Back to basic breath

Sometimes it all piles up...

I’ve been thinking back on the past few weeks, and all the upheaval that’s been going on. There have been a lot of money problems in my house, and it’s a real problem that’s been spiraling out of control – way past where I’m comfortable. I can’t keep on like this – something has got to give.

I feel like I’ve been making some good progress, lately, figuring things out, cutting myself a break, and so forth. But then the flashpoints come, and I feel like I’m back at Square One all over again. And just when I think I’m doing so well… It’s demoralizing, and I don’t care for the experience at all. I know I can do better. I need to do better.

So, I sat myself down last night and had a good think, and I pulled together a lot of the things I have learned (and a number of things I already knew) and renewed my resolve to use them all together to get myself of the funk I have fallen into.

What I came up with is an even stronger belief in a realization I had some time back — it’s that a lot (and I mean A LOT) of my state of mind is related to how I’m feeling physically. And the times when I am feeling most “down” on myself, mentally and emotionally, are often when I am feeling bad physically — and in my head, I interpret those feelings as mental or emotional. And I get into thinking that there’s something wrong with me, with my spirit, with my essential self.

Here’s an example, to help clarify — I sometimes have panic attacks. I didn’t realize it till within the past couple of years, but it’s been going on for a long time. I get “jammed up” … I get wired … and more and more adrenaline rushes through me, until I eventually melt down and feel like I’m falling into a black pit of helpless despair. It feels awful, and when it starts, it doesn’t feel like there’s anything I can do to stop my fall. After the “fall,” I feel sick on my stomach, exhausted, foggy – just wiped out. I need to sleep, but I’m so turned around and turned upside-down that I can’t relax, and I fall even farther into what feels like an emotional crevasse — a yawning, endless crack in the icefield of my life that I have slipped into… again.

In the aftermath of my panic attacks, I feel so sick and wiped out — emotionally and mentally it taxes me and wipes me out. And I often fall into a terrible depression after the fact. But then it passes. Sometimes all of a sudden. Sometimes it just lifts, for no reason that I can tell.

That’s puzzled me for some time — and it’s also made me think that I’m not “depressed” in the clinical sense. Something else must be going on. So, over the past year or so, whenever I’ve had a panic attack, I’ve tried to pay close attention to what happens to me afterwards — how I feel, on every level, after the “fall”. What I’ve realized is that I feel physically sick. And that physical sickness translates into a mental and emotional foggy drain. And when I rebound, I find that it tends to coincide with me getting more sleep, or eating a good meal, or exercising, or taking care of myself physically in general. When I push myself after a panic attack, though, I stay stuck in that funk until I can get my body back in order.

I’ve also noticed that when I am physically ill, I tend to feel depressed. When I am tired, I get down on myself. When I am not eating right and not taking care of myself, mentally and emotionally I become less stable.

So, that’s one piece of the puzzle.

The other piece is my autonomic nervous system — the fight-flight and rest-digest parts of my biochemical “wiring” that keep me in a steady state, when they are in balance. When they are both getting their fair share of use, they keep me going. But when I get out of whack and end up with more fighting and flighting, or I overdo it on the resting and digesting, it starts to play havoc with me. I look around at other people I know, and it seems like I need to spend more time than most people, keeping things balanced. I go off the deep end a lot quicker, and I react much more extremely. So, I need to pay closer attention, and I need to be more pro-active in how I manage myself and my reactions.

That means I need to find ways to keep my autonomic nervous system in balance, so I don’t end up overdosing on adrenaline and then crash and burn. I also need to make sure I don’t swing to the opposite extreme and turn (quite willingly) into a vegetable. I swing to extremes quite easily, so I need to keep that in mind.

What to do? At the most basic level, I have found something that helps me more than I would expect — basic breathing. A while back, I was making a habit of sitting and focusing on my breath before I got up in the morning, regulating my heartbeat, and chilling out my whole system before I launched into the day. That helped me a lot, when I think back. But for some reason I got away from it.

I was actually a victim of my own “success”. Things got busy at work – in part because I was able to be so productive in my chilled-out state. I ended up overdoing a lot of my activities, pushing myself beyond common-sense limits, not getting enough sleep, getting pulled deeper and deeper into a schedule that wasn’t particularly sustainable. I also got all excited about the experiences I was having, I felt this rush of zeal, and I started reading a lot about mindful breathing and zen and zazen and mindfulness in general, and it just churned up my head and sent me spinning in all sorts of directions.

And then I just stopped taking the time for the breathing.

Lesson learned. Thinking back, I know – I know – I know – that doing that daily breathing helped me a lot. Just sitting and counting my breaths for as many years as I’ve been alive, gave my brain a much-needed break, if only for 10 minutes a day. And it helped me “reboot” before I got into my day. It helped me keep things in perspective and not get so bent out of shape. Also, steady breathing — counting to six on the in-breath and counting to six on the out-breath — has been clinically and scientifically shown to regulate the heartbeat and brain-heart coherence, which is a prime indicator of health. So, even without the psycho-spiritual element, there’s “hard evidence” for its benefits. That, in addition to the fact that I just felt so damned GOOD when I was done with my breathing in the mornings.

So, when I got my head around that yesterday, and I thought back on how good I had felt before, when I was doing my regular breathing, I took some time at the end of the day to sit for a while… just sit. I focused a bit on my breathing, but I didn’t make a huge deal out of doing it “right”. I just sat for a few minutes. And amazingly enough, it made me feel 300% better than I had, just ten minutes before.

Huh. How ’bout that… Again, this morning, before I got up, I took some time to breathe. I lay in bed for a while, trying to relax my wired body — I tend to wake up in a jolt of adrenaline, which is a hell of a way to start the day. I did pretty well, then I figured I’d sit up and straighten my back and let my whole body “talk to itself.” After all, our spine is the highway all those impulses travel through. It’s the central trunk of communication, and if it’s all twisted and turned around, the messages may get through, but they’re going to have to work harder to get there.

It was a little chilly this morning, so I wrapped myself in my blankets, and I sat for 46 breaths, keeping my back straight and my gaze on the wall in front of me. I have a painting on the wall, and I focused on one corner of it  to keep my eyes “busy” and not wandering around. I didn’t get into all kinds of rules and regulations about how I should be doing this. I just sat straight and still… and breathed.

And yeah, by the time I was done, I was in that great place where I wasn’t in a hurry to get done (like I usually am in the first 15 breaths or so), and I wasn’t in a place where I was wanting to just stay there forever (like I usually am around 30 breaths or so). I was fine with finishing up and getting on with my day. All balanced and whatnot. Feeling fine and chill and ready for whatever happened.

I had a good breakfast, cleaned up the kitchen a little bit, thought about how I had gotten so wrapped up in ME lately — meeting MY needs, MY wishes, MY worries, MY responsibilities — that I had become blind to the rest of the world and in all the rushing to get myself to a place where I felt like I could allow myself to relax, I was running in the exact opposite direction. In my hurry to feel better, I was making myself feel worse, all the while chafing about how much was left undone.

So much for all that. I had my breakfast, washed the dishes, swept the floor, threw out some trash, and I realized I felt perfectly fine. The world is far from perfect, and who can say if or when all these wars will be over, people will find jobs, or this country will get its act together and be what it truly can be. But for now, for this moment, for this morning, I’m fine with whatever may come. I’m just fine.

Yeah, I’m in pain from the changing weather and changes in my amount of exercise. Yeah, I’m really low on money right now, and I have to choose between putting gas in the car and eating lunch. Yeah, things have been tough at home, and my spouse is just not a happy camper. But life goes on. And in the midst of it all, I have this sense of okay-ness that goes way beyond something that can be explained. It just is.

I just am.

And that’s exactly where I want to be.

Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

9 thoughts on “Back to basic breath”

  1. Good afternoon “BB”, Alex here, There is a book: “Conscious Breathing” by Gay Hendricks, Ph.D. that I read prior to embarking on my own conscious breathing which I found rather insightful beyond what I already knew, you might too! When my neurological and familial stresses overwhelm me, finding a path to emotional stasis is critical I have found in realigning my emotional health! I do read your post’s almost daily and I really find solace in locating a kindred spirit out there somewhere coping with myriad neurological “deficits” similar to mine! Keep writing, it is very therapeutic for both of us and keep your chin up your doing great! Have a lovely day, your avid reader, Alex


  2. An excerpt from my book that appears to have much in what you are saying here BB….

    Everyday thoughts and feelings which happen commonly amongst normal people, do not happen in the same way, or for the same reasons, in those of us who are so very disabled. It is just as hard for us to capture our own internal stuff, as it is to grasp our outer world. We are different – not because I want us to be – but because being unwillingly confined inside an unfathomable labyrinth where there exists little but physical destruction, is mind blowing. Your thoughts have nowhere to grow or expand, they cannot find solace nor any cushion to sit and rest on a while. Every direction you try to move into is blocked, and you cannot stop, you cannot stop looking, seeking, searching. There is no rest, no ease, no chill out time, no moment of switching off or relaxation. There exists no choice to opt for any ‘down-time,’ or to take five minutes just to be with yourself, because our consciousness is always on red alert – not because of any perceived danger or imagined threat – but because the brain is hyperactive in its efforts to deliver at least some type of normality.

    The brain itself cannot stop or give up. It knows its primary job is to sustain life. It knows it can’t do this, if it gets a bad attitude and can’t be bothered. Trying to mentally stop this activity would be like trying to think your heart into not beating. The brain itself feels agitated. This has nothing to do with the inner voice, conscious feelings, thoughts or intentions, which could provoke a feeling of being ‘wired,’ but instead, it has to do with the brain being constantly and totally engulfed by, and in, its’ incoming data. The data hits the senses, but the parts of the brain which decipher the information are no longer able to interpret what has been received so readily. The memories of previous experiences it would normally use to do this, are no longer all available. The brain injured person is the monkey grinding a broken organ grinder. We are willingly doing ‘the work,’ but we have no idea that there are any faults within the mechanism.

    Within this broken mechanism the ‘self’ actually feels pushed to the side; ‘you’ are squashed into a corner as though your brain has no time for you. There is no available capacity in which you can think or make choices, because the brain is already busy trying to decide if there is a tiger in the grass. The brain cannot process the ‘incoming’ quickly enough to pass through the subliminal messages it is designed to do. Brains don’t ‘give up.’ They keep trying. They keep trying long after the moment has passed. They keep trying no matter what attitude their ‘owner’ has. Your brain becomes like the busy parent who is always too busy to give you their time, always too busy to listen, always too busy to even notice you exist.

    If the ‘user’ of the damaged brain falls into a spiral of negativity, then their healing will make a pattern of one step forward – the biological brain ingrained with the paramount sense of survival – and one step back – the negative ‘owner’ not helping. As such, it is possible that pessimism will negate the spontaneous progress the brain is making, because every thought or reaction is the result of conscious or unconscious choice. Practising these choices over and again will add Myelin to the brain fibres, and eventually the negativity becomes an habitual way of thinking. Negativity is therefore something that everyone needs to be very aware of, and cautious about.

    Everything that used to happen in the background now has to happen in the foreground. It’s as though the subconscious mind has become like a withered raisin, with size and health all dehydrated to leave nothing other than a wrinkled terminal blob. The brain knows it is failing in its normality and it needs no internal conscious communication to tell it that. There isn’t necessarily any conscious recognition of the same thing though. You don’t need to be consciously aware of the biological processes of the brain for them to keep happening.

    In normality nature takes care of much of our understanding and processing without us ever even knowing about it. This natural progression is halted by the damaged areas, which means that the brain is forced to try to utilise the undamaged parts of the ‘blancmange.’ The only problem with this is the amount of time it takes for the new pathways to be etched in, and for the synapses and neurons to be convinced about their new job.

    I hope this helps….


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