunno — oh boy, every single disease I keep thinking of I know I’ll get in trouble for suggesting they’re not real. But you know what I mean, is it in The Book of Diseases? Do they know why it happens?

GW: Though rare, snatiation is totally a Real Thing. It falls under the same category as sneezing when exposed to bright light, a much more common disorder that affects 10–35% of the population. In both cases, it’s a matter of having your wires crossed. The reflex nerves that trigger sneezing are apparently very close in proximity to the nerves that sense fullness, or the ones that sense light exposure. In other words, my body is confused. Story of my life. (I got this info from an article in Scientific American, btw.)

JM: That is crazy! I’m just going to keep saying that after every single detail you tell me about snatiation. When did you first notice it and how did you figure out it had a name?

GW: So that’s the other thing to know about snatiation: it’s genetic! I knew early on that there was definitely something up with both my father’s and my noses. The two of us would have fits after meals, sometimes at the restaurant and sometimes on the car ride home. Imagine being trapped in a sedan with father-daughter sneezers, both of us just letting ‘er rip for a good fifteen minutes. My poor mother.

I knew our compulsive sneezing couldn’t just be a coincidence, but I had no idea it had a name. And then one day this spring I went out on a first date with a guy in my neighborhood. When we left the restaurant I gave him the usual spiel about how I might start sneezing and how it isn’t cute. (Guys always think it’s going to be endearing. They learn pretty quickly that it’s not.) Surprisingly, he goes, “My sister has that. Snatiation.” I went home and Googled it. And that’s when I knew: I am not alone. It was a real special moment.

JM: Did you marry him? Just kidding. So wait, is there anything you can do about it? Do youuu… avoid holiday meals? Order the salad? Is there a medication? Therapy?

GW: Tragically, there is no cure for snatiation. Well, there might be, but it would probably involve laser brain surgery or nerve soldering and that doesn’t seem worth the effort. That said, I do have a few pilot programs I’m working on to help me manage my symptoms. For example, I’ve started to train myself to stifle the sneezes. This happened after I had an attack on a crowded subway that cleared out my entire row of seats. I’m pretty sure that holding back a sneeze takes the kind of mind that can bend spoons but I’m willing to give it a shot. Because trust me — there’s no shame like that which you feel while grossing out a bunch of New York commuters. If I wasn’t so embarrassed I’d almost be proud.

You raise a good point about the holiday meals and ordering salads. I guess I could always eat less. But that’s what pisses me off about snatiation: it has these “blame the victim” overtones. Oh, so now I can’t go to town on a double portion of mac n’ cheese without snotting all over my dinner date? Last time I checked, this was America.

If I were being totally honest with myself, I’d admit that there’s some part of me that doesn’t want to be cured. You know how they say that a sneeze is one-seventh the power of an orgasm? That’s not accurate at all — like, not even a little bit — but I can see how someone got that idea. There’s something fantastic about stuffing my face and sneezing my little heart out in the privacy of my own home. No one’s there to recoil or judge, and sometimes it feels cathartic, like bulimia but not desperately sad or bad for my health. I wouldn’t blame you if you were a little jealous.

Gillian Weeks is a writer and television development executive living in Brooklyn with her annoying cat. Sometimes she tweets but most of the time she doesn’t.