Yearning for a Place to Breathe

When I woke up this morning, I experienced–for the first time in quite a while–the strong desire not to get up, to stay in bed, to not expose myself to the roughness of what’s outside, in short: to escape.

Initially I wasn’t very much aware of the meaning of the experience, that came later. It was, in the beginning, just a feeling in my body, a sense that getting out of bed would not be good for me, that remaining under the warm and protective blanket would be better.

Lying next to my husband, I pondered… What does this sensation mean? Could I trace it back to some other, earlier experience connecting me with clues as to its purpose…? After a few minutes, an image bubbled up out of the depths of my childhood memories: when I was about 11 years old, there had been a period of about 3 and half months when I didn’t go to school. I simply couldn’t and wouldn’t.

What was it in that memory that resonated with the present…? It took me another minute or so to put into words the sensation that I expected in the outside world. A kind of menace and hostility, but that was still too vague. What was I feeling in my body when putting imaginary self “out there”?

The feeling was one of suffocation. But from what? And then I connected the sensation with what has been on my mind for the past few weeks. The experience of people being, figuratively at the very least, at each other’s throats.

It’s an experience, peering out, seeing how people treat one another–for reasons that when I try to look deep enough seem trivial and incomprehensibly ignorant–by for instance putting labels on one another that cut off the other person’s air, that have the potential to make enemies out of strangers, and sometimes even out of friends.

If you have followed me thus far, I would like to express my gratitude! When I spoke to my husband about these experiences, the old from my childhood, and the new over the past few days and weeks, tears kept running down my cheeks, and it felt like a powerful wave threatening to drown me, in pain and sorrow over how much damage we inflict on one another and our relationships, and for what…?

And after expressing this, first to him and now to anyone who reads this, I have gratitude for experiencing that I can say these things out loud and write about them, not fearing the ridicule that might come from doing so–although I expect that some of my readers may very well think, “oh, what a snowflake!” or “man, toughen up!”

For me, expressing the pain is the first step in finding my footing again. It helps me find the strength to look outside again, still see this happening, and yet not close my eyes. It helps me make a commitment to myself: I will not join in with this system. Because that’s what it is… A system of keeping each other down, ensuring victory at all cost, and a manifestation of the belief that in a resource scarce world the best way to survive is to win.

I would now like to ask those among you who know me, personally, and especially if you consider yourself my friend, to take a moment and give the following thought some space: human beings clearly have the capacity for collaboration, we can overcome perceived differences and connect and work with one another. At the same time, we have the capacity for competition, to measure each other up, and to enjoy the dance that happens when we strive to be first, best, have most, or win an argument. And then we have the capacity to push this to the limit, where our striving becomes painful and comes with the clear risk of leaving those we dance with thinking, “you know, this person’s behavior leaves too little room to breathe,” in short turning us into asshole and douchebags–if not outright killers.

If you are still with me, I encourage you to consider moments where you yourself felt the air getting tight, and the space around you closing in. And also to think whether there are moments when you push so hard that others can no longer breathe.

I am not asking you to change anything about the way you live your life, at least not for the sake of “pleasing me” or “doing the right thing” the way you might perceive I am defining “right”. My appeal is much more simple: if you are someone I know personally, and we are having an interaction in future, and I say something like, “wow, it’s getting tight, can you let me breathe, and let’s take a break,” to honor that request and consider for a moment if you are, indeed, pushing “to win”, squeezing my (or someone else’s) proverbial throat in a potential move of good-natured competition having gone too far.

Friendship requires trust, and the most profound trust I have in people I want to call friends is to know that when I express “I’m lying on my back already, and what you’re doing is cutting off the air for me” to not just keep going.