As I am writing this blog, I am nursing strained sore ribs from massive coughing attacks, brought on by a bronchial infection over the past week or so. Imagine doing 100 sit-ups and attempting to breathe fully. Leaning over the dining room table with a hot pack on my back, I am breathing in aromatherapy oil emanating from a diffuser in the kitchen. Cough drops are nearby. Tea and water have been my mainstay to remain hydrated and prevent unnecessary coughing. I spent New Year’s Eve at home bundled up in pj’s and robe instead of celebrating with friends, draped in something a wee bit more elegant and sparkly, as I had planned. I realized that rest was the better part of valor if I was to be able to have a normal work week that began with seeing clients in my therapy practice today. Sadly, that wasn’t sufficient as New Year’s Day saw me heading to my local ER since the pain had increased dramatically to the point that normal inhalation and exhalation was nigh onto impossible. Even though the pain wasn’t cardiac related, having that history got me through triage pretty quickly. Within short order, I was garbed in the finest hospital gown imaginable, with an IV in my arm, pumping pain relieving Tramadol and fluids, since, at that point, I was a quart low. Three hours later, I was out the door and heading home, prescriptions in hand for an inhaler and Prednisone for easier breathing.
What occurred to me while in the throes of pulmonary purgatory, since I have no clue how long this will last, is that for most of my life since being diagnosed with asthma at age four, I have carried an unconscious fear of not being able to breathe fully. This translates to not being able to live fully. Imagine needing to travel 100 miles on 1/4 tank of gas. Unless you are driving a hybrid and can plug your car into a charging station, you’re not going to make it that far. For many years, I operated that way, believing that I could keep pushing, despite not having full lung capacity. Swimming on a team from the time I was 11, continuing into my 20’s kept my lungs expanded. Dancing, walking, time at the gym and then cardiac rehab, following a heart attack at 55, helped me to keep on keeping on. Now, three-four times a week ‘playouts,’ (much more fun than calling them workouts) at the gym, sustain me. Even through all of that physicality, I continued to harbor a thought that my body had betrayed me, or I had betrayed it by getting sick like this nearly every year around this time. Sure, lots of people get the flu or some other type of respiratory infection. I have wondered if mine is an ingrained pattern and unconscious event since it is almost like clockwork. Sometimes when this has occurred, I have felt as if I was drowning and perhaps even dying. My conscious mind knows I am not. Try telling that to the little kid who would wake up wheezing and feel as if any breath could have been her last. The adult assures her that she is safe, but sometimes she ain’t buyin’ it.
This has taught me to honor my body in ways I wouldn’t have before, which includes more sleep in the past few years than I had allowed myself to experience previously. My motto had been, “Sleep is highly overrated.” I found out that sleep deprivation caused more than just yawning and crankiness. It impacts on multiple systems in the body and may have contributed to the heart attack.
Today I watched a Vimeo video created by a woman named Rachel Farnsworth, known as the Stay At Home Chef. In it, she describes a letter that a viewer who watches her Youtube videos had sent her. It is disparaging her appearance and advises that she dye her hair, since she presents as older, because at 31, she has a few gray hairs. In it, she applauds her silver strands for a poignant reason. Farnsworth has Addison’s Disease and she discovered that it just might limit her life span. It was diagnosed when she was pregnant with her second child. This otherwise youthful and vibrant young woman found herself unable to walk. She developed Congestive Heart Failure and found that other organs were shutting down. Even though she has overcome the crisis, the condition has left her physically taxed. In spite of those challenges, she has learned to love her life even more passionately. She faced a crisis of faith as well, as most would, given her situation. She has turned her love of food and food infused with love into a successful blog and Youtube channel.
Farnsworth could understandably feel as if her body betrayed her. Instead, she maintains her personal and professional lives with grace and dignity. Wonder of wonders, she also completed an Ironman competition in 2011.
In the video, she speaks of her other so-called appearance frailties…including circles under her eyes, a hooked nose (which I couldn’t detect) and freckles. She admits to loving herself, regardless of how others might view her.
As I sit with my own self-imposed physical limitations, I question whether I have the courage that Farnsworth does to stretch that far. Over the summer, I did a four-mile hike up a relatively steep incline. I could have been the caboose, except that one of the most experienced hikers agreed to play that role, lest anyone gets left behind. I appreciated knowing that it wouldn’t be my fate. I much prefer an easier challenge, such as walking on flat terrain at my own pace, not wanting to slow anyone down. That is one of my personal gremlins. The child with asthma was determined to keep up with her healthier peers and when she couldn’t felt less competent and confident, so she would push harder. Sometimes it resulted in injury. Other times, frustration. Old habits die hard. When my body’s reminders aren’t sufficient, my friends and family offer their two cents (and sometimes $1.00) of advice until I do heed.
This time around, I needed both in order to do more than simply function. If Farnsworth can love all of who she is, with the chronic challenges she faces, I certainly can. We never know from whence comes inspiration.
Photo: The Skinny Mirror