Just Breathe

It was our second year in our new condo close by to every store imaginable. I enjoyed my routine and schedule. I'd wake up at around 7am, have coffee and breakfast with my wife, and then I would go into my office and finish up work up until around 2-3pm. After work, I drove one mile away to work out at the local gym. I had a personal trainer for quite a while, who took joy in seeing me in misery. She was great though -- she kicked my butt into high gear, helping me to not only lose weight, but to get stronger and have more stamina. I remember when my wife came to work out with me while I was training, she didn't realize it was a military type of training, where I was doing upside down sit ups with 8 lb medicine balls being thrown at me, or she'd catch me doing planks, push ups and other strenuous activities. When measuring time came, I remember how happy I was to finally meet my goals -- to finally achieve something I've always wanted to do. Even my friends who were body builders were so proud of my accomplishments (even though they killed me in quite a few push up contests.)  I was wearing sleeveless tops from time to time, which I never did because I hated my arms. On top of that, the four flights of stairs I had to climb up with groceries was also a huge workout! My mom would kid around and demanded an extra large dumbwaiter so she could visit me with Dad.

But not too long after, we found out Dad had cancer. I couldn't even absorb the word into my brain -- "cancer" -- it was impossible to say or think about. He started to go for radiation treatments with my mom, who went with him every single day for months. My sisters and I were all shocked that the big "C" hit our home. It wasn't supposed to hit our home. I think many people go through that phase of, "That kind of thing only hits other people." Well, here we were with quite the scare on our hands. Dad was the patriarch of our family. He was the glue that kept us together, kept mom together, kept us safe, kept us laughing... Slowly, his free-spirited nature diminished into an anxiety-ridden, hopeless soul -- at a loss for words -- which he never was. We tried to keep his spirits up telling him that he's going to win this. Whenever we said this, you could see the small amount of hope left, until the doctors would constantly tell him a different story.

My routine changed...a lot. After work, I went to the gym to work out by myself. I found myself out of breath -- I couldn't breathe. I got anxiety and sat down inside the locker room and cried. Nobody was there. The place was always empty during this time. So I went back home and poured myself a drink. And then another...and then another. I found myself drinking right after my work was done. 2 o'clock cocktails were getting too routine. Sitting at the bar with a couple of friends in the middle of the day was becoming a habit. It no longer included a vigorous workout or a trip to the store like I used to do. I self-medicated, until one night, I finally noticed how much I had consumed in one day, and then forced myself to go to AA for a 90 day clean out. I coped well, being sober and trying to help my parents the best I could. But things got worse, and so did my health. I put on a lot of weight, not even knowing I did because I really didn't care. That wasn't important at the time, so I thought.

And then my mom went through a health scare of her own. Mom got diagnosed with cancer. The video below shows the final day of her radiation treatment, which only turned out to be more radiation and much more chemo and operations.

After Dad's passing, (as bad as this may sound) -- we had a period of time -- a 'peaceful, calm, you-did-all-you-can-so-rest-now' kind of time. But it only got worse when I found out that my worst nightmare was about to come true. They diagnosed my mom with cancer, and well, that was it for me. Every single radiation and chemo treatment haunted me, reminding me of what Dad went through. There was even a glimmer of hope once her radiation treatment was over, as the video above shows how relieved she was to be on the road of recovery. But it didn't end there. Every surgery scared me with such fear, that I lost all knowledge on how to sleep again. I kept the drinking down to a minimum, because I needed to be alert and sober so that if I got a call in the middle of the night that mom needed to go to the hospital, I'd be up and ready with no problem. But I still drank and ate the wrong foods. Trying to make mom feel as comfortable as possible, I started cooking meals almost every night, making the house smell like "home" again -- a place where we all ate dinner together as a family. I wanted a sense of familiarity -- the kind that mom used to give to us. And in my effort in trying to help all I can, I lost a little bit of "me" along the way.

Me at the sleep study clinic. 
Eventually, I stopped sleeping, only maybe to have 3-4 hours per night, and sometimes, being up for 3 or more days. I had to go to sleep studies to only find that I was having myoclonic seizures due to anxiety and stress. I pushed a lot of my friends away, "too busy" to hang out, and I was too tired to go out. I dove into my work instead, trying to hold onto the one thing I knew how to do. I went into other areas of my work, which progressed into more projects and opportunities, but it never felt like enough. I was now living in this virtual world -- a virtual workplace -- a virtual social life.  A few other close family friends lost their battle with cancer. What was happening? I was too scared to make new friendships due to losing them to the big "C" -- I was terrified of the world at this point.

But something good did come of it all. I spent so much time working on my relationship with God, praying and meditating and solely relying on Him. And although I may not be the same person I was 7 years ago, I am so much better spiritually. But now I have to work on the rest of me, and I know it's going to be a challenging haul. I started watching my diet and walking more. Today, I'm cycling and trying to regain my strength back. The sleepless nights may screw with my schedule a bit, but all hope isn't gone. I still get anxiety from time to time, and I still suffer from depression, but I desperately need to help ME before I can help anybody else. If I don't take care of myself, there'll be nobody to take care of those who I love and cherish. Many caretakers lose their health due to neglect. I've done that over the past couple of years. I'm not looking to be a size 4 or trying to become some athlete or anything -- I just want a balanced life. That's all. I want to be there for my family and feel good each day. I haven't made "goals" because the only goal is just for today. When I focus on future goals, I seem to get frustrated on how long it's taking. So "just for today" I will make better health choices. Just for today, I will BE happy. Just for today, I will eat better. Just for today, I will move more. And just for today, I will PRAY more.

This has been a very hard article to write. I'm not making excuses on why I neglected my own health -- I'm opening up my eyes on why I should be a strong and able person for the ones I love the most. That's it in a nutshell.

Just breathe.

Any prayers would be appreciated for my mom. She's still going through chemo and we're expecting (not hoping) for a miracle! With God, all things are possible. I believe in prayer, and if you can send prayers or positive energy our way, I'd appreciate that more than anything! 

For more of Deb's articles, please visit: www.debrapasquella.com or join her on Facebook and Twitter. Check out her cooking blog for some of her famous recipes!