Is Anyone in Your Pool Drowning in Plain Sight?


Is Anyone Drowning in YOUR Pool?

Drowning victims and caregivers have more in common than one might think. In this five-part series we explore the phenomena of “Drowning in Plain Sight.” As you read, think about the people in your ‘pool’—is anyone drowning?

‘Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.’ Characteristics of the Instinctive Drowning Response—’On Scene’, The Journal of U.S. Coast Guard Search and Rescue

Diagnosis and Deliverance

downingSomewhere, between diagnosis and deliverance, I forgot how to breathe. I find myself, at odd moments, holding my breath—not in anticipation or fright, but simply because I have forgotten the rhythm of breathing.
I didn’t know about my loss until I started experiencing horrible, unexplainable pain in the middle of my chest that felt like a heart problem.

“You’re as healthy as a person half your age,” the cardiologist told me.

Really? Than why does it hurt to breathe or have my heart beat strong and deep?  Why does my left side swell up?  When my malady strikes, it hurts to lie down or stand up.  Why does it happen over and over again?

“You have superior lung capacity with normal breathing function,” the internist told me.

Than why did it hurt to breathe?  Why couldn’t I take a deep breath without agony?  Walking up the stairs presented a cruel form of torture.

“Have you ever considered acupuncture?” my family practitioner asked me.

Really?  Alternative therapy?  I couldn’t believe a physician suggested alternative therapy.

“Well, I do go to a chiropractor and a massage therapist,” I admitted.

“Does it help?” she asked.

“I’m not sure.”  I shrugged. “Sometimes it helps the pain go away if I go in early, sometimes it doesn’t. My massage therapist claims that I have incredibly tight muscles on my left side. It takes her an hour to work through the knots.”

Have you forgotten how to breathe? It might be killing you. Click To Tweet

The Million Dollar Question

“Do you know how to breathe?” my neighbor and friend asked me. She’s a life coach, and helps people with chronic pain—she also suffers from chronic pain. “I can teach you how to breathe.”  I reluctantly agreed to go over to her house after work one evening.

“It’s called diaphragmatic breathing,” she told me. “Put your hand right below your rib cage and try to push your hand out when you breathe.”  I felt silly, but I tried it. “When you breathe shallowly, you decrease your body’s ability handle pain.”


“Yes.”  She launched into the technical reasons why shallow breathing keeps a person from processing pain and releasing endorphins that help the body take care of pain. I thanked her and wandered out of her house, hand on stomach, practicing my breathing while thinking of breathing in general.

Over the next few weeks, while I waited for my pain to go away, I caught myself not breathing. The computer didn’t load fast enough, family members failed to put their own dishes in the dishwasher, or I got cut off on the highway. Each time I found myself breathing shallowly through clenched teeth.

Somewhere, between diagnosis and deliverance, I had started holding my breath—in fright, in anticipation of the next piece of bad news, in mental pain and agony, in emotional stress. No one ever warned me that a side effect of all that stress would be a loss of breathing.

In fact, no one warned me about any of the side effects of a cancer diagnosis. Slowly, ever so slowly, I put a name on the side effects and started dealing with them. For now,

Many thanks to my incredible next-door-neighbor, Becky Curtis.  If you suffer from chronic pain, find hope on her website Take Courage Coaching.

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Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

Please note: We reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Great post! And with two life guard sons, I was captured by the title.
    We do take breathing for granted. I went through a tense time when all my boys were young in which I felt as if I had a band around my throat all the time. Tension does strange things to our bodies, and we begin to think it’s normal . . .

  • I can’t say I have had problems holding my breath, but I do tend to breath shallowly and not with the diaphragm. When I was in the hospital last month, my oxygen kept running low, so whenever they came to check it I was reminded to breath deeply. It helped, even a few deep breaths before they checked. I’m sure the low oxygen affected everything else as well. Thanks for the reminder.

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  • As I was reading this, I realized how tense my shoulders were, and I had to consciously choose to relax and breathe. Thanks for this reminder that we can’t go on outward appearances to see how a person really is, but we need to check in.

  • So glad you’re breathing better and aware. I’ve been clenching teeth all day today to, totally unaware. Breath does so much doesn’t it?

  • I have caught myself holding my breath many times when I’m focused or challenged in some way. I try to remind myself to breathe, but I realize it’s a problem for me. I’ll try your exercise.

  • Susan

    Jennifer Lee is talking about “breathing” in her blog today also! The Pinterest pin app isn’t working…

  • Susan

    Helpful thoughts here on the importance of deep breathing. Too many times i find myself shallow breathing, too. When I remember to BREATHE, it really does make a difference; I calm down a bit.

  • Donne

    Oh, so very true! A friend asked me, 2 weeks after my husband’s diagnosis of Stage 4 cirrhosis of the liver (non-alcoholic), how I was doing. I smiled and said “Fine”. She looked at me and said “Liar. I know exactly how you’re feeling. Call me when you’re ready to blow off some steam.” I didn’t like being called a liar, but she was right. We are so conditioned to give a casual response to that question – probably because we don’t want to burden anyone with what we’re really feeling – that it comes much more easily than “We just found out that he could bleed out in 5 minutes if he falls and gets bruised” or “A liver transplant is the only chance of him living another year…and even that isn’t a guarantee” or “I am so plagued by uncertainty that it requires an hour of prayer every morning to go about my day with any semblance of normalcy”.
    Thank goodness for friends and family who know the signs of drowning and are willing to call me a liar and reach out. 🙂