Recently I got asked a few questions which I have been asked over the years but never really answered mainly because I didnt like to think back on those scary times.
Two questions which I have been asked most frequently are:
- What does it feel like to have an asthma attack?
- What do you think about when you have an asthma attack?
I can now answer both questions. So question 1.
I used to have what I now see as a coping strategy which was basically sticking my head in the sand and trying to forget about what it felt like. Imagine if you were put in a situation which was facing your worst fear. Would you want to remember what it feels like or would you want to forget about the experience and hope to never have to live through it again. I guess this is what I used to do. I would actively try and forget the feeling of fear, exhaustion, not knowing when relief would come, not knowing how much longer till breathing was easier, wondering where I was going to get the energy from to take the next breath, being terrified when the nurses or Dr’s left you coz you feel so alone yet you want to be alone at the same time, you don’t know what you want. That feeling of not knowing I hated and I guess the hatred for those feelings would make me forget and not remember. But to answer the question what does it feel like to have an asthma attack? it feels like you are breathing through a pillow being held on your face and chest, you can’t get the air out but also can’t get anything in, your lungs are on fire, muscles are exhausted and chest is aching not able to have any pain relief because it will make you tired and compromise your breathing. It is a blur of emotions and feelings which with each attack are different.
I did get asked once if I was scared that I could have an attack and not make it. I really don’t want to think about it. Anything could take anyone of us. It terrifies me overtime I go to intensive care but each time I have moved out of intensive care and got to the ward and am still here. I have had too many friends die from asthma that I am determined to do everything I can to get the best control I can.
The second question what do I think about?
Im not sure if I am unusual but I try to focus when I have an attack. I use imagery that I learnt when I was playing a lot more sport. It has taken me a long time to get a technique I can use when your body is not cooperating, and when you have low oxygen levels thinking straight is one of the hardest things. I can only liken it to if you are drunk and trying to do something very accurate- you can’t. This is what I guess its like maybe. Or the closest thing I can think without actually experiencing an asthma attack.
Anyway when Im in resus being treated and feeling tired I try to imagine its the end of a game of lacrosse, football, or the last mile of a long distance cross country race and just dig in despite the lactate building, and exhaustion setting in. You want to win the match, or finish the race much like you want to get out of resus and beat the attack. Being able to think about something else makes it easier for me to cope with the attack and try and make the experience one that I can fight and not be scared of. Naturally your going to be scared, its terrifying so to not panic is impossible but by thinking or putting myself into a different situation I find I don’t panic as much making the asthma attack a lot easier to manage and treat.
I still find it really hard having people around me when and if I have an attack. I get distracted by them and find 2 things. 1 I can’t focus on what I need to to get through the attack with minimal issues. 2 I find seeing how they act and they look. The worry they have really scares me. I hate the look on the Dr’s face sometimes. They think they hide what they are feeling but last time when I was in resus before going up to ITU I remember so clearly the look on the nurses face and then the ITU reg not leaving my side till I was moved. These sort of things I find hard to deal with. I almost like to be on my own but then at the same time I get scared being on my own. Its really odd and people must think make up your mind do you want to be with people or not with people but when you can’t think straight you don’t know what you want. I am typing this while able to breathe relatively well and not compromised by hypoxia so I can think straight and make a clear thought but during an attack you can’t.
I guess now I have a new strength and feeling of structure. A strength I think I have gained from opportunities I have been given, through work, research and sport, the structure from working with a psychologist to work through attacks but that help has only come from having such severe attacks and a number of ITU admissions, but I am very grateful for that help. Using the help available has made a huge difference.
There are a lot of different questions i get asked but feel free to leave a comment if you do have other questions.