This post is going up a little later in the day than my usual time. I pushed it off for as long as I could. Actually, I tried to convince myself I didn’t need to write it at all. I looked at my list of the different slow living experiments I want to do this year, and tried to convince myself to tackle something else; something easier. This one could wait. I told myself I didn’t know enough about the subject. Then I told myself the truth, which is that this one would be hard. I would have to be alone with myself and my thoughts, and it would be hard. I didn’t want hard. March was hard enough. So, I chose a different topic. I chose an easier experiment to tackle in April. I wrote the first post, including a list of all the things I wanted to work on. And I almost hit publish – until I realized I was holding my breath.
I’ve been holding my breath for a while now. My first vivid memories of doing so started shortly after my car accident in 2013. I would be driving along then suddenly gasp for air, as though I had just resurfaced from swimming a lap across the pool underwater. Back then, I realized I would subconsciously start to hold my breath right before I entered an intersection. I was hit by another driver, while going through an intersection in 2013. There are a lot of intersections in the Lower Mainland. I’m (almost) grateful for that, or else I might never have figured out why I was always gasping for air. And once you see the truth, you can’t unsee it – so from there, I entered my car with a heightened awareness, and practiced breathing through intersections until that became natural again.
That’s a success story. I did something subconsciously for a while, it eventually surfaced, I figured out what was going on and consciously changed my reaction. It was a slow process, but it worked. Other times, the process has not been so slow. In fact, by the time I gasped for air, it was too late and I was already in the middle of a panic attack. I’ve had panic attacks at a job, on a train, in a parking lot – and the worst was while I was driving by myself on a single-lane highway. Each time, gasping for air only served as one of the signs that I was in trouble. My mind and body couldn’t continue to manage everything I had taken on. They needed help. Something needed to change. But first, I had to put my head between my knees and remember to breathe deeply. I had to breathe my way through it.
It’s been a couple years, since my last panic attack. They had almost become distant memories. In fact, I had a conversation with a friend just two weeks ago where she shared some of the anxiety she’s been living with, and I actually said that I couldn’t quite relate to what she was going through. Yes, I’d had a few panic attacks in my lifetime… but anxiety on a daily basis? Nope, not me.
Who do you think I texted first, when I finally figured out that I am actually dealing with some very intense anxiety on a daily basis, right now?
Along with her, I have only shared these intimate details with a few friends. It has gone beyond having trouble sleeping and noticing that I’m having heart palpitations. For the past week or so, I have been filled with a general sense of fear and panic almost 24/7. It’s incredibly frustrating, especially when you know it’s irrational. Yet, I can’t seem to talk my way out of it.
The phone calls with friends do help. Sharing stories of the ridiculous things I’m finding myself doing makes us laugh, and that does help. But when the laughter subsides, and my friends suggest ways I could deal with my anxiety, I get uncomfortable. Yoga? I know I should do that. My yoga mat is already setup on my floor, and I have this short and simple practice bookmarked, ready and waiting for me. It would be so easy – almost too easy. But I can’t seem to make my way down onto the mat. Meditation? I know I should do that, too… but again, I just can’t. It would be even easier than yoga, but I can’t do it. The thought of it makes me want to run laps, which was one of my least-favourite activities in my high school gym class. And yet, the thought of even trying to do yoga or meditate makes me want to lace up.
When I share this with my friends, they say they understand. It seems it is perfectly normal to experience this, before getting more comfortable with your yoga or meditation practice. I’m finding that I don’t have a fear of “doing it wrong”, like I might if this were another sport or skill I thought I should learn. I am genuinely afraid of sitting still and being alone with my thoughts. I know I need to get past this, though. I don’t want to live with this anxiety forever. I also don’t want it to get worse and eventually turn into a panic attack. I think I’m more afraid of having another one of those than I am of all the irrational things I am currently worried could happen to me on a daily basis. I want to feel better. I want to go back to feeling like myself. In order to do that, I think I’m going to have to breathe…
I have made every excuse not to start doing yoga and/or meditating. I’m too busy, I don’t have the time, I don’t need it. It is true that I have survived this long without it… but that doesn’t mean I don’t need it now. And there’s nothing wrong with needing something like this to help you get through each day. I have often wondered if I have some sort of hangup about that, in particular; like I should be able to push through on my own. Now, I’m starting to see that trying to do everything on my own might be part of the problem – and that pushing through is definitely not the solution, but could actually be making things worse. And once you see the truth, you can’t unsee it – so now, it’s time to breathe my way through it. Here are my intentions for April.
Experiment #4: Slow Breathing
- have slow mornings
- do yoga 10x (short practices are fine)
- meditate for 7 days in a row
- listen to audiobooks/podcasts on this subject*
- go floating at the end of the month
You might notice the numbers are much smaller than what you usually see in a monthlong experiment; that’s intentional. If I wrote that I wanted to meditate or do yoga every day for a month, I can already tell you I would fail. I need to start this slowly (go figure, eh?). My plan is to do yoga every few days, or as I feel I need it. I’ll know I need it because I won’t want to do it. That’s when I’ll open a new tab, turn on a short practice video and get down on the floor. I’ll do the same with meditation, but then I do want to attempt a weeklong challenge by the end of the month. Finally, I have a few coupons for free floats in Victoria. I’m heading back there on April 27th, so I’ll book a session that weekend. By that time, I hope my anxiety will have calmed itself enough that I can handle meditating for 90 minutes.
*As for this point, I would love any recommendations you have – particularly podcasts, as I love hearing other people’s stories about how/why they finally started practicing yoga and meditation. I’m not really looking for how-to’s. I learn more through stories and shared experiences.
Believe me when I say that I am more nervous about this experiment than probably all the others I have shared on this blog. But like all the others, I also think you make big changes in your life, whenever you reach a breaking point – and I have reached mine, with this. I’m waving my white flag and welcoming the help. I know I need to do this one on my own, but I also know I’m never really alone.
Thanks for helping me breathe through this, friends. <3