Just. Breathe.

“I remember when I saw a water spider and it brought down a bubble of air and placed it over its nest – a magical and fantastic thing.”  –Mark Tobey
Lisa's Perspective:  without drugs.

 The fourth time was the charm. I was 37 years old when the Alaska State Troopers flew into town, zip-tied my wrists and set me in the backseat of a floatplane. In the 17 years leading up to this, twice I had arrived at the hospital by ambulance, once I drove myself, and this time earned a law enforcement escort.   The first time I went to the hospital I have no memory of, but for years charcoaled or bbq food would trigger a gag reflex.  The second time I looked around me and realized, “damn, I am NOT this kind of crazy!”  The third time I whined, “It’s not my fault!”  What I do remember clearly about this period in my life was a lot of pills: to lower my anxiety in public, help me sleep and for my diagnoses. And of course I needed an inhaler.

 The fourth time I took responsibility for my own health.

 
“Have they suggested tapping yet,” my husband teased me over the phone.  “Matter a fact they have, and I am learning it!” I admitted.  Lying flat on my back (the mattresses were slightly less hard than a slab of wood) I would close my eyes and begin the tapping and breathing pattern we learned at group.  There would no longer be a sleeping pill or sedative to push me into sleep or numb me into a comfortable cloud in a crowd.

“Guess what?” I shared giddily with my husband during visiting hours. Sitting as close to each other as possible on a plastic covered couch under florescent lights he waited patiently... “OXYGEN is the ANTIDOTE to ADRENALINE!” I shrieked.  After hundreds of hours spent in therapy and counseling one very simple idea at group had finally worked it's way into my brain. It was IN ME, the answer. Using pills hadn't made me well or healthy, more importantly the feeling that I "couldn't breathe" didn't go away in all the years I took medication.  

 
An article by Anxiety Care UK highlights the "biological effects and consequences of anxiety."  It is the reason many of us feel we cannot breathe.  It states, "learning to use abdominal breathing, as first aid for anxiety and panic sensations is invaluable."  Highlights from the article are:
1.  Anxiety activates the flight or fight response.
2.  That response is adrenalin based.
3.  Even minor stresses can begin a chain reaction of anxiety=flight or fight=adrenalin, until your poor body begins to feel physically ill.
4.  Sources of relief include:  "correct breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, stress management, regular exercise and diet... (although) relatively simplistic, easy to do and can be carried out by everyone.  Nevertheless, to achieve success... requires a great deal of commitment and effort on behalf of the sufferer."  


(Please follow this link to read the amazing article in it's entirety:  http://www.anxietycare.org.uk/docs/biologicaleffects.asp   It is also awesome simply because it's British and says things like, "is unable to eat and may go off sex."  Which is very much not how we write here, and I love it.)
 
It comes from within and is my responsibility.  There is no magic pill or easy fix, it requires lifestyle changes and accountability.  Just breathe.  As oxygen replenishes and balances your blood supply, which your adrenaline moved to your extremities to help you flee or fight, your breathe will become the antidote to adrenaline on a cellular level.
 
Lisa's life-happens disclaimer.  In spite of my best efforts there are always a few days each month that I am a puddle of tears and it requires every ounce of me, all day long, to maintain a crying state rather than a more devastating one. Getting through those days will be another topic another day, and of course deep breathing is an essential part of those days too.

 

Laura's Perspective:  drugs required.

I have to pay to breath. I was diagnosed with asthma in my early 30s and started the process of trouble-shooting a medication and maintenance plan. It is clear I will be dependent on medication for the rest of my life.
 
My diagnosis didn’t stop with asthma.  A few frustrating years after my initial diagnosis I saw a pulmonologist and underwent a bronchoscopy. We discovered I had something a little more uncommon and specialized: non-bronchiectactic bronchiectasis. I don’t have bronchiectasis, but my doctors were now going to manage me as if I did because it was close enough.  Basically I have a chronic battle in my lungs. The asthma wants to constrict the lung walls and the air that’s trying to move, the “bronchiectasis” is causing my lungs to lose its elasticity and not move the air very well, and to clog everything up I’ve got a permanent MAI infection (mycobacterium avium-intracellulare, a nontuberculous mycobacterium). Physicians can’t tell me how I acquired it, only that I have, and that it's what causes the bronchiectasis.  A silver lining is that it's non-contagious so I cannot infect others with it. To hear me cough one would want to argue otherwise!
 
Can I take an antibiotic to get rid of the infection? Sure, for about $700 a month (out of pocket) for 12-18 months.  Even then there’s only about a 50% chance of eliminating the bacteria.  It’s not guaranteed to eliminate it permanently; it could return after just two years.  The potent antibiotic would likely cause liver damage over time, which means tests and monitoring throughout the course of treatment. 
 
A cheaper and more realistic option is what my doctors and I refer to as lung hygiene. 
1.  Take a daily inhaled steroid (I opt for the lowest dose possible).
2.  Use albuterol when needed.
3.  Use my Acapella device (a lung-fluttering breathing tool) daily.
4.  Stay well hydrated.
5.  Do regular cardio exercise. 
 
Or at least that’s the idea. Many people only have an occasional sick day or come down with a short-term bug.  For me I have occasional days of what I call clarity.  These are days where I have minimal to no coughing, my lungs feel clear, without congestion, and I don’t feel short of breath at any time throughout the day.  When my lung hygiene is on target, I have days like these.
 
My lung maintenance feels like a full-time job and it would be easy to just sit down on the pitty potty and not do anything. However, I determined long ago that asthma is either an excuse or an inconvenience and the difference is in the action. If it’s an excuse, the action is to blame the condition for a limited lifestyle. If it’s an inconvenience, the action is to push the boundaries of limitations, to build strength, and to focus on the possibilities rather than the impossibilities. I don’t know what could be more roller derby than that. 
 

TRENDING!  Find another sweet BREATHE excerpt:  page 56 of the March 2015 RealSimple magazine.  Ahhhhhh.  

Lisa Nilsen

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