I struggle with breath. Not because mine is stinky, although I do consume a large quantity of garlic and hot peppers. I do not struggle with asthma, emphysema, congestive heart failure, or any of the other many many reasons one might struggle with breath. I struggle because of a dark cloud of memory that hangs over me. My breathing began getting labored when I was run over.. The pain was so severe and the sight of my broken and ripped body was overwhelming..They kept saying “I cant believe she is still conscious!”, well.. that was because I focused hard on my breath. I knew I must keep breathing, and screaming.. With breath comes life.. right?
When I made it over the Q bridge going into Yale hospital, the pain was becoming too severe to stay awake.. the fight was far too difficult, and yet I knew I must keep breathing.. my breath was labored, my stats were being yelled out.. and suddenly I breathed my last breath on my own. After I was resuscitated, a machine breathed for me for over 35 days. My lungs expanded and contracted robotic-ally. I was part machine, part life. The ultimate nightmare of disassociation.
When they began breathing trials on me, they would turn the machine back and ask me to try and breathe.. nothing.. “Come on Colleen, breathe”.. nothing.. My fogged mind, glazed over eyes, pain, and complete confusion simply wouldn’t allow my brain to communicate with my lungs.
For several days they tried breathing trials on me, patiently standing over me and coaching me to take a breath.. nothing.. I simply lay there in sweat gazing into never land, and wishing I was laying in a cool pool of water with a big breeze brushing over my face.. or at least thats what some of my “dreams” remember.
Since Ive been “Awake” and able to take my own breaths again, I still have a panic associated with that day. I fear sitting still, I fear laying still, I fear standing still.. Stillness brings me back to breath. Breath brings me back to death.
Interesting for the woman that always spoke of the power of breath and life.. now the sound has become somewhat of an enemy. So I run, with incredible pain.. but I can put in ear buds.. feel the blood soar through my heart.. drown out my breath, and live.. I can ride my bike.. with the wind whipping so quickly past my ears, and the sounds of dancing leaves that I can not hear my breath.. and I weight train, and I elliptical… so I can not be still… I don’t want to be still any longer.
Eventually, our breath catches up with us. It must. Our breath is also nourishing our cells, our organs, our smiles.. and our tears.
A few years ago I had a salmon tattooed on my forearm. It embodies an owl, a koi tail, a gaelic harp, and Celtic water. I wanted it to remind me of the importance to never give up, always swim upstream until your death.. but stay wise with the wisdom of the owl.. never stop listening to the music.. and always keep your cool… After brain surgery, I went through panic in a similar way but much less intense. The salmon was a way for me to have something to anchor myself with.
Perhaps it is time to embrace my salmon a little more these days as I start taking Yoga again.. Which is honestly one of my worst nightmares. Sitting and laying still and focusing on breath.
By the Grace of God, Go I.