Sometimes It Hurts When I Breathe

23 Oct

I’ve realized that I live in this cycle of frantic activity followed by total emotional and/or physical collapse. This has been happening a couple of times a year since my late teens, and you would think that by now I would be able to recognize the signs enough to stave off the impending crisis, but no. Apparently not.

My head’s been strangely fuzzy for a few weeks now, and my body’s been aching with the weight of something – my bag on my shoulder, my kid on my hip, all of my stupid anxieties. I kept feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath, and then one morning I woke up and I literally had a hard time breathing. So I called in sick to work, stayed in bed for the morning, and then ran some errands in the afternoon. By the next day I was fine, just tired.

I’ve been so goddamn tired these past few weeks, you guys.

I kept meaning to rest, but it always seemed like I had something pressing that needed to be done. A class to teach. Work email. Regular email. A workshop that I signed up for 6 months ago. Studio paperwork to take care of. Invoices. More invoices.  A band that I’ve been wanting to see live for ages and ages. A blog post that I’ve been putting off writing. Guest lecturing a high school English class. A friend having a crisis. Another friend having another crisis. A friend not having a crisis but that I haven’t seen for months. Matt. My sisters. My mothers. My grandmother in Spain. Housework. More housework.

And then there’s Theo. Because even once I’d checked everything else off my list, there was always Theo. How could I ever justify taking a break when I had Theo who needed my time and attention? Theo, who uncomplainingly let Matt pick him up from daycare and feed him dinner and bathe him nearly every night of the week because I had to work the evening shift at the studio or teach a class or do whatever it is that I do that seems to take up all of my goddamn time. Theo, who makes me feel pangs of guilt just by smiling at me. Theo.

So there was never a question of taking a break, because there was never a way of getting to the end of the list. And even though I will happily berate other people for not practicing proper self-care, I am terrible at it myself. Doing things for the express purpose of feeling good always seems like a terrible self-indulgence. Like, how can I justify spending an hour napping or reading on the patio or going out by myself for a coffee when it meant that all the other things weren’t getting done? How can I especially justify doing any nice stuff for myself when it means taking time away from my kid? My kid who I barely get to see these days anyway?

What I’m trying to say here is that I’m a horrible hypocrite.

I’ve spent the past two and a half weeks pushing myself through this deepening haze, shuttling from one end of town to the other, from Toronto to Kingston for Thanksgiving and then back again, from writing to teaching to mothering to hand-holding to coughing until I couldn’t catch my breath, until I was bent double and thought I might throw up in the gutter and oh god how embarrassing.

I forgot to mention that along with the exhaustion, there was a cough.

Finally, at the end of last week, I had this conversation with Nathan:

Nathan: When are you going to see a doctor?

Me: I’m fine, it’s just a cough.

Nathan: You’ve had this cough for what, two weeks now?

Me: Sometimes these things linger on. You know how it is. I’m fine.

Nathan: You are not fine! You might have pneumonia!

Me: I don’t have pneumonia. If I had pneumonia, I’d have a fever.

Nathan: You do have a fever.

Me: I would have a higher fever. I would be, like, bedridden.

Nathan: Maybe you have walking pneumonia.


Nathan: You know what? If it was me who was coughing like this, you would have forced me to go to the doctor ages ago. You would have even come with me, just to make sure that I went.

Me: Uh, yeah. That’s true. I guess.

Nathan: And you know what the worst part of it is? Your cough is so bad that I can’t even make fun of it anymore. You’ve taken away one of my few joys in life.

So I went to the walk-in clinic yesterday and the doctor sort of nodded his head and jotted down a few notes and said that it sounded like I probably had bronchitis. Then he moved his stethoscope around my back for a while and asked me to breathe deeply a couple of times. He kept bringing his stethoscope back to the same spot and pausing there.

“I think I hear some crackles in your upper left lobe,” he said. “I want you to go for a chest x-ray – you might have walking pneumonia.”

Afterwards, when I texted Nathan with the news, I received this delighted reply:

“Wait, wait, wait … walking pneumonia came up?

If you weren’t sick I would revel in my rightness, but you are, so I won’t.

I could be the first person to receive a doctorate just by watching medical dramas. 7 seasons of House, 8 ER, 3 Chicago Hope …”

I went for the chest x-ray today. Afterwards, I asked the tech when my doctor would have the results, and he told me they would be sent out in three to five business days.

“I just want to know for work,” I said. “Pneumonia just sounds so much more impressive than bronchitis.”

“Where do you work?”

“I manage a yoga studio and I teach yoga classes.”

“Let’s just say,” he said, glancing at the image on the screen, “that you might want to take it easy for a while.”

So I’m trying to take it easy. I’m trying not to think of all the messages in my inbox. I’m trying not to feel guilty about popping a kid-friendly DVD in the machine as soon as Matt and Theo got home. I’m trying to rest, and most of all I’m trying not to feel guilty for resting.

Because most of my to-do list can wait.

Because the best way to be a better mother is to get well.

Because it’s fine – good, even – to take a break sometimes.

I’m not good at this stuff. Not just because I kind of sort of maybe enjoy having a hectic life, and not just because doing stuff for myself makes me feel pangs of guilt, but also because I’m not great at being taken care of. I’m hardwired to make sure that everyone around me feels safe and happy and healthy, and I will gladly scold friends and family for not going to the doctor as soon as I think they should, or not taking enough time off work, but when it comes to myself it’s a completely different story. I hate having other people care for me; it makes me feel deeply, skin-crawlingly uncomfortable in the way that few things do. In fact, just thinking about it right now makes me want to barf, although that might also be from the super-strong antibiotics that I’m on.

But I’m going to try to be good and lie still and let other people bring me things, because right now, I kind of have to. More than that, I’m going to try, really try, to break out of this cycle that I’ve been in for the past decade. Because this shit’s getting old, this pattern is not sustainable, and I can and will change.


33 Responses to “Sometimes It Hurts When I Breathe”

  1. Muddy River Muse October 23, 2013 at 3:13 am #

    Oh — do take care. Wishing you gallons of virtual chicken soup and a lot of rest! And that is coming from the QUEEN of doing-too-much-until-she-drops-from-exhaustion.

    • bellejarblog October 23, 2013 at 3:41 am #

      Thank you! And yes, I definitely need to get my hands on some chicken soup – thanks for the reminder!

  2. Jen Donohue October 23, 2013 at 3:29 am #

    Eek, bronchitis OR walking pneumonia are a perfectly acceptable reason to take it easy. And hey, maybe you can watch some kid-friendly stuff with the little guy that you used to watch?

    (I’m unbelievably good at being lazy and really admire all you high drive people and what you accomplish, so you’re aware)

    • bellejarblog October 23, 2013 at 3:43 am #

      Ohhhh man I wish I could be lazy! Honestly, I don’t even feel like I accomplish that much – just that I zoom from one thing to another, without ever doing a very good job on anyone on task. It would be much better if I could just do one awesome thing a day and then allow myself to chillax.

      Do they kids still say chillax?

      Anyway, that’s a good point about kid-friendly stuff that I love. Tonight we watched Little Women together, which was pretty fun 🙂

  3. October 23, 2013 at 4:14 am #

    Walking pneumonia is scary, take care of yourself 🙂

    • bellejarblog October 24, 2013 at 1:33 am #

      Thank you! I’m doing my best. I did nothing at all today 🙂

  4. passionatedreaming October 23, 2013 at 4:25 am #

    I’m the same way you are until a few months ago when I got extremely sick and could barely take care of my daughter. I understand ur compulsion and need to take care of everyone else before u take care of urself but if u don’t take care of urself u might not be around or able to take care of everyone else. Ur doing the right thing by putting urself first for once. There’s nothing wrong with that. Good luck and I hope you are well soon!

    • bellejarblog October 24, 2013 at 2:09 am #

      Thank you! I’m so glad that you’re better now and were still able to take care of your daughter – it’s so hard to be a parent when you’re sick!

  5. catskillquilter October 23, 2013 at 6:13 am #

    Ohhh, poor you! Feel better! (I did not just have the same conversation about when I will go to the doctor, you have had that cough forever yada yada yada…I guess maybe I will go!)

    • bellejarblog October 24, 2013 at 2:10 am #

      You should definitely go! I was about to be chewed out if I didn’t, haha.

  6. Mari Nikonen October 23, 2013 at 7:12 am #

    For the second post in a row, I feel like you’re writing about me. I even happen to be on sick leave right now. You have a way of beautifully voicing what feels like my own thoughts – I might have written this, if I only knew how. Thank you thank you thank you for being there and being you and writing the way you do.

    • bellejarblog October 24, 2013 at 2:11 am #

      Oh man, I hope you’re ok! And thank you – that means so much to me to hear that. I’m glad that my words resonate ❤

  7. Foghorn The IKonoclast October 23, 2013 at 7:21 am #

    I am tired myself and be retiring to my car soon. Yes my car and yesterday was awful in that I find out my best friend died. Sad but determined I go on and I just wish that my dear friend did not leave us.

    • bellejarblog October 24, 2013 at 2:13 am #

      Oh no! How awful! I’m so sorry to hear about your best friend. My sincerest condolences.

      • Foghorn The IKonoclast October 24, 2013 at 2:32 am #

        Thanks Belle. He was also a gentleman and always esteemed himself in the eyes of others. A friend into death and beyond.

  8. cogitoergomum October 23, 2013 at 9:16 am #

    This happened to me. I had pneumonia. Two nights in hospital (they say you cannot sleep in hospital – you can if you are tired enough!). And six weeks of family and friends cooking and cleaning for me. I just had to sit on the sofa and cuddled the kids. Oh, pneumonia, you made me feel like shit….but you saved my life!

    Hope you feel much better.

    • bellejarblog October 24, 2013 at 2:14 am #

      Thank you – mine’s not nearly that bad (if it’s even pneumonia – x-rays still haven’t made it to my doctor yet). I’m so glad that you’re ok! I spent today doing absolutely nothing, and I definitely feel better than I did.

  9. lauralord October 23, 2013 at 10:59 am #

    I understand the go-go-go of life, and the guilt that comes when we stop for a second. I think it is something about being a woman, a mother, the caregiver, the teacher…it’s a constant NEED to be doing something. I got myself into the habit a year or so ago of taking an hour a day. Now my hour may come when the kids are at school and I ignore the dishes and laundry and blogs and papers to lay down for a nap…or it may come when everyone is in bed and I decide to grab my tablet and watch an episode of some TV series while soaking in the bath. I realized that losing that one hour to myself wasn’t destroying the world around me, and I felt better. I felt better, and with something like an hour to read that new book I picked up to look forward to, my mood and patience was better with all the things and people around me.

    In other words…take it easy. Get well. And find your “hour” however you can. Treat it like a chore on your list…”Whoops. Time for my rejuvenating soak and that cheesy romance book. Gotta get that done…”

    • bellejarblog October 24, 2013 at 2:21 am #

      Oh, that’s a great idea – I love the thought of picking one hour and keeping it all to yourself. I might have to try that!

      Thank you 🙂

      • lauralord October 24, 2013 at 11:22 am #

        Good luck!

  10. DeCaf October 23, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    I just want to say, the image you picked is fascinating, if only for the guy’s facial expression. I hope you get well soon!

    • bellejarblog October 24, 2013 at 2:23 am #

      I love finding weirdly old pictures to go with my posts. It’s like my specialty or something, hah.

  11. Marj Hutchison October 24, 2013 at 12:46 am #

    I hope you get well soon which will only happen if you rest. There are many articles wrote about women who do too much. At sometime they have to step off the merry go round.

    • bellejarblog October 24, 2013 at 2:36 am #

      Thank you – and you’re right, it’s a pretty common problem. I definitely need a break from the merry-go-round.

  12. ottominuti October 24, 2013 at 5:16 am #

    One month ago, these could have been my own words… All my compassion. Pneumonia will go with the right antibiotics: the fog and exhaustion will stay for a couple of weeks longer. I was very touched by your words, beside the illness. Wish you to recover soon.

  13. runesandrhinestones October 24, 2013 at 8:06 am #

    Wishing you well! It’s so easy to get caught up in life and never look after yourself. Bravo on taking the time to get better!

  14. brennalayne October 24, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    I recently got over a bout with walking pneumonia, which is probably called that because you feel like the walking dead. I hope you recover soon! In my past life as a professional organizer, I did a lot of time management coaching and learned that the feelings you express have truly reached epidemic proportions among women, which saddens me. The pressures we’re under to nurture everyone else before ourselves are a kind of violence that’s easy to overlook. I’ve felt this too, and it eats away at us more fiercely than any physical ailment. Best wishes for a speedy recovery, and for success in your endeavor to care for yourself the way you deserve.

  15. Craig Brazier October 24, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    Get better soon! Time for Matt to pick it up! Being an idiot, I”ve walked through a heart attack (dealt with it the next day), a broken leg (I thought it was another ankle sprain, well worth ignoring) and coughing fits that left me with ‘floaters’ like Canada Day fireworks.

    Get in bed and read something good! MIchael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue is a really good place to start. No laughing though…. that hurts!

    I am eating chicken soup on your behalf.

  16. thefaithfulphilosophe October 28, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    Oh I feel your pain…chaos everywhere. I find that I’m drawn to it, yet I despise it at the same time–if that’s even possible! Relax, get better, great job on your blog!

  17. Val October 28, 2013 at 7:35 pm #

    I’ve been neglecting the laundry & housework for YEARS now, & I don’t even have the excuse of pneumonia 😉 How does that silly poem go about shooing the dust bunnies away, you have to play w/your baby before he’s all grown up??
    Life’s too short – besides I ascribe to one of my friend’s philosophies which states that she wishes she had a home that FLUSHES!!!


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    […] Sometimes It Hurts When I Breathe ( […]

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    […] was kind of a write-off, because I had pneumonia for half the stupid month. I spent a lot of time lying on my couch watching the X-Files which I mean, hey, there are worse […]

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