I Can't Breathe

It's not just my legs, arms, and brain that malfunction on a daily basis, I can't breathe, and it's awful. After so much testing that my insurance company probably thought was crazy (chest x-rays, heart monitor, chemical stress test and a pulmonary function test), it came down to poor diaphragm function and muscle weakness around my chest and ribs not allowing me to breathe efficiently.

I feel like I'm suffocating

Doing anything more than sitting still all day creates this sensation of fire and pressure in my chest and throat and a physical feeling of holding my breath while trying to breathe all at the same time. I’m not able to get good breath in or out and I feel exhausted and totally winded most of the day. At times, I'm so fatigued and winded that I can hardly talk or keep my breathing under control. Behind my smile and light-hearted comments, I’m trying to hide that I feel like I’m suffocating.

Vicious cycle

During physical activity, i.e. walking the dog, "working out" (which is much less due to this), feeding my animals or taking a shower, I.Can't.Breathe. If I get overwhelmed, excited or stressed, it flares too and I.Can't.Breathe. When my body decides I'm stressed and wants to steal my air, I have to stop what I’m doing to lay down to do breathing exercises to try to help it subside. Then the vicious cycle begins. I start actually stressing because things aren’t getting done. I know people understand when I can’t do things, but I feel like less of a person when I can't contribute in my little ways and that is hard to set aside sometimes.

What works is doing nothing

I completed 6 weeks of physical therapy to try and strengthen my supporting muscles, learn diaphragm breathing and chest muscle stretching techniques. It helped a little, but what actually works is doing nothing. Stop “working out”, shorter walks with the dog on fewer days, showering every 2-3 days and not doing anything mentally stressful. How practical is that? I spent a whole week not exercising, walking my dog only twice and spreading my work out more with extra breaks or few hours a day. At this point, I work less than part-time and from home. I am fortunate to have flexibility and an employer that supports my situation. After doing hardly enough over the weekend to be human... I felt good as far as breathing went... so I decided ‘I'm going to do 15 minutes of exercise’ because I was tired of doing nothing. A few minutes in, WHAM, it flared up again. I spent the rest of the day recovering.

Uncomfortable and defeating

Life is inherently stressful, both good and bad stress. Who can actually be that inactive and unengaged in their life and still feel like they have purpose? Going through the day feeling like you swallowed fire and a large human is sitting on your chest is very distracting and uncomfortable and tiring. Bending over to catch your breath after walking from your car and into the store feels defeating. Writing helps me process the frustration and disappointment I feel with MS. It helps me not dwell on it, because once it’s in a note in my phone (and eventually a journal), I can usually stop letting it consume my thoughts and move on with whatever I’m able to do that day.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy. We never sell or share your email address.

More on this topic

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

or create an account to comment.