“As you think, so shall you become.” (Bruce Lee)
At one o’clock this morning I stopped breathing. For how long, I don’t know. I awoke howling for air sometime later with a sore throat and body shaken from the episode.
At the time of this writing, I still ache and am still shaken by the fight with my own body.
It’s not the first time sleeping breathless has happened. Over the last few years, it has become more frequent. Every few months I seem to have an episode where I awake from a dead sleep gasping for air. I think it has to do with stress and anxiety, a reflection of my troubled days, but I don’t know.
My Mom has sleep apnea, and I never had issues with it until the last few years. I suspect a severe asthmatic attack in 2016 that sent me to the ER triggered it, threw my breathing all out of whack, but I don’t know for sure.
Could be age. Could be atmosphere. Could be diet. Could be lack of fresh air. Could be the stress and anxiety of the present day. Could be a mix of all triggers that stop my breathing at night until some mechanism in my body awakens me to get the lungs moving again.
I never know when I’ve stopped breathing. I don’t know I’m out until I’m yanked out of dreamy state gasping for air.
The reality is that I may not have made it last night, may not have awoken in time, may not have got oxygen back in my lungs in time. Nothing poetic about that. Brutal honesty.
Today, I could be dead today from asphyxiation. Thankfully, I’m not, but I can’t shake the dread of standing near the exit door.
The truth is that I feel dead for other reasons. My inability to find a job with my skills and experience has been devastating. Too messages of “Thank you for applying, but you weren’t selected. We’ll keep your resume on file, and let you know if any other opportunities come up.”
Don’t you know who I once was? Who I am? Don’t you see?
And I suppose I’m losing sight of who that person was as well as my golden years feel further away. I take regular shots to the gut and the ego with every desperate attempt to end this employment drought. Where once I felt confident walking into an interview, I now never know what will happen. I tell my story, sell my abilities, spin the plates like the best of them, but can’t seem to make the connection. Who I am is not obviously good enough.
This helpless failure takes my breath away.
Once, breathing (and living) was easy, uncompromised, and the least of my worries. Across thirteen years of chronic colitis, I never had issues with breathing. No matter how down and stressed I became, I never was challenged for air.
While I struggled to sleep during that time, as my system woke me up every few hours to vacate, my lungs were iron. Asthmatic issues didn’t enter my life until after my 2016 accident, and sleep apnea has become a lasting side effect.
Another case of destroying myself in the name of art: my 2016 accident was as a result of working with resins without adequate PPE. Art safety wasn’t a priority to me, or at least I didn’t know how important safety was for certain types of art. Any art that exudes dangerous and unhealthy fumes should be taken seriously. Word of wisdom for you.
I suspect that event permanently damaged my lungs in ways. Likewise, my passion for art and prioritization of it in my path permanently damaged my life in ways.
Blessing or curse, my commitment to art has not come without painful consequences and unhealthy sacrifices. I used art to breathe passion into my life, and art has left me breathless. It has exchanged oxygen for output, hope for focus, and humanity for utility.
In attempting to try something different, to become a different person and artist, I exited for a different atmosphere and experience, exiling my successes to a distant land lost to my history.
In attempting to return to familiar spaces, I exiled myself to an unfamiliar present. I do what I was trained, and the audience no longer listens. I play the game as designed, and feel further from useful and valuable in time, an extravagant pet trained for certain tricks but not worth the circus.
Conventional advice suggests that I should seek medical attention. With a serious condition such as sleep apnea, Doctors should be involved and treatment should be administered. As I’m sure you can understand, that’s a complicated endeavor when you don’t have insurance – or the money to spare to put into fixing what’s broken. For a decade, I was flush with financial benefits and opportunities that kept me from crucial and critical outcomes.
Those support systems no longer exist for me. The system I’m connected to now squeezes the oxygen out of you, then teases you with air that you can’t afford, with solutions and answers beyond your grasp. I won’t take handouts, and I won’t burn all that I have to get help.
But I will get help, when circumstances are better and right.
I want to work. I want to be part of a productive system where I’m receiving adequate benefits and appreciating the fruits of my labor. I want to contribute and know what it’s like to be protected again. I don’t want to grasp and gasp on the edge of oblivion.
I’m constantly holding what little breath I have for the time that I can live again. I live my life wracked with worry these days. I get by with what little resources I can muster. I survive more than I thrive.
I know someday I’ll breathe full and clear again, but that time isn’t now. At present, the vibrant noose is strangling my dreams and squeezing the life out of me.