No, I’m not talking about wearing an oxygen mask. I’m talking about letting out that breath we have been holding for minutes, hours, days; even longer. We all handle stress and anxiety differently; some of us hold our breath because we are afraid to let that breath go.
Sometimes it’s a knee-jerk reaction; that sharp intake of breath when you are chopping carrots and your knife slips and you nick your finger. Holding your breath makes it somehow less serious or scary.
Often it’s a fight-or-flight scenario; you are hurting and you feel you must punch something (or someone), or you literally run away to a place that feels safe to you.
Or, if you are like me, your throat closes up and all you can do is sob and leak endless tears. You simply cannot get words out, never mind a deep breath.
Shortly after my mother died, I decided I needed to see a therapist, so I made an appointment. When the day came, I walked into the therapist’s comfortable office, sat down on a soft couch, opened my mouth and started to cry.
If you measured my words that day to the amount of my tears, it was about 5% talk and 95% tears. I paid $100 for the visit, went home and never called back to set up another appointment.
I was like an oyster who deliberately let a tiny irritant into its shell, and then suffered the pain of layering it over with all the nacre it could produce. This made nothing better; it only created a very un-pretty pearl.
But over time I have been able to let out bits of that pain. I never know when I will feel comfortable enough to do this; all I know is that for a short time, it is ok to talk.
It’s been said that there is no finite period for fear or grief; it is different for each of us. I read somewhere that there was (or is) a tribe of people who, when a loved one dies, drape themselves in the leaves of a certain tree. They grieve until the leaves disintegrate and fall to the ground. This means that their grief is officially over and it is time to go back to their lives. If only it were that easy!
But I do know this: we all need to breathe. We have to in order to stay alive. I still don’t have the desire to see a therapist, but I have included deep breathing into my life. When I feel myself slipping over the edge of grief and worrying about who next will leave my life I. Just. Breathe.
Sometimes that’s all you need to do; breathe. It doesn’t change what has happened to us or what may happen to us. But we can still just breathe.
It’s a start, and you have to start somewhere.