Near Breath Experience

A year ago today, I was buried under the weight of Covid-19 and struggling to take a breath. My lungs felt as if they were made of concrete and dust. I probably needed to go to the hospital, but absolutely refused because the new virus was surging in our area, and the hospitals were overloaded with people who were dying in record numbers.

I absolutely believed that if I went to the hospital I would die. I was convinced that my greatest chance for survival was to let my immune system rage against the strange invader in the comfort of my own home.

Everyone close to me had different symptoms. For me, the virus seemed content on attacking my lungs. So I didn’t lie down on my back at all. I slept sitting up all day, for fear of pneumonia setting in. And when I realized that lying prone offered some relief, I spent my nights sleeping flat on my stomach, for fear of dying in my sleep.

There was a lot of fear. And there was panic. When we have a panic attack our breathing becomes very shallow. Conversely, when an injury or illness makes our breath shallow it can cause panic attacks. Sometimes, we can’t breathe because we’re panicking. I was panicking because I couldn’t breathe. It was compounded by the real fear of what the virus could do to me. It was also compounded by my PTSD from the last time I couldn’t breathe, when I had my double mastectomy.

So, I was sitting in a stewpot of illness, trauma, worry, panic, and a real fear of death as I watched the daily covid numbers rising rapidly. I moved in and out of fever dreams, on a psychedelic trip, alternating between extreme exhaustion and a calm, heightened awareness of the true meaning of life.

In one of those clearer moments I decided to focus only on gratitude. I had a lot things other folks didn’t: a comfy couch for convalescing, warm blankets, Netflix, and plenty of toilet paper. People were dying alone in hospitals and I was still alive. So every time I struggled for breath and felt the panic creeping in I thought, I’m still here. It’s hard to breathe. But I’m glad I’m still here. This sucks. This hurts. But I’m glad I’m still here.

A year later, I wake up every morning, grateful that I’m still here. Too many people I knew are no longer here.

A year later, there is still a heaviness in the world, and in my body. My heart races and I struggle to catch my breath when I climb a hill, or a few stairs, or sometimes, when I’m sitting perfectly still.

I’m not sure if it’s long term covid, or immeasurable grief for everyone and everything we have lost, and continue to lose. It’s still all so heavy.

A year later it is still heavy, but hopeful. It’s Spring again. We’re heading outdoors again. And unlike last March we now have movement toward acceptable levels of herd immunity from vaccines and viral exposure. Now, we slowly begin to come out of hibernation.

But this is not the light at the end of the tunnel. Because we live in the tunnel of uncertainty and impermanence our entire lives. This is just a window with a view along the way.

We can choose to pause, turn our face to the pane, enjoy the view for a while, and breathe it all in. As deeply as we can. Glad we’re still here.

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