When things go the wrong way
Have you ever choked? Accidentally, I mean. Really choked not just coughed and spluttered on a drink or bit of food that went the wrong way. Especially when alone at home at some random moment of inattentiveness.
It is a scary thing. First you ‘take charge’ as you try to breathe and dislodge the obstacle. Only to find it’s not working and then the mind races and panics as no air comes. There are reflexes that kick in, the bodies automatic defenses that seem stronger even than our own desire to live. Muscles spasm, we may get a little hiccup of air. The obstruction moves, in or out, and for a few minutes your eyes water, you gulp in the air in great juddering gasps and wait for your body to stop shaking and the adrenaline to pass on through.
It’s only happened a few times and, as I’m still here, I obviously survived. And among the many thoughts exploding in my brain will always be “Good grief, wouldn’t this be a really stupid and pointless way to die?”. A sort of black comedy of embarrassment at ones owns passing in ignominy. And one of the risks that living by yourself throws up that explains the slightly higher mortality rate of the singletons I guess. Unless of course your partner really, really hates you.
Now I admit this might seem like an odd topic to write about. Apart from chewing your food well, being vigilant for chicken and fish bones and learning how to perform a version of the Heimlich maneuver on yourself ( How to Give Yourself Heimlich Maneuver | First Aid Training ), I’m not suggesting you find a partner just to avoid choking. However, I am raising how there can be more mundane, simple challenges to our mortality than asteroids hitting the earth, pandemic diseases, and GMO foods.
The reason I’m writing about this is simple. Choking is sometimes not a random act. Sometimes it is a chronic defect. An invisible threat in the dark of the night. Literally! It is called Sleep Apnea. And I’ve recently discovered, while on holiday, that I very likely have it. This comes from a friend who is also a retired GP. And here was I thinking snoring was bad enough.
To literally stop breathing for 20-30 seconds while unconscious and then have my body gasp in a huge gulp of air over and over again must be disturbing, to say the least. But, just like snoring, it goes unseen and unheard by the sleeper. Being told about it is a bit like finding out your neighbor who say hello to every morning on the way to work is a sadistic thug with a bad temper. The pervasive tiredness, the lack of energy and, often times, a feeling you’ve hardly slept at all. These are all linked to this unconscious battle.
I’m no medical expert. Today, at the first opportunity, I will make an appointment with my GP and see what the next step is. That is in some ways the easy part. The obvious thing to do.
Lies & Hope
So that explains the lethargy in the title of this post. What about the lies? Well, frankly I feel I have been lying to myself for a long time in a way. I don’t always wake up tired. It seems to come and go but maybe, being honest, it sometimes goes less and stays more. The lack of drive, the inability to concentrate for long periods and physical aches and pains. And it is no wonder if I’m literally fighting for breath every night when I should be resting fully.
My hope is that it doesn’t have to be like this. That whatever the physical cause of this is, it can be fixed or treated. There are probably many factors, as I discussed with my friend the GP, but I know one will be obesity. My hope is, at it seems, possibly the two are linked. Probably in a vicious circle. I don’t sleep well >>> then habitually overeat to compensate for resulting fatigue/low energy >>> gain more excess weight >>> this inhibits airway a bit more >>> resulting in disturbed sleep >>> So I don’t sleep well… Ad nauseum.
I was proud of myself for getting by on sometimes on as little as 4 or 5 hours sleep. In fact, most times if I ‘slept in’ I’d feel worse. So I’d meditate for a while (good), and/or read maybe (okay), or have an early breakfast (not okay), check emails (okay I guess), check and maybe post on Facebook (mostly bad sometimes good).
All of this activity to paper over the cracks in my sleep and justify my later fatigue and lack of motivation after lunch. My bad eating habits due to being ‘too busy’ to choose correctly while procrastinating chronically too. To the point where, some days, I don’t work at all, I just mooch about feeling bored and listless.
Stress & Meditation
Thank God I know how to meditate. I see now that my sleep and eating patterns have inflicted a lot of physical stress on my body and contributed to my mental and emotional stress too. Without the ability to go inward, rest and allow stress to move, to leave I know I’d have been overwhelmed a long time ago. This was my original motivation to learn in the first place.
Yet, despite knowing there is ultimately an end to stress if I just keep going. Using my practice eyes open and eyes closed daily as much as I can. Especially in a retreat environment when there is time to dive in and explore the still, silent cosmos within. I get glimpses and often long periods of peace. A deep rest at the heart of everything.
So in a few hours, I’ll make an appointment, in a few days I’ll see my GP and begin another chapter in my life. If, as I suspect, there maybe light at the end of the tunnel all I can say is “Watch out world. Or just Wow.