It’s been a long time since I’ve breathed as confidently as I do now. My chronic pain condition seems to be fading away of its own accord and I’m left dumbfounded at the grip it has had on my life over the last ten years. Not that it’s gone completely (if there’s any pressure on my chest then I feel it like a smack in the ribs at best and being hit by a car at worst) but the random attacks that used to plague me have been reduced to the odd pain sensations, a gasp and a breath here and there.
Trust me, 14-year-old me would have had been overjoyed.
So I’ve been looking back over the things I left behind and gave up because my chest wouldn’t allow for them. I used to be the kind of person who would view a swimming pool as an underwater lair that I never wanted to leave. My lung capacity was amazing and I would spend as much time as possible under the surface. Very soon I realised that deep inhalation always ended in pain so I learnt to be content to swim with my face constantly out of the water.
I also used to adore singing, belting out music as loudly as a could and cheerfully holding notes at a volume that could have been weaponised. And I was pretty good at it too. I left my school choir after a performance nearly had me passing out off the back of the stage and I became content to watch.
I know that all this must sound like I’m bemoaning my condition, that I resent losing control over my breathing to such an extent that these simple pleasures became challenging. I don’t. At the time I only had one priority and that was my own comfort. The pain was too much and I’d do anything to get some respite.
I know I would have had support if I’d desperately wanted to continue singing but I worried that forcing myself to endure the pain that it caused would end up souring something I loved. That would have been a worse punishment than stepping out of the spotlight and singing to myself at home with pain medication nearby.
We don’t choose these conditions that can shape the way we have to live but we do choose the way we respond to them. Giving up certain foods, abandoning hobbies and goals we once held dear. I know that it can feel like a punishment, particularly when we defined ourselves by those things we enjoyed. But here’s the thing: nothing I gave up defined me and it was the price I paid for my continued health.
I have every respect for someone who overcomes a condition, such as someone re-teaching themselves to play the piano after becoming blind. I have less respect for someone with Crohn’s disease eating and smoking with reckless abandon because they don’t want to change their lifestyle. Overcoming the odds to continue your passion is admirable however there will always be cases where giving up something important will allow you to be a healthier individual. Which is more important is down to the person involved.
I went to the gym a few months ago and approached the treadmill with the same trepidation I’m familiar with. But, to my surprise, I could take bigger and bigger gulps of air without the sharp pain. I could wear my sports bra for longer than I’d anticipated. It was like re-learning my boundaries all over again. I’ve been singing again, swimming again and I’m incredibly grateful that I’ve got the chance to experience these things once more. But I still know that they don’t define me and if my condition worsens, I’ll be able to shelve them again.