lyme disease

Just breathe

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Graphic I created in the early days of my separation.

This is not as easy as it sounds.

Breathing is an autonomic nervous system function. It is mostly involuntary. It is supposed to occur without thought or determination (unless you are a musician or athlete).

Most people don’t think about breathing at all.

And yet, I found myself at the beginning of my journey out of a really bad marriage not only breathing shallowly but not breathing at all.

I caught myself holding my breath, often.

I have suffered from anxiety since I was a child. Unidentified until well into adulthood, I eventually learned to manage the symptoms by thoughtfully controlling situations and my responses that caused the most stress for me. And while I would experience heart palpitations occasionally (usually not during a stressful situation, but when I was relaxing), I had never struggled with hyperventilation.

When I became ill in 2006 and did not recover as expected (or told by doctors that I should), I faced an entirely new level of anxiety. My anxiety toolbox failed me.

Part of the problem was that I had been successfully handling nearly all of my family’s details from paying bills to doing all the shopping to even educating our children for over a decade. I cooked, cleaned, shopped, provided 24-hour care and education for our children, and then companionship to my husband when he was home. None of these responsibilities was taken from me when I became ill. Being task oriented, this caused me a lot of stress.

My husband ignored my health struggles, merely waiting for me to get well so I could do everything again; most household tasks were not completed. I still had to do the grocery shopping even with extreme fatigue. I could no longer cook. I would fill the grocery cart with frozen, packaged and processed foods that my children and I could easily throw in the microwave and conventional oven (really bad choice). Even when I ordered take-out, my husband wasn’t available to stop by on his way home and pick it up. He worked later and later as the months and years passed.

While I knew what needed to be done, I was not able to rise to the challenge any longer. I suffered. Our children suffered. Life fell apart.

One day I had had enough.

I had spent over a year sleeping on the couch because of my husband’s loud snoring and constant movements during the night. My only hope of any sleep at all was on the couch. And yet, he would often come home between 11 p.m. and midnight, stomping up the stairs and burping (he always burped when he walked up the stairs onto the main floor of our house). It didn’t matter if I was trying to sleep; he always demanded attention when he came home. And no, he didn’t offer to let me have the bed so I could get one good night’s sleep. Not once.

One night he came home late as usual and found himself locked out of the house. Now, I fully admit that I handled that all wrong. It wasn’t even legal. Had he spoken with an attorney, he would have been fine, but he refused to hire an attorney for anything (or any other professional). Remember, I was sick and tired, literally. My mind didn’t work properly anymore, literally (neuroborreliosis).

And so began the final and permanent separation that marked the true end of my marriage.

One the one hand, my stress levels were reduced as I didn’t have to deal with the nightly disruptions to my sleep and constant demand for my attention. There was no more yelling and fighting.

At the time, I didn’t know that the separation was permanent. I kept hoping my husband would finally seek the help that I asked him to get for his control and anger issues. I wanted the marriage to work and for us to be reconciled. This is normal. Deluded, but normal.

While the separation removed some stressors from my life, it created an entirely different set.

My anxiety issues became worse.

And one of the symptoms that I experienced was changes to my breathing. It became shallow and rapid when I would think about my situation or what the kids needed (anxiety). Other times, it was shallow, almost tentative, and very slow. Most concerning of all were the times I caught myself holding my breath, not breathing at all. I would take a deep breath and then make myself breath slowly and deeply for a few minutes until I felt better.

I yoyoed between rapid, shallow breathing to slow, shallow breathing. Breathing should not be this much work, but it was.

The Importance of Breathing

Breathing does a lot of vitals things: oxygenates the blood, cells, brain and muscles, expels waste, and keeps the body’s CO2 and pH levels within the normal range.

Anxiety disorder can cause shallow, rapid breathing that actually reduces CO2 levels too much.

This type of breathing disorder can also be caused by infection. I got a double whammy, so to speak.

When Lyme spirochetes get in the brain, they can affect temperature control, mood, cognitive functioning and breathing. Autonomic dysfunction is common. Many people with chronic Lyme struggle with shallow, slow, and inadequate breathing.

On top of all this, I developed a heart arrythmia, eventually diagnosed as benign. It still scared me when my heart would feel like it was flopping around in my chest and I would nearly pass out.

My situation was more complex than most, but the bottom line is that living in an abusive marriage is stressful, and the separation process is even more stressful. Breathing can become an issue.

Just Breathe

If breathing has been an issue long enough, it may be necessary to retrain the brain and body how to do it properly.

Slow, deep breathing exercises may be the answer. On the other hand, slow, not-so-deep breathing exercises may be the answer. That is something that should be determined by your physician.

I actually set three alarms a day on my smartphone that said: Breathe.

I would stop whatever I was doing and spend one minute doing breathing exercises.

Here is a great article from Harvard Medical School on breath focus and breathing exercises that are designed to reduce stress.

harvard-deep-breathingWhether you struggle with anxiety disorder, a chronic infection that causes autonomic dysfunction, or are dealing with a stressful situation, breathing properly and effectively is vital to feeling well.

A sense of wellbeing is not possible if you are not breathing properly.

If necessary, set an alarm, put sticky notes all around your home and work space, or ask the people around you to remind you to breathe should they notice you struggling.

Focused breathing exercises might just be the answer.

Don’t forget: Just breathe!

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My favorite things: nature

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Sharing an heirloom variety nasturtium flower from my vegetable garden with my granddaughter brought me great joy!

As far back as I can remember I have been curious about nature, both flora and fauna.

Behind our little house in South Miami, when I was in junior high, I had a container garden. I had taken an old picnic table bench, a few pots, and soil from the area around our banana trees in the backyard.

I grew tropical plants, but also cultivated bonsai.

In our front yard, we had a huge ficus tree. One of my favorite things when I was between 8 and 13 was to climb among the tree’s dense foliage and hide. I loved looking down upon my family members knowing that they couldn’t find me.

But it was mostly the shade and cool leaves that refreshed my tired and stressed soul. This tree fed me in ways that food couldn’t.

 

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When I was in my 20s, we moved to the Texas Hill Country. I learned to enjoy day hikes and fishing. I loved to pitch my tent in one of Texas’ amazing state parks and sleep among the live oaks, cedar and hunting, scavenging amardillos.

When I was in my 30s I purchased my first digital camera. While I captured my children playing, climbing, jumping and celebrating holidays and birthdays, I as often pointed my camera at my garden plants, the plant life I encountered in my yard and on neighborhood walks, and the occasional egret, pelican and seagull (because we were living in St. Petersburg, Florida).

Many, many years later, I landed in Connecticut where I am still (but only until this summer where I will join my heart which I left in Texas in 1992).

Connecticut is beautiful.

I remember clearly the moment in October 1999 when we reached the state of Connecticut with a minivan full of kids, a cat, and our suitcases. I declared  that the whole state is like a park.

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My years here, though painful in many ways, have given me access to a level of nature I had never known before, especially when we moved to a small town to live on a few acres of land in the woods.

After becoming sick with Lyme disease and not recovering, I was reminded that nature could be cruel.

What I had once loved became frightening for me as I was reinfected with Lyme disease multiple times.

One day I just decided that I was going to go outside and walk in the grass again. I had hidden from nature for years  out of fear of reinfection.

I decided to grow a vegetable garden again. I planted some ornamental plants in the flower beds and began to spread wildflower seeds from plants that popped up around the property.

And I photographed it all.

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Yes, I found deer ticks on me, but I was sick already. So what?

My time in the garden fed my soul.

I took walks on many of the hike and bike trails in nearby towns.

My body ached, but my soul was nourished.

And I knew that no matter what happens in life, I must never again stay away from nature, because it is definitely one of my favorite things.

 

Perfection eludes me

Amish women deliberately place some kind of little mistake in the quilts they make to indicate their humility; only God is perfect. I always thought that concept was entirely arrogant, myself. How in the world can they even consider that anything they create with their own hands could be perfect?

And so it is in my life: I am very far from perfection. I am an undergraduate student (at 53). Because of health issues, I can only take 9 credit hours per semester. It will take me a very long time to graduate from college. That said, I work very, very hard at my studies. I probably spend twice as much time on assignments as most students due to cognitive issues. I pretty much agonize over assignments.

Due to brain damage from neuroborreliosis or neurologically-involved Lyme disease, I have short-term memory problems and cognitive difficulties (along with chronic fatigue, chronic pain, and sleep issues). I wrote a post on my other blog about how my visual memory has somehow been removed or disconnected from my cognitive functioning leaving me with a blank, grey screen that previously held visual memories of whatever I was reading, learning, or memorizing (as in maps, directions, graphics, textbook pages, words, etc.). I cannot summon a visual memory any longer, so I am handicapped.

This week I worked very hard on a response paper for an English class I am taking (one of two — I love English!). I spent hours yesterday rewriting, clarifying, rewriting, editing, and so on. I agonized over the grammatical structure of my thesis statement; I even emailed my professor and asked for her input. I let the paper rest overnight and spent five hours this morning rewriting, editing, clarifying and agonizing over sentence structure (I have a couple of bad writing habits).

englishpaperI ran out of black ink in my printer cartridge, so I am doing the paper entirely on the computer (actually, three computers — long story). Typically, I print out my final iteration before submitting it online to check for errors that are difficult to see on a computer screen. I couldn’t do that this time. I ran through a final reading on the laptop, reading aloud which helps me tremendously, and saved it as a PDF file. I then uploaded the file to my college’s online interface and clicked OK. To my horror, there in the first paragraph, was an “s” in a word where it had not been minutes before. I was dumbfounded. Then I remembered that I had used the typical keystroke CTRL-s to save the latest changes before once again saving it as a PDF. I must have missed the CTRL key.

For me, there is never any need to deliberately place an error in any of my work. I do that just fine naturally.

I emailed my professor within a minute of uploading the file hoping that she will allow me to re-upload the paper. I have done what I can do and have a pile of other homework to do, two final research papers to write, and I need to taxi my youngest son to a friend’s house.

Perfection eludes me naturally. I am only human, you know (and a very damaged, flawed one at that).

P.S. As difficult as my studies are, I absolutely love every assignment. I feel privileged to be able to attend college, thanks to financial aid. It has been a dream of mine since I was 15 years old to go to college. I am living a dream in spite of my challenges. I am blessed.