It’s 1.03 a.m.
It starts with a cough. A tickle in my throat, a tightness. I am aware of the sensation, the growing discomfort. Just a minor ailment.
At this hour, with a mind full, it’s a trigger.
I try to ignore it, then breathe into it, but feel the heat growing, a flush that creeps up my face and then down to drench my whole body in cold sweat.
I’m beginning to panic.
It is the sensation of being trapped. Of not being able to find air. Of suffocating.
I am nine years old. We are at a barbecue. Someone from our village had moved and we went to see their new house. I remember brown brickwork and latticed windows. Eighties new-build.
The parents are outside, on a patio, talking and my brother and I have gone inside with their children, two girls? A girl and a boy? I don’t remember now.
There is a game they like. You have to lie in the bean bag, and then they put the other bean bag on top of you and lie on it. You have to get out. They must play this often, it’s fun, they say.
It’s my turn. Up to now it’s been one on one. I am in the bean bag and they put the other one on top. Now they all decide to pile on, so it’s me with three other children on top of the bean bag. It is dark. I try to push them off. I can’t. It is difficult to move. I can hear them giggling. It’s a good game. I try harder, but my brain is beginning to get dizzy and the effort is becoming too great. I can’t breathe. My head starts to pulse as the oxygen in my blood drops. Somewhere I realise this isn’t going to end well.
I gather all my focus into my limbs and with one huge effort push all three off and escape. They laugh. What a great game. I am shaking and weak. I go out to seek my parents but I can’t explain what just happened. How close it came to local paper headlines, “tragedy at family barbecue”.
It is this sensation of suffocation which catches me in quiet moments. The feeling of trapped. Walking willingly into something with good will and then not being able to escape.
Life feels some days like a house of cards. I have balanced it oh so carefully, each engagement booked, each job allocated. Time check, next task.
Without a list I will drift and get lost in my own thoughts, daydream through the day, play, create, dance. I won’t do what needs doing, there will be no meal. We wouldn’t starve. But a healthy plate would be out the window along with my scheduling…
Secretly this is my dream life. One with room to breathe. Without the demands of others crowding in. In my dream life I am a smoker. I do not like the taste. Or the health risks. But I love the space. The permission to be doing nothing for a while. I imagine myself walking in the door and waving people away, not now, I need a cigarette. I will go outside and stand, staring at the clouds, as the blue smoke drifts around me, a toxic aura. I notice an early bee on the blossom, listen to a neighbour’s conversation as they go out to their car…I am permitted to be alone. I imagine this similar space in a social gathering. When I become overwhelmed and the effort of tracking conversations leads me to a place where I can’t hear straight. The chance to step out without looking anti-social, to reset. It is an imagined and permitted convention, “a breath of fresh air” (ironically).
With the need to care for others ingrained through my life (and yours I’m guessing), embedded like resort names in peppermint rock, I need to find this. Boundaries are tenuous at the best of times. Because when your child trips and grazes their knee you need to deal with it, rather than explaining that mummy is in the middle of her prayers and you need to wait ten minutes. And when they are heartbroken fifteen years later you don’t tell them to go away and deal with it alone, you take a breath and go and put the kettle on…
So I need a permitted space. Set aside. Perhaps it is “having a cup of tea”.
Now I’m laughing. How would this work at a party? “I’m just off to have a cup of tea.” Rummages in stranger’s fridge, opens cupboards in search of tea bags…
Anyway. It is a start. If I can give myself this permission, remove the self-imposed restrictions this will allow greater grace and freedom. In letting go of my list, of control, I may find my power again.
A space where daydreams feed my imagination, where my soul sings, with room to breathe.