Sunday, December 29, 2013

On Asthma, Panic Attacks, and Enoughness

I had asthma as a kid; I was around 8 or 9 years old when I was diagnosed. Up until that doctor visit I was unaware that something was wrong and my body was not functioning as it should. I thought everyone experienced wheezing, a tightened chest and closed airways when it was cold outside or when they ran and got their heart rate up. I just dealt with it because I didn’t know there was another reality.

I experienced some shame around my asthma. I was the only kid I knew who had it, and it prevented me from being able to do what other kids did without breathing assistance. I also got made fun of, called a dork, for needing the assistance. It’s not cool to be the kid who says, “Wait up, guys!” as you get left in the middle of playing to take some hits off of your orange pocket-sized inhaler. I’m sure there were times I chose not to help myself in moments I needed to out of fear of being the center of a joke.

Oh, kids.

I grew out of my asthmatic condition around college. I could go for a run without my throat closing or worry that someone would find me unconscious in a gutter because my esophagus failed me somewhere around mile two. I recall feeling a freedom from not being reliant upon a plastic tube to bring me back to normal breathing capacity.

While that aliment got nipped in the bud, in my mid-20’s I developed what I now know to be panic attacks.

If any of you have experienced panic attacks before you know all too well the sheer terror of not being able to breathe and the cold adrenaline of panic as your body closes up against your will. It got to the point where I was having these episodes multiple times a day.

I would be in the middle of grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s and the first spark of panicked adrenaline would hit. Immediately it felt as though the store got infinitely smaller with the walls closing in, my heart would start racing, and my head told me there wasn’t enough oxygen for me to breathe. Tears, sobs, and hyperventilating proceeded.

Some lasted less than a minute, some lasted up to half an hour. I couldn’t control them and I never knew when one would visit.

My panic attacks got to the point where I was scared to leave my home. It was debilitating. While these episodes were happening I was in the process of grieving two decades of pain, shame, and my severe lack of self. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety, and the panic attacks were a result of me working through things I had stuffed into the darkness and hadn’t wanted to face. There was a reason for them. Internally I believed I wasn’t okay.

Through seeing specialists I began to learn how to talk myself out of a panic attack. It all revolved around one thing: reminding myself to breathe.

“There is enough oxygen to breathe. Take a deep breath. I am okay. Breathe...” was my mantra to myself.

It took a long time for those words to sink in and for the panic attacks to cease. I didn’t always believe my own words but I said them anyway. Slowly, they began to grow further and farther between, and eventually they became so infrequent I forgot about my fear over them. I still experience symptoms of attacks to this day, and when I feeling it coming on I engage in the same self-talk. It works. Now I have the gift of bringing myself back to center... back to the freedom and reality of enoughness. My body was simply responding in suit to what my insides believed.

There’s not enough. There is. 

I’m not okay. I am.

It’s incredible how interconnected our hearts and our bodies are and how they influence each other. We just need to be aware, attuned to our hearts, and with loving gentility remind ourselves that everything is okay. Someday, we will start to believe it and experience life a little differently, with a little more focus and intentionality. Trader Joe’s won’t seem like such a scary place and we will find strength from within to take care of ourselves.

So for today... just breathe.

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