Fighting for Breath

I spilled something last night while I was trying to make dinner. As I laughed at the dog and grabbed the broom, telling her ‘you don’t want that’ I was struck by a thought. Not that long ago, I’d have melted down with this little setback. It wasn’t the frozen broccoli floret skittering across the floor with the dog’s nose following it curiously. It was more that when I was stretched so thin, with a brittle skin of ice over the turmoil in my mind, the little things would break me.

Stress manifests in strange ways. Humans can endure a surprising amount of pain, and do, on a daily basis. Sometimes the pain, the stress, it eases into the background noise of life and we aren’t constantly aware of it. Or aware of the ebbing tide of it as it goes away, up until the moment when you are laughing at the mess that would have had you in tears another night. Healing takes time, and it’s sometimes so incremental you don’t feel it happening.

There are days. No, there are years where you can’t heal. Survival is all you can ask for. Waking up each morning still breathing is an achievement. And one you should choose to celebrate. You made it through another day. Days will feel like things are getting better… and then there’s a nosedive. But with time, given time, you will realize you’re closer to the surface again. Making decisions when you are that far underwater feels like it’s impossible. Everything just makes it worse. I can’t tell you what your hand hold will be. I know what mine was. The moment I felt the rope between my hands, and I grabbed it out of sheer instinct. That wasn’t the moment I started to pull on it, bringing myself up and toward the air. So I could breathe. Then once I had some oxygen, I could start making decisions that weren’t instinctive. But everyone’s different. And all I can say is: let people help you. You aren’t alone. There are people trying to throw you the rope that will help you reach the surface. And then you can start being more independent.

So now, standing in the warm, dry, safe kitchen, I can laugh at the mess. It’s not the last straw that cracks the overburdened spine, it’s not a straw at all. My partner didn’t even see it, but if he had, there would be no yelling. He’d have beat me to the broom and swept while I held the dustpan. Or just have laughed at the dog and then gotten her a treat that wasn’t frozen veggies. The house around me is clean, the bills are paid, the job is secure. I’m somewhere I couldn’t even dream about, not that long ago. I fought for this moment.

That’s perhaps the funniest thing about it. I fought for the ability to make a mess, and clean it up. No muss, no fuss. I won.

10 thoughts on “Fighting for Breath

  1. Woo-hoo!

    I know what you’re talking about. I got out of my situation before I got out of high school; I didn’t really heal from it until after I’d gotten married. I still carry the scars, but the wounds no longer bleed. Hugs, and I’m cheering for you, because this is wonderful!

  2. Your story resonates with me, and it will with my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, when she reads it. At one point, there were just so many things that COULD happen to destroy the fragile existence, built on sand, that was the very best we could do….
    …but then, love.
    …but then, God.

    It takes a long time to re-program your reflexes: so accustomed to tension from maintaining delicate balancing act, trying to guess what will please the unreasonable and unpredictable other; and then, when that’s over, the survival skills don’t accept that for a long time.
    My experience is that eventually, the new responses have a chance to flourish.
    And then we are in the much-to-be-appreciated position of KNOWING what it is we have gained.
    And we can breathe in, and inhale the fragrances of a life devoted to caring.

    1. the highest compliment I have ever been paid remains this, from my First Reader, not long after we entwined our lives. “You’re sturdy.”

      Which probably needs a whole post to unpack just why that meant so much to me, still means a lot. But I think you’ll understand.

  3. I had one very bad, bad year after my daughter was born. Life seemed to be a mess, the job was awful, I felt like a failure at everything in life, 24-7 … and I only realized a good few years later that I was badly post-natally depressed. I never had that crying jag, or series of crying jags that women were supposed to have had after giving birth, There is a tiny number of women who have that post-natal depression so severely that they harm themselves or their children – mine wasn’t that drastic, but after I came to that realization, I was prone to keep a very careful eye on those of my friends and subordinates who were new mothers … just in case.

  4. Go, you!

    Yeah, it’s kind of like relationship PTSD. It’s been more than 20 years for me, and I still pause every now and then waiting for the verbal/mental/emotional abuse – when I know Hubs would never ever even think about doing to me what had been done. The pauses get fewer as the years go by, but I doubt I’ll ever be free of them.

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