written by
Andrea Schell

One day I forgot how to breathe

Narrative Story 4 min read , September 15, 2021
...when all of a sudden I forgot how to do something that I had done my entire life; I forgot how to breathe.

Mental Health, a two worded phrase that unfortunately still carries so much stigma. My goal is to continue sharing my struggles to help even one person not feel alone. If you find yourself crying on the floor of a hallway forgetting how to breathe, know, same.

Each member of my paternal side has struggled throughout the years, whether it be alcohol, drugs, mental illness, you name it, and between my dad and his seven siblings, they have struggled with it in one way or another.

I feel like growing up in his house becoming an adult, you had one of two roads, you could continue down a similar path and struggle alone, or you can reach out and receive the help you deserve.

Does each path have struggles? Absolutely. Do you need to travel either path alone? Absolutely not.

I felt shameful for struggling for a long time, even though I was raised in an understanding family. Society, social media, and “social norms” make it hard to ask for help and even harder to accept it when available.

In August 2017, I experienced my first panic attack. While I would generally turn to my dad for advice, this was the first time I felt like I could not talk to him about my mental struggles because they revolved around the increase in his physical struggles.

I have suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember but never thought much about what triggered it since, unfortunately, anxiety was such a part of my daily life that I learned to mask most of my fears with smiles.

Still, this time I knew the general idea around what was causing such panic. I thought I had gone through a horrible year already, and I still did not even receive the news yet that my dad’s troubles were that of a terminal disease.

In January, we started the year by finding that we had lost the baby four months into our second pregnancy and had a trisomy 17 partial molar pregnancy. Medication needed during the loss required a 6-month pause on trying to add to our family.

We figured this would be the perfect time to also move out of our 900 square foot house and moved further north to give us more bang for our buck.

Come August; we were two months into living in our new home, starting our new routine when all of a sudden I forgot how to do something that I had done my entire life; I forgot how to breathe.

I have heard about panic attacks, watched them on TV, and joked that something dramatic would cause me one, but I never experienced one. Here I was, sitting on the floor overheating and starting to panic as a rush of emotions swarmed over me. I sat in a doorway of my son’s room and had to tell myself to breathe.

I never thought I would genuinely forget how to breathe, but at that moment, it was like I had never taken a breathe my entire life.

Thankfully I remembered an anxiety technique that I could apply to help take my mind away from the panic and ground myself again. In this technique, you say five things you see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

The great thing about this technique is that it can be done anywhere without any props.

I saw my primary doctor and started seeing a psychologist shortly after my first panic attack. We discussed my family history, my lifelong struggles with anxiety, and everything in my life and decided that medication was the right choice for ME.

Everyone needs to find the right treatment plan that works for them as a person at their moment in life and determine what road they should travel regarding a mental health treatment plan. I am just glad that medical professionals have options to help people like myself breathe easier.

Have I forgotten how to breathe again? No.

But will I have to constantly check in with myself to ensure that breathing is a top priority? 100%.

Remember how I said you do not need to travel either path alone? I learned that I was walking next to a highway with family and friends constantly pulling over and asking me if I wanted a ride. I was trying to travel alone because I did not know how good it would feel to ask for a ride.

Let me tell you something, ASKING FOR A RIDE FELT GREAT!

Once I started to reach out and ask for help and let people know what and how I needed assistance, breathing became much more manageable, more precise. It was like I had an air tank next to me all along, and I never thought to put it on to help.

So, pick up that air tank, accept that ride on the highway path of life, and let’s no longer “fake it till you make it.”

If you find yourself crying on the floor of a hallway forgetting how to breathe, grab the air tank you have been ignoring and take that breath because same.

Please know if you have any mental illness, you are not alone! If you or someone you know is dealing with anxiety and panic attacks, please call 1-800-950-NAMI for information and resources.

Check out my Facebook Live with Dr. Lauren Hoffman, PsyD
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