Breathing in the Ocean

As I write this entry, I’m in a hospital waiting room. My father-in-law is in the ICU for the second time in 6 months. Last night, I was working the late shift at my job, anticipating my 8pm freedom, when I got an IM from my partner saying that we needed to go to the hospital… tonight… in Northern Virginia. I moved into crisis mode, emailing my boss and my relief, and securing coverage for the next day.  I left about a half hour early, racing down the highway to the apartment where Brooke was packing for the trip.

Talk about unexpected…. Brooke and I had some cuddling, a light dinner, and continued binge-watching of “The Office” planned for the evening, but a phone call can change everything in the blink of an eye.

So as I sit catching my breath, thinking about the work that I left behind, Brooke’s feelings, her dad’s health, how much PTO I had, our cat, the new year quickly approaching, our health insurance premium due soon, turning 31 in six days, saving money to move to ATL, the recent blow-out with my own father….

My mind is swimming in a way that more closely resembles drowning. And even in a hospital, I can’t seem to find any oxygen.

How do you catch your breath when it seems like you’re surrounded by problems, issues, stress, questions, and uncertainty? While every person is different, I believe that there can be some relief in finding your center. No matter your belief system, we all have a center – an inner place where we can go to find some quiet and to draw strength and perspective. I know that this might come much easier for my introverts like myself, but my partner, an extrovert, finds that it can help her as well. It may take some time to really find yours, but it’s worth the journey.

Here are some tips:

  • Take 5 deep breaths – you are likely not physically breathing well if you’re stressed. Intentionally filling your lungs with air and slowly releasing it can enable your body to relax and be refreshed, even as your mind is still racing and you are still in the midst of the crisis.
  • Focus on yourself for 5 minutes – in tough situations, it’s easier for some people to shift into protector mode, looking out for everyone else. Just like on an airplane, you have to place your own oxygen mask before you can put on someone else’s. Similarly, you need to make sure that you have something to pour into others before you start to pour out.
  • Focus on someone else for 5 minutes – because I believe in balance, I think it’s equally important to reflect on and assess for others. It’s easy to get caught in our feelings and where we are and how a situation will affect us. Take some intentional time to focus on the feelings, needs, and place of someone else who is impacted by this circumstance. Even if it’s a personal crisis, think how it might affect those closest to you as they relate to you.
  • Seek 5 positives – adrenaline and emotions can blind us to all that is good in our lives. While the episode may be very negative, it’s crucial to have a few positives in mind to provide some perspective. Not all of life is bad. While we should certainly acknowledge our present reality, seeking some bright spots on a cloudy day can help us maintain sanity and hope.

While it’s almost impossible to anticipate tough times in our lives, these times do not have to be our undoing. These tips won’t necessarily change the situation, but hopefully they can provide a scuba mask in the murky waters of uncertainty.


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