marriage

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!

My favorite things denied

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Container Garden – Austin, Texas

I was a poor single mom before my husband and I decided to get married. Even though finances were tight, I allotted a small amount each month for buying books and plants.

I had an outdoor container garden, backyard vegetable garden and beautiful houseplants. I had a decent home library that my mom started for me when I was a teenager; I got books for Christmas and birthdays. That collection grew as I found mostly used books at thrift stores and Half-Price Books.

I had been married less than a year when I  started to worry that something wasn’t quite right. But as a good Christian woman, I hung in there and stood by my man. I stood up to him when he began to be abusive toward my son, but although he backed off, he used manipulation and control to get back at both of us.

As time went by, I found my previous life filled with “my favorite things” under attack. It was subtle, but my husband used religious “leadership” and finances to justify his control over what I read, did with my time, and enjoyed. I wasn’t allowed to buy books, one of my true loves. I wasn’t allowed to spend money on gardening or decorating. I didn’t spend money on clothing, visits to the hair salon, or anything that took me away from the house and his scrutiny.

His mantra of “don’t spend money” shut me down at every turn.

My husband didn’t care whether I enjoyed any aspect of life as long as he was in control.

This is the definition of financial abuse: asserting control over a partner or spouse by denying access to money or his/her ability to choose what to spend money on at any given time.

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Kids wearing thrift store finds. St. Petersburg, Florida

As our family grew, I bought clothing for my babies at the thrift store and still felt guilty for spending money. I purchased used toys and household goods. I bought used furniture, but was only allowed to do so after a fight (because he tried to go back on a promise to me that I could buy new furniture after we sold a rental home).

After two decades of marriage and the denial of “my favorite things” I had lost myself. I was nearly destroyed.

I had to be apart from my husband before I could begin to reconnect with who I really am: a nature-loving, book-devouring, independent woman. That is who I am.

The financial abuse continued during our long separation until my husband had a stroke. No, he didn’t see the light as he faced mortality. He got caught forging my signature on his tax returns for 4 years against my wishes and needed my signature on an old tax return that he had never filed. He felt justified by this behavior because he has been paying the mortgage and utilities on our home (where I live with our youngest son– he moved out of state and left us here with no way to move back near family) and gives me a small allowance with which I am supposed to buy food and pay for home maintenance, car insurance and repairs, cell phone, clothing,  and everything other expense that most people must cover.

He kept me and our youngest son in poverty. In four years, he had donated nearly $30k to churches while I had to go on food stamps so my son had enough to eat.

Abusers control finances in order to exert power over a partner or spouse.

And the only fix for this type of abuse is financial independence.

I tell all married women that I know that they should have their own bank accounts, retirement, savings, vehicles, credit cards, and their names on home deeds (this kept my husband from refinancing and taking out loans on our home–he needed my signature). You should own your own car — only your name on the title. Do not put your husband on your credit card accounts. Mine cancelled all my credit cards without notice to me (bank said he could do so because his name was on my account–I added him after we were married) and stopped the direct deposit of his paychecks into our joint checking account so I had no resources available and was completely dependent on him.

This advice goes for all women considering marriage, too. Plan ahead and maintain financial independence.

If you leave a job or career to take care of a family, put aside a set amount of money each month to cover what you would have in social security and/or retirement savings. Your goal should be to have at least $5,000 in savings (that is how much it costs to hire an attorney should you need to file for divorce) and a retirement account comparable to what you would have if you had continued working.

Continue to work even if it is 10 hours a week. Do something to maintain continuous employment.

And for goodness’ sake, do NOT give up your favorite things because your spouse complains or discourages your interests.

Take care of yourself, nurture your passions, and allow yourself to be a self and not just a spouse or marital appendage. You are your own person. Never forget that.

Happy Ending

I am back to loving books, nurturing my need to create and make beautiful things, enjoying digital photography,  and gardening, indoor and out, because I enjoy these activities.

Occasionally I even buy myself clothes and get my hair cut and styled. I enjoy a glass of my favorite wine, read a lot, and watch the movies and TV shows that I like. My bed is all mine. I don’t suffer sleep deprivation due to a snoring, restless bed partner (who refused to seek medical treatment).

Although I am still parenting a teenager, most of my life is on my terms. I will never give that up again.

I am committed to earning my bachelor’s degree and going on to graduate school because I want to. It is my desire, my dream.

I don’t have anyone telling me I am wasting my time or that I am wasting money on an education that I might never use. It is my dream and I am free to pursue it. That voice of control, denial and deprivation has no power over me anymore.

I am free to enjoy my favorite things.

 

 

 

Financial Abuse – The Assistant of Domestic Violence by Yvonne Sam

In keeping with the International Day of Violence against Women. Financial Abuse – The Assistant of Domestic Violence By Yvonne Sam When the word domestic violence is used or thought about, the general public usually thinks of physical abuse that gives rise to visible injuries to the victim. Sadly, this is only one type of abuse. […]

via Financial Abuse – The Assistant of Domestic Violence – By Yvonne Sam — Guyanese Online