I had a terrifying experience on Christmas Eve. My family, as always, had met up at my grandparents’ house for present opening. I had had a full day and I was quickly approaching a crash. But my family was great and insisted I sit and rest and eat and enjoy the evening. So I did! But a couple hours into the festivities I felt a stab in my side, reaching fully into my lungs and stopping my breath. I’ve had these pains for years, and I call them ‘catches’ (because they feel like my lungs are catching on something pointy). So I had a painful very strong catch, and I couldn’t breath in. I could breath out, but no oxygen could get past my throat because of the agonizing pain in my side.
Like I said, I’m used to them. So I closed my eyes and held my breath, very slowly releasing it. But I got to the end of my air supply and the pain was still there. I’m familiar with this occurrence as well, I knew I could wait it out or at some point I’d be able to suck in half a breath, and I could release it again. But then my lungs started to ache and the pressure increased greatly. I needed to stop the pressure and my body was trying to cough, but had no air to do it. I was lying collapsed on the ground, with tears running down my face from the pain and fear. I started choking. On nothing. I couldn’t breath, my chest was aching, and I could feel a buzz through my body, making my muscles clench.
I could occasionally get a couple breaths into my lungs, only for it to cause more coughing to occur. I don’t think I can explain what coughing without air feels like. It feels like death, I think. Because your body is fighting for oxygen, even while your lungs can’t stand it. Your body is running out of energy and your head is swimming and your throat burns as the pain radiates further and further from your side and deeper into your chest.
I think it was the most painful thing I have ever experienced. I don’t know how long it lasted, maybe a minute? I have no idea, but it was long enough for terror and panic to set in. In the height of the pain, I honestly didn’t know if I would ever be able to breath again. And my first thought was, please no, not in front of my family. They’ve put up with so much and helped me afford medicines and set up appointments. They’ve helped me through migraines and pneumonia and depression and exhaustion. I don’t want them to see this. Yet, at the same time, I was crawling and pushing my way across the floor to reach my mother. I collapsed beside her and I could feel her rubbing my back and touching my hair.
The touches brought me to a strange kind of numbness. I could still feel all the pain and my blood was pumping out of fear, but I felt safe and comfortable. I coughed and I could hear her speaking to me, even though I couldn’t fully understand any of it, and it helped me focus on my body and ride through the pain.
It made me start thinking about family. About dependence. About fear and guilt and anger. Family is so much more than blood. It’s more than friendship or arguments or dinners at night. It’s a fear and compassion that ties people together, where members will sacrifice everything for the others, or instinctual thoughts are for their safety and comfort. It’s when, at a point of terror and agony and tears, that the first concern is them. That a wish or hope, as breath is out of reach, is for their memory and trauma. It’s knowing that they will be there. That they would never turn away when you are in need. It’s about the sincerity and total devotion that family instills.
Family, to me, must be instinctual. The concern and strength you feel from them must be automatic. Knowing you’ll have support even as everyone is scared and confused, and knowing that they will try everything on the planet, to help you through it.
That is family.
Christmas Eve is now the holder of one of my most terrifying memories and even thinking about it brings phantom pains to my chest, but I think it’s also one of the most concrete moments of my family. Of that fear and love and determination. I’ve always known I have a great family. Wonderful. So supportive. But, laying there with blackened vision, and pain, and soft touches to my back…that was eye opening. I feel more connected to everyone, more grateful for them, than I ever have before. Because my life is cluttered with pain and fear, but they haven’t left or gotten tired of it. They don’t push away my concerns and they will stop and drop everything, at my request. They don’t shy away from my truths and they don’t try to escape them. My family is so incredibly strong that it makes me want to cry and scream and hug them all. I want to thank them for what they’ve provided me with, but I know I never will be able to. All I can do is return the favour. To promise, not with words, but rather with spirit, that I will tear everything apart to help them. That I value nothing more than the confusing web that is my relatives, and their desires and fears.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, that family can make or break a battle. So don’t push them away or ignore their help. Dependence isn’t bad when the other side understands their responsibility.
Family, true family, is knowing that they’d rather give up everything to help you, than have you fight things alone. You have to value that commitment and that faith, you can’t ignore it. You have to know that family is about protecting each other, and you have to know that guilt and shame and fear, will only be heightened if they come to find that they could have helped you, but you never reached out. Family is strength, but only if you allow it to be. Friends and Family are flawed, and they won’t always notice your pain or your need, but they will never hold a request for help against you.
Family won’t always agree, and maybe they can’t stand being in the same room together for more than an evening. But when your need is there, it’s amazing what will happen. And I will never forget that. Because how could I?