More often than I care to admit, throughout the day I’ll catch myself holding my breath. I don’t consciously do it, but suddenly I’ll feel light-headed and start to panic, and then I’ll realize it’s because I haven’t been breathing. And I breathe.
A couple of years ago, I had to have a duct excised from my breast. An ultrasound had shown that the duct was inflamed, and my specialist needed to remove it before she could take a biopsy. The biopsy was ultimately negative, but I had to go through surgery to discover that.
I was pretty anxious about the whole experience, but the thing I was most anxious about was having to go under for the ductectomy. Not the surgery itself, which was fairly simple, but the fact that I had to be anesthetized.
I hate mind-altering substances. They make me feel completely out of control. I like feeling in control of my body. It’s just about the only thing I can control in my life – why on earth would I want to relinquish that?
I was never one to get high, on legal drugs or illegal ones, and while I went through a period (just like most young people) where I went to parties and drank to get drunk (so I could do stupid things and blame it on the alcohol), I’m also not much of a drinker.
Sure, I’ll have a glass of wine or two on occasion, but it’s mostly for the ritual of it – just like I enjoy having my cup of coffee in the morning. It also doesn’t help that my metabolism is such that I go from two drinks to hung over, just like some fair-skinned people go from pink to sunburned, skipping the tan entirely.
Anyway, so I was nervous about the drugs. More so that the knife.
That morning, the nurses at the hospital gave me an anxiolytic before rolling me into the OR. They put in an IV, and the surgeon asked me what kind of music I liked to listen to.
It might have been the drugs speaking, but I requested Rihanna. I was thinking something along the lines of “Stay” or perhaps “Diamonds,” but the surgeon chose to play “S&M,” and the words “na na na na, come on!” are the last thing I remembered before I blinked and found myself in the recovery room, asking the nurse by my side what happened to Rihanna.
They had me hooked up to a heart monitor in that recovery room, and once I was awake and asking for food, the nurse called my husband in and let me know I’d have to be monitored for a few minutes before I could be released.
I was in the middle of telling my husband of my weird time-lapse experience with the drugs and Rihanna, when the monitor I was hooked up to started beeping loudly, both to my alarm and my nurse’s chagrin.
“Hang on,” he said skeptically, once he looked at the neon green-on-black lights on the screen. “Are you holding your breath??”
I was, of course. Subconsciously. And as soon as he pointed it out I took a deep one and the machine went back to normal for a few minutes.
“If you want to get out of here,” he said sternly, “you have to stop doing that!”
We repeated this process once or twice, to everyone’s annoyance, until I made a concerted effort to take full, even breaths, and finally got it together long enough to satisfy the hospital’s requirements for my discharge.
That was two years ago, and despite my consistent yoga practice (where I am CONSTANTLY being reminded that even in the hard poses I have to BREAAAATHE), I still catch myself randomly not breathing sometimes.
I don’t know, maybe I’m secretly waiting for something to happen in my life, or maybe it’s just the remnants of my anxiety – that part of my disorder that I can never fully live without. I don’t know whether this is something I need to fix, or just another one of my idiosyncrasies that I accept and forget about. But maybe breath work – which I have largely ignored in my two years of yoga practice – is the next frontier for me.
I’ll let you guys know how it goes.