It started early one morning over a week ago. I heard a seal pup barking incessantly in the distance and then gradually realized it was me. My head was hot and my chest felt oddly tight, as if I couldn’t figure out how (or where) to catch my breath, so I just gave up and slept some more. Ten hours to be exact, before rising to drink a glass of water, calling the doctor for an appointment, and going back to bed for another ten.
At the doctor’s, I was unceremoniously asked to wear a facemask. (I guess the seal pup barking gave me away.) They swabbed me here and swabbed me there; I was negative for flu, strep, and my exit form said, “Extreme Cough – Possible Pneumonia.” An X-ray was ordered for the next day.
Oddly, I didn’t have to wait at the pharmacy for hours like usual. Thanks to my cough and face mask, people parted to let me through like I had the black plague. I received a duffel bag full of drugs marked “Acute! Waiting!”: Steroids (which made me feel like a crack addict in a superwoman suit), a strong antibiotic (bye-bye gut bacteria), an inhaler (I cried every time I used it!), and a codeine-laced cough syrup that calmed the worst of my bark but made me feel like a trailer-trash queen with too much mascara and a two-sizes-too-small sagging tube top. The X-Ray confirmed pneumonia.
Since I’ve never met a metaphor I didn’t like, I’ve spent the last 10 days (when I’ve been conscious) reflecting about other times I have struggled to breathe. (None of those were pretty either…)
Often, we struggle to breathe way before we want to label ourselves as “Acute!” or “Comatose!” Financial issues, illness, work difficulties, family arguments, relocating, and a host of other situations put an increasing pressure on our chest that just doesn’t want to go away. We feel weighted down and lethargic inside our own skin. The stronger the pressure, the less we want to talk about it. The stronger the pressure the more we want to try to sleep it off instead of slowing down. In fact, often we’re afraid to slow down because we’re afraid we’ll run out of breath altogether.
And yet. And yet, that’s exactly what we need to do. We need to just stop and check in with ourselves: “Hey, how’s the breathing thing going?”
As I discovered with my pneumonia, when your lungs are full of junk, there’s no space for oxygen. And when your life becomes a struggle, there’s no space for breath.
So if that’s you right now, just STOP. Right here. Right now. Take a quiet moment to feel the breath coming in your body and leaving your body. This breath is your life. You are not your financial issues, illness, work difficulties, family arguments, or upcoming decision.
You are a human being and you live from one breath to the next until you don’t. So honor this by closing your eyes and focusing on your breath. Watch it coming in and going out. You are a human being living from one breath to the next. That’s all and that’s enough. With each breath in, life fills your cells and with each breath out, that which no longer serves you leaves. FACT: that breath you just took was given to you by the mercy of God. Let that be enough.