Those words Just Breathe were the specially chosen ones I had inked onto my left foot just over a year ago. First tattoo, (second one followed a few months later, but that’s all for now) and yep it hurt. What hurt more is that I have the type of skin that seems to repel tattoos. Great, who has ever heard of such a thing? Anyway, I have had it redone 3 times now and seriously I can’t be bothered going back anymore. I am happy to put up with a washed out look rather than crisp and clean if it means no more pain. As the words ‘Just Breathe’ hint at, I kinda have more pressing issues to deal with than perfecting the rich black ink on my foot.
So when people see the tattoo it surprisingly tells me a lot about them, this I was not expecting. I got the tattoo for me and nobody else. I was 33 and had just been through the toughest time in my life, which resulted in me honestly not caring what anyone thought of it. Still I found their reactions very telling of who ‘got’ me and what I was/am going through and who lived in a completely different universe.
I get two responses usually, either ‘oh I love it, does it help you focus?’ or ‘ ha, do you actually need to be told to breathe’ this one is usually followed by an eye roll.
I can tell you with absolutely no uncertainty that yes, I do need to be reminded to ‘Just Breathe’.
The reason I created this blog was so that I could share an honest account of the ups and downs of life when you have a mental illness. My wish is that I will be able to give others living with depression and anxiety (as well as other mental illnesses) a sense of hope that they are not alone. However, I also want to assist those who do not suffer a mental illness to gain a better understanding of why we sometime act in ways that have you pulling your hair out.
My ‘Just Breathe’ tattoo (when on show in summer shoes or bare feet) appears as a reminder of just how differently everyones brains work. I mean we see it everyday when we walk down the street and see someone with completely different fashion sense to us. Or when hearing of someone achieving something you would never dream of doing out of fear, such as aerial skiing. Although we sometimes rack our brains trying to work out how and why people make life choices like this, we just put it down to different personalities and move on.
So why is it then when someone says they ‘can’t breathe’ and any physical medical problem is ruled out they are almost fobbed off. We are told ‘it’s just a panic attack’ in the same manner as being told ‘it’s just a paper cut’. Many people simply can not fathom how this can be a real feeling. If there is nothing medically wrong with a person then black and white logic means they can breathe, end of story. I get it. Perhaps if I had not experienced the horror of server anxiety attacks I would think the same? Many people not only laugh off the possibility that people can be so anxious they feel they can not breathe , but even label these people as attention seekers or hypochondriacs.
I would like to share with you one particular anxiety attack I had that took me by surprise.
It was a cold winters night last year and I had gone out in Adelaide to attend a yoga class. I was living in Adelaide at the time because I was not able to look after myself and the kids on the farm. I had tried returning home to the farm after my discharge from treatment at a Psychiatric Hospital, but could not cope and needed the services available in the city and my mother’s help with the children. I was attending a yoga class with a teacher I adored and had always loved yoga as a stress relieving activity. However, the room was dusty and that together with the weather seemed to exacerbate my asthma (which at the time had been under control). I suddenly felt a real tightening in my throat and was overcome with embarrassment at the struggle I was having to gasp in large amounts of air. I hastely excused myself and hoped in my car to travel back to our Adelaide house on the other side of town.
Not long after reversing and beginning the drive I realised I couldn’t continue, I could barely breathe and could not drive safely. My mind went into overdrive. I had no idea what to do and felt like I couldn’t get the large breaths I needed to provide me with enough oxygen. I have to say that I have never felt so scared in my life, I honestly thought I would die within the next few minutes. When frantically racking my brain I surmised that there was no time to call an ambulance and there was no point getting out of the car and finding someone to help me as it was so quiet on the roads. The only thing to do was to drive to a pharmacy I remembered was just around the corner. I still don’t know how I managed to get there.
I parked the car and stumbled inside, leant on the front counter and spluttered ‘can’t breathe……asthma’. I was still scared but soon felt a bit better that I was in a safe environment getting help. The staff were amazing and thank goodness they went straight to get me a ventolin inhaler, sat me in a private room and had someone with me reassuring me I would be okay. In this caring environment I started to regain my breathing and focus until I was able to speak again and then get up. After doing the necessary paperwork and thanking the staff I slowly drove back to the Adelaide house. It rattled me more than any other attack I had experienced and scared me from going out at night for months afterward.
Even when I reread this I think ‘doesn’t sound that bad’……
Geez this mental health stigma is hard to shake!
Why is it that if I had a side effect related to the treatment I was having for cancer, glaucoma, diabetes or a broken leg there would be a sympathetic friend or family member? Someone who genuinely understood the distress I was going through. Yet instead I was either spoken to in a condescending manner or fobbed off . In fact, when I really think about it those responses I got were from medical professionals (not the staff at the pharmacy, they were fantastic!). With responses like that from people I went to for help, I don’t think I bothered telling many others (except my husband and Mum who I relied on heavily for support).
I quite often feel like it is not worth explaining why I can’t go out, or I can’t volunteer at that school/kindy/sports event. I imagine this happens to a lot of mental health suffers.
Please don’t think that I will just live a sad, quiet life in isolation at home though because I have hope. I feel like the reason I am here is to make it easier for those that come after me with mental health problems. The doors I have had slammed in my face over the years I want to be opening and welcoming to the next generation. It is for this reason that I share my struggles with those I meet (obviously when appropriate, I don’t generally blurt out my heartache to the telemarketer who calls up, although that could be a good strategy to not get called again). When I feel like I have a chance of someone being willing to hear me out I will explain a little about my struggles in order for them to understand why I can not do what they are asking of me. I am extremely happy to report that the more I do this the easier it becomes. Also, the further along my path to contentment I realise that despite my best efforts there will be some people that for whatever reason will not be able to ‘get’ the way my brain operates. I could try explaining it 10,000 ways and it won’t help. But that is okay. In my mind as long as my nearest and dearest care enough to support me the best they can, I can work on letting go of the hurt I feel from those who judge and ridicule me. Obviously this second part is a work in progress :).
Personally my anxiety attacks can leave me feeling like such a sensitive, soft individually who isn’t capable of handling the reality of the the real world. I have been told over and over again that I need to toughen up. I no longer believe this for two reasons. Firstly to a degree this is me, the way my personality is I feel things deeply. Secondly, for reasons beyond my control I have a mental health condition where the hormones and chemicals in my my brain function in the wrong way sometimes. A very special friend taught me that you don’t need to have thick skin and block out the negativity in the world. Being a sensitive spirit is like having a super power. We can nurture and love the world and everyone in it. Without people like this the world would be a pretty toxic place. I believe everyone has a super power that can sometimes take us a lifetime to discover. But, when we do, we can all contribute to the rich diversity in the world. It really does take all types to make the world go around.
So go out in that world that sometimes feels scary and lonely and remember:
We are all unique and feel things very differently. Although sometimes we can’t understand what someone else is going through, if we have an open mind and a loving heart we might just be the spark of hope that gives them the belief that things can get better and to keep on going.
Love and Peace
*Just so you know, I haven’t always had the confidence to speak openly about my depression and anxiety. In the beginning, for many reasons I thought I needed to hide it. For me this did not help and I look back and think that perhaps if I had sought help earlier I would not have fallen so hard in the end.
I also understand that we all have our own paths in life to walk. You might not think you need to share it with the world and that is your decision to make. Just please share your struggles with a trusted health professional so they can guide you to getting the assistance you need.