Learning to breathe again
I’m getting to the end my pregnancy and I have to be honest: I’ve had an easy go of it. My body seems to have adjusted to this new state fairly well, which is an example to me of just what amazing things our bodies can do if we aren’t busy manipulating them or obsessing about them.
I was blessed to be passed over by the nausea gods and while I felt a bit tired in the beginning, I didn’t succumb to that consuming exhaustion that many people describe. Like I said, I’ve had it fairly easy.
But (and you knew there’d be a but, right?), I’ve had one symptom in particular that plagued me since the very beginning: I’m regularly short of breath.
In the beginning of pregnancy, I was told that this was due to hormonal and blood volume changes. Now, the baby growing inside of me has taken up residence on top of my lungs (or so it seems), and is constricting me taking a full breath. Regardless of the cause, the feeling has been the same — it feels impossible to get enough air.
Have you ever been short of breath, whether from illness, exercise, or some other reason? Honestly, it’s a really uncomfortable feeling. I was thinking recently about what makes it so uncomfortable. It’s not painful, per se. But it is scary. And I think that’s what makes it feel so awful.
Breathing is obviously so central to us staying alive as human beings. When we can’t get enough air, for whatever reason, our brain registers distress. This is clearly advantageous in most cases in which we can’t breath. Our brains need alerted that we need to do something to change that!
But what about when we there’s nothing to be done? I can’t make this baby move out of my ribs (as much as I would like to) or change my hormonal balance. So the panic response becomes pretty useless. It’s also useless because, despite feeling very much like I’m drowning, I can actually breath. It feels like I can’t, like I’m about to fall over after running a race, but in reality I can. If I couldn’t, I wouldn’t be typing these words right now. If I can say the words to you, “I can’t breath,” I’m breathing!
So, you ask, what’s my point? You mean, other to get a chance to complain about my malady?
I was thinking recently how there are so many moments where we believe that we just cannot survive. We think we are drowning, we are going to die (literally or figuratively), and that we just can’t make it through. We feel hopeless and helpless. But in reality, if we can get enough perspective to take a single step back, we can see that there is a very alive “us” in there thinking that we’re not going to survive. In reality, the fact that we can think about how awful the situation is means we’re alive to think about it.
I realize with my breathing issue that the more I focus on thoughts like, “Oh my gooodness, I can’t breathe right now,” the worse the experience becomes. Similarly, it’s in the believing that we cannot tolerate something uncomfortable (sadness or anger, for example) that we actually create pain. My difficulty breathing is not actually painful, really. It’s not comfortable. But the pain comes when I start getting panicked and frustrated and scared. My breathing shallows further and my body sends stress signals.
On the other hand, when I can remind myself that I am actually breathing and then focus on taking long, deep breaths in through my nose, my lungs suddenly fill further, my heart rate decreases, and I feel more at peace.
I think the same goes for any feeling or experience that we encounter. We have to take a step back, ground ourselves, and recognize that we can get through it – we are getting through it in each and every moment that we have the ability to think that we can’t, in fact. We just have to take it second by second, reminding ourselves that the pain only comes when we elevate the experience to something we believe we can’t handle. It’s amazing what can happen when we stop fighting against the experience.
Now, someone just remind me of this post when I go into labor.