Don’t hold your breath!

Why is it that when you really want someone to be wrong the culprit turns out to be – you?

It seems that over the years I’ve developed quite a few insecurities – miraculously, writing isn’t one of them – all having to do with my deeply rooted sense that I’m not good enough.  Especially when it comes to relationships.  Now, don’t get me wrong; most relationship problems come from both sides to become a truly tangled mess, but at times my attempts to correct the issues – just make matters worse.

But every now and then, if I dig down far enough and am willing to admit my total lack of faith that I am worthy of human status, things turn out better than I imagine.  Peace seeps in and restores my ability to breathe.  I’m not a hyper-ventilator – I’m a hypo-ventilator – meaning I hold my breath when I’m nervous or afraid.  And even though my son’s first grade teacher wrote him up for scaring her to death because she thought his particular shade of blue was startling, you cannot kill yourself simply by holding your breath.  The (admittedly little) research I did on it after that indicated that the worst that would happen if a child held their breath long enough – is that they would pass out, their body would immediately restore involuntary actions including breathing and they would wake up relatively no worse for the wear.  Now – my son, being an adventurous six-year-old, and somewhat the entrepreneur – had done this on a dare – a dare combined with a bet – money was involved and he figured he could hold his breath longer than anyone else.  It was a competition – nothing more.  However, he did turn blue.  She wrote him up – really? She claimed that in her 30 years of teaching 1st grade that she had never had a child hold their breath.  Excuse me?  At the time I was only 34 – and I remembered having had breath-holding contests in grammar school too.  Was this fascination with breath peculiar only to my family – surely not, since other children were involved and I also remembered boys in my middle school holding their breath for a dare.  This is not a rare occurrence for children, but somehow – she had never, in 30 years – witnessed anything like it. (Her reaction to his Christmas list and picture of what he wanted to be when he grew up also gained her scrutiny – but those are stories for another day.)

So the idea is still fascinating to me.  I didn’t realize I was doing it until I had a physical break down in the middle of my first year teaching.  (I’ll eventually get around to that story too.) The doctor I spoke with after my collapse asked me several questions and I realized that not breathing made me feel invisible – and therefore unattackable.  I began to realize how often I was doing it – how much taking a deep breath actually caused physical pain because the muscles around my lungs were so unused to doing it anymore.  I had to practice breathing normally.  Now – to be clear – holding my breath is not what caused my collapse at school that day – it was a combination of dangerous symptoms including an extreme drop in potassium levels.  I am so blessed to be here.  I realize God’s intervention for me – and yet – somehow don’t ever seem to remember that when I truly need to.

I noticed myself doing it again a couple of weeks ago.  My husband was preparing for a change in his job – something that is a common thing for his line of work, but still causes trepidation every time.  His stress was becoming my stress.  I became hypersensitive to any questions – assuming my own deficiency was the cause of his needs.  I couldn’t grade papers at school because I couldn’t focus – much less make any corrective feedback.  I didn’t doubt my own writing ability – but began to doubt my ability to correctly notice grade-appropriate adjustments to student’s papers.  I was paranoid that I would grade them like the undergrads I taught during the residency phase of my Ph.D. – which would be totally overwhelming and unfair to 8th graders. I began to feel like my co-workers were hiding things from me.  My cheerful, upbeat, God-loving counterpart started to seem overbearing, sneaky – always meeting with a new administrator that I truly believe has problems with the fact that I have more education than he does.  My ideas were scoffed at a meeting.  I was asked to move back into a position I left years ago and didn’t want again (lots of writing material there – but maybe for a more professional area)- but I was given the choice and I stayed put.  I snapped at students for asking off-topic questions.

Did you know that if you push the number 2 button on mine craft that your sword comes out and you regain your life points?

No – are you finished with your assignment?


Then go sit down and do it!

Do you know what the square root of pie is?

No. Nor do I care – I don’t teach math.  Go write your essay and don’t get up again!

I did look up the square root of pie and promptly dashed it at the child when he opened his mouth to ask another random question.

Then I felt guilty about snapping off the string of numbers and was overly attentive to the child’s questions for the next three days.  I think I’ll tell him he can only ask one off-topic question per day.

Anyway – the breath holding thing – I listen to my breath squish out of my body, don’t puff my cheeks or anything, just don’t allow air back in.  There comes a point when I know air is a necessity – and I silently and with as little noise or motion as I can – gasp it up – trying to deny more than just the smallest bit of it into my lungs.

I would never make it to the shade of blue my son managed for the dare.  Because I don’t really want to die – or even pass out – it isn’t fun. I just want to be as small and still as possible.  I think it’s what forest animals do when they sense danger – hunker down, get as quiet and still as possible, and don’t move for a long time.

But the point is that I am breathing today.  Because I had myself a good lazy day – it is 10:35 pm after all and I’ve never made it out of my bathrobe today – and a really good cry – and a long talk with my husband about what is wrong with me.  Or rather – what isn’t really wrong with me, but what I am afraid is wrong with me.  Which is simply that I’m not good enough for him.  Which has never been the real truth, I know, but as Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman – It is easier to believe the bad stuff.

So, I’m counting my breaths – seven counts in – seven counts out.  I would probably be a junkie at an oxygen bar about now – but they don’t even have those within a hundred miles or more of here.  Maybe I should go catch up on those papers from last week – all this oxygen is waking me up, calming me down, and making it hard to sleep.  It’s a trade off.


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