Thursday, April 19, 2012

Breath of Life

I am just beginning to breath again. I spent over two weeks struggling to breath. At first, I thought I was getting a cold, like everyone else in the house. Perhaps I was. However, no one else in the house began to shut down, to struggle to breath, to require being upright at night and to get winded simply by normal moving around the house once it started.

Initially, I had nasty mucous colors that clearly demonstrated I had a respiratory infection. However, it changed and became completely clear. Still, I stayed home and lamented that I could not breath. It took two weeks before I finally realized that if anyone I loved was having these symptoms, I would have recognized asthma and taken them for medical care.

I was diagnosed with asthma nearly three years ago. In December, the massive asthma flare-up that came with my double lung pneumonia was the biggest portion of my sick that nearly killed me. Yet, I still don't recognize that I need medical treatment when I cannot breath.

I think the underlying issue is that the diagnosis may be new for me, but the symptoms are most definitely NOT. I remember from a very young age that I would often complain to my mother that I could not breath. Everytime I told her this, I was belittled and marginalized. See, my father had severe asthma as a young child. His asthma was so severe that his mother spent many nights in his early years sleeping in a rocking chair, keeping him upright so he could breath. It was before there were great options for asthma and his parents fought valiantly to care for him without the options we have today.

Well, I was never permitted to be like my father. My mother was a Narcissist. I was born and raised to be nothing more than an extension of her and her needs. If I was like my father, then I couldn't be an extension of her. Thus, all traits that seemed remotely like my father were stamped out of me aggressively. I didn't struggle to breath. I was a liar. I was out of shape, overweight, and constantly sought drama. That was the story browbeaten into me anytime I dared to complain that I could not breath.

It was not until I passed the age of 30 and the episodes of suffocation became full blown anaphylactic shock, necessitating that I pay attention or stop breathing entirely, that I realized this was truly, truly a problem for me. It was two years into this change that I finally said to my doctor.....are we sure it's JUST anaphylatic shock? I have trouble breathing other times TOO, but unless it's so bad that I could die I don't do anything. My doctor looked at me that day with fear and wonder in his eyes and said, "Yeah, that's asthma. We need to treat that."

And then I never came back while struggling to breath for him to see just how bad this can get. Everytime I suffocate, I shut down. I cannot think. I simply retreat. A lifetime of being told it's all in my head and I'm a liar means that I abandon my own good sense and medical judgement on myself and simply wait for it to pass. That's what I've done my entire life.

Here are some funny facts I can remember to refute this paradigm though.

I wasn't overweight until I was in nursing school and my thyroid started crashing. In fact, until that point, I was significantly under weight. I was a full five inches taller than my mother, but I weighed far less than I should have for my height. Everyone in my family still refers to me as "the fat one," despite that reality.

I wasn't out of shape. I did LOTS of exercising. I walked 2-3 miles daily. I justt had to stop and catch my breath constantly...for years. I loved to hike. I could hike 5-8 miles up the mountains to chase waterfalls, in difficult trails. I just had to pace myself, stop to breath and wait for the gasping, suffocating to pass before continuing. My muscles were never tired, just my lungs.

Drama? I hate drama. Sometimes I feel like a drama magnet, but I would prefer to just live my life in peace and away from all drama. I run away from dramatic people. I consider them soul suckers. They can find me, but I will fight to get back to my peaceful retreat and be left alone. When I cannot breath, I am not exactly running around drawing attention to myself. In fact, I am sitting, struggling silently, and frustrated. I don't want to draw attention to myself. I downplay how awful it is and how badly I am struggling. II knows better. It's one of his consant frustrations with me, that he can look at me and know I'm struggling and yet I do and say nothing to get better.

I've been actively working in the last two plus years to learn how to seek out help when I need it and allow myself to do it without feeling like I'm calling attention to myself and thus creating drama. I'm much better than I was previously. However, I am still a work in progress. When I cannot breath, most of that work goes out the window fast and I just sit and go hypoxic wishing I could breath again.

Since seeing the doctor Tuesday, I've been remembering some other details about my life and this breathing thing. In addition to realizing just how often I feel off and stop moving simply because that suffocation has come back to overwhelm me, I'm remember some things that are pieces to my puzzle.

Despite what I was *told* by middle school I was put on a daily allergy medication. I was told I merely had allergies. However, I distinctly remember more episodes of suffocation and gasping for air in those years. That was the first episode of anaphylactic shock I suffered. All of the spin in the world could not erase that night of terror for me, long before I even understood such things. The next time I had anaphylactic shock, I knew exactly what it was, even though it had been half a lifetime since I had last experienced it, because I remembered it like it was yesterday, an old foe waiting to suck the life out of me all over again.

In high school, I was given a rescue inhaler. I was again told I merely had allergies, and they weren't significant. Yet, she felt it was "wise" if I carried the inhaler with me, in case I ever needed it. She was a doctor by then, no longer having to justify what she did with me to anyone in this world and able to prescribe for herself.

I wasn't taught to recognize asthma for what it was. I was taught to ignore it and downplay it. Thus, even this week, I wasn't certain it was asthma, just as I wasn't certain it was in December. I went to my doctor because I was almost certain, but not quite.

My asthma was flared so badly that despite 2 uses of my rescue inhaler that day, he couldn't fully check for underlying infection because the wheezing was so bad. I blew a 74% on my PFT. I have a child with Cystic Fibrosis. I understand pulmonary function tests. I know how awful 74% is. For a non-smoking woman in her mid-30s, a 74% is truly awful. That's how bad my lungs got before I was reasonable sure it was asthma and needed to see a doctor.

I'm back on a 13 day course of steriods. I'm to use my nebulizer as much as I need to through this. In my defense on the day I went to the doctor, I was having trouble getting to the nebulizer before getting to the doctor because I share it with M, and I wanted him to get his breathing treatments first. Thus, I relied upon my rescue inhaler for me, not to ignore my lack of breathing that day but to put his need as a priority. My intention was to go back and get a breathing treatment for myself once he was done and I ran out of time before having to take L to preschool and head for the doctor's office.

Once I am done with these oral steriods, I am going on inhaled steriods as a maintenance treatment for my asthma. This is my third episode since December, and they have become bad enough now that I cannot simply ignore them. Sitting and not moving to conserve oxygen is no longer working for me.

I've alluded to the fact that I was groomed for the life I fell into with II. I was groomed by a Narcisstic mother who became enamoured by that world when I was a child. She couldn't convince my father to enter that world, no matter how hard she tried. So, she lived on the fringes of the Patriachal Fundamentalist Christianity and deliberately groomed me to enter it fully as an adult.

Ignoring my own asthma wasn't me being obtuse. It was conditioned in me. Really and truly, I do NOT want to be hypoxic. I don't want to die. I definitely don't want to frustrate II that he has to beg and plead with me to see the doctor before it gets so bad he has to take me to the hospital. I was trained that anything having to do with my health needs was me being dramatic and lying. I was trained to sacrifice ME at all costs for everyone and everything around me. I'm getting MUCH better about taking care of me. I just forget everything I've learned when I cannot breath.

My sister wants to be write about that past. My husband wants me to recover from it. I want to continue to explore who I am and how that past impacts me so that I can be a better, reclaimed woman. There's just so much. These two weeks, this asthma that I cannot even recognize is sucking the life out of me because it's so deeply trained and engrained in me, this is just one shining example of it all.

Even so, my sister has a point. While I have focused for so long on how my past must be integrated into who I am, she wants me to focus on how I can tell others that anyone can survive because we make our own path in this world. She's not wrong, niether am I.

I am proud of the woman I am becoming. I don't view setbacks like these two weeks as failures. I see them as another layer of who I am, another opportunity to reflex, to dig around in what was planted into my psyche and focus on how to integrate those pieces into helping me continue to heal and work on becoming more aware and reclaimed. I'm startled at how deep this breathing issue really is for me. I thought I rooted it out in December when it nearly killed me....and yet clearly there's more still underneath. I'm especially intrigued to find out what I'm going to discover by going on maintenance meds finally. If I'm right, if my breathing has been an integral part of ME, of how I interact with the world, of how I plot and plan for how I can function within that world, then maintenance meds may very well prove to be life-giving to ways I never imagined possible.

My doctor said I would feel dramatically better by Wednesday, with simply one day of the oral steriods into me. If I did not, then I had an infection he could not detect because the asthma was so bad that it was impossible, and I would require antibiotics. He didn't think that was the case though. He was right. Within two hours of taking the steriods, I felt like a new person again.

More discoveries await me. I want to see what I can do when I don't have to ask myself if I'm struggling with asthma and merely actually find myself able to breath. I'm not sure I've ever experienced that reality before. I cannot say with certainty that I have. I suspect I have struggled under this suffocation for most of my life and simply have lacked all framework to identify that it was not normal until it progressed to the point that even MY normal was no longer possible because I was having the life choked out of me.

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