[VIDEO] Learning to Breathe Again

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Yoga and it’s benefits brought new, effective tools to my life. My perspective has changed. I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to have it all together. I don’t have to pretend. I can just BE and I will be OK.
~ Karen Goeckel
I can pinpoint the day in time, in which my perspective on life changed forever. It was February 17th, 2009. I had a routine checkup with my OBGYN, as I was 20 weeks pregnant with my first baby. A baby boy my husband and I could not WAIT for. As my doctor went through all of the normal steps of a prenatal appointment everything was looking great! I was the correct size, I felt great, and nothing out of the ordinary – which is what we all want to experience at the doctor’s office. Up until that point, it’s all I had ever experienced. Then, my OBGYN brought out the heart monitor. A little, quite dated, doppler that my doctor would put over my belly and listen to check the beats per minute of the growing little dude inside. I knew what to expect and was always so excited to hear! It was the best part of the appointment. The time I could actually hear my baby! But, this time was different. I didn’t hear the customary woosh… woosh… woosh… of the baby’s heart beating in normal time, which would be about 140-165 beats per minute. Instead, we heard something else, something so different than what we’d heard before. So different that the doctor checked the little doppler machine to be sure it was working correctly. He even changed the batteries. What we heard was unrecognizable… a whirlwind of sound that was not 140-165 beats per minute. More like 450-600. Not good. I saw the look on my doctor’s face, as he excused himself from the room to call the ultrasound office. I was to go right away.

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My husband picked me up and off we went. In almost complete silence. We tried to convince ourselves it was the equipment in my doctors office because that’s what you do when you’re faced with something like this – you try to rationalize. But, some things cannot be explained away, as we learned the hard way that day. We got to the ultrasound facility and we were quickly hurried into a room. What we saw on the screen was the typical half moon shaped baby we had seen before with the light flickering where the heart should be. Problem was – that light was fast… WAY too fast and everyone in the room knew it. I looked at my husband and I think our hearts sank simultaneously. The doctor there started explaining she was sending me immediately to what was Women and Children’s Hospital downtown and I would meet with a pediatric cardiologist – the best around. My baby had a cardiologist before he was even born!

When we got there, the news was more of the same. Depressing, unbelievable, not ‘normal’, and worst of all, unpredictable. Our baby was diagnosed in utero with Super Ventricular Tachachardia (SVT) and for reasons unknown. One of the, excuse my lack of technical terms, ‘flaps’ (valves?) wasn’t working correctly and they had no idea why. The blood wasn’t flowing correctly and it caused him to have a heart rate 5 times higher than normal and completely erratic. They had to get this resolved, and soon. If not, the outcome would be the worst imaginable. I was admitted to Children’s hospital that day and would spend the next 10 days there. It was my first time being admitted to a hospital, ever. And while I know I am blessed to have had spent 28 years of my life avoiding that… it was awful. The next 10 days were spent with doctors trying to figure out what to do with me. They knew WHAT was wrong, they just didn’t know WHY. Was he growing too fast for his own heart? Did he have an unknown genetic issue? Did he have an unknown disease? No one knew, and therefore no one knew how to fix it. What they did know was that if they didn’t slow and regulate his heart rate, it would lead to his demise. They said that word a lot. I don’t like that word.

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Everyday, multiple times per day I was checked, poked, prodded – typical hospital stuff. Blood was drawn looking for disease, combined with IVs needing to be flushed because they’d been in too long. I hated needles before this visit – I learned to not really notice them after. Their plan of action was this – to feed me cocktails of heart medicine designed to slow and regulate the baby’s heart rate until it did just that. The thing was – in order to get the medicine to the baby, I had to take double the dose of a usual patient. But, guess what? I didn’t have a fast heart rate. Mine was actually slow to begin with. Do you know what taking double the dose of heart regulating medicine does to a person that doesn’t need it? It makes you feel AWFUL and is quite dangerous.

Day after day, we would try a new drug, new dosage, new combination, and I would go in to have ultrasounds to see if they did anything to help. They didn’t, for 9 days…. And what’s worse, by day 9 – my baby had started to collect fluid around his brain and other organs – fetal hydrops, I think they called it. This was the thing we were trying to avoid and it was happening. I literally felt numb after awhile. Things weren’t getting better. I felt hopeless. After 10 days of trying, what seemed like every combination in every dosage possible, they settled on a mixture of Digoxin and Flecainide. This was the first mixture that did the trick! Seeing his little heart beating the way it should for the first time since was an amazing feeling!

With this feeling, however, came other feelings. The side effects of this double dose of NASTY drugs that I did not need in the first place were bad. I could not see straight – it literally it felt like my two eyeballs were bouncing around in my head and looking in two different directions. I was dizzy all the time – so dizzy I couldn’t get up from the bed or couch for most of the day. Showering was nauseating. I threw up, A LOT. I expressed my concerns and was told that for the remainder of my pregnancy this is what I could expect. One doctor literally told me my job now was to be an incubator for the next 20 weeks. Awesome.

I could write on about the worry, anxiety, depression, etc., that plagued me every time I Googled, or went to the doctor (every week for the rest of that pregnancy), but instead I’ll skip to the end. Ryan David was born that summer at Women and Children’s Hospital. He was whisked away immediately after and was taken by the pediatric cardiologist for testing. The thought was, he was either to need surgery immediately, or he’d be born totally fine. The outcome was the latter. Doctor brought him in, handed him to me, and said something to the effect of “We’ll check him out in a week or two, but from what we can see, he’s a perfectly healthy baby boy.”

This story has a wonderful, happy ending. The best possible ending it could. My son has not since had any heart issues what-so-ever and we are BEYOND grateful for that. What this experience did leave me with, however, was something I hadn’t experienced before. Anxiety. I hadn’t been bitten by the anxiety bug before this, but oh man, was I hit with it now. It’s funny, I think I may have even thought it was just another side effect of the drugs I was on. Maybe it’d go away as soon as Ryan was born and was ‘OK.’ But that’s the funny thing about anxiety, the minute the thing you’re most worried about is resolved, is the minute your brain finds another, almost always worse threat, right? No matter what it was, I would think ‘If only this (whatever perceived problem I was facing) was OK, then I’d be OK.’ Logically speaking, that would be right. But when is everything ALL OK? It’s not – and for some reason, anxiety made me not OK with that.

After trying many different outlets – some healthy, others not so healthy, I wasn’t coping as well as I needed – to be the best version of myself. A friend of mine had suggested yoga many times and with each time I ignored the idea. I have an extremely athletic, competitive nature. If I was playing a game, I needed to WIN. If I was running, I needed to be the FASTEST. Yoga, to me, was like stretching – something you’d do on a ‘day off’ from your workout routine. Why waste my time?

I continued life down this path of anxiety ridden nervousness. What a way to live! It wasn’t good. It wasn’t pleasant. I was miserable inside and was putting on my brave face outside. So exhausting and counterproductive. I’m not proud of it and can’t believe I’m even writing this, but the best escape I felt would be a night out! With my friends, with my husband, but always with alcohol. Lots of alcohol. Because after 4 shots of tequila, the world’s problems don’t weigh as heavy. Until you wake up the next day, that is. Then, they weigh more.

It was after one particular night a little more than 4 years ago, that I woke up and said to myself, I can’t keep doing this. If I want to change myself, I need to change what I’m doing. I went to my first yoga class the next day. I literally didn’t know half of the poses the instructor called out. I didn’t care. This felt AMAZING. I learned how to breathe! How simple breathing is – but until someone teaches you HOW to really breathe in moments of stress or struggle and the immediate impact it has, you never really know HOW to breathe. I cried from relief in Savasana. The rest is history. I was hooked. I would go to classes often and was progressing in my physical practice, but soon found myself back in the rut of competitiveness. I was competing with my peers in the room, beating myself up when I couldn’t get a pose. What I didn’t understand is that I was practicing yoga, but I wasn’t connecting to yogic philosophies.

Another friend of mine, recommended Mind Body Flow Yoga to me. She would tell me, OFTEN, how she couldn’t miss Marina’s class – it was NOT an option. She’d tell me how Marina would read passages and tell personal stories during class that would just make sense and would change your perspective and leave you feeling changed, better, and understood. I started to realize that while I was enjoying the physical benefits power vinyasa yoga had to offer, I was getting ‘jipped’ somehow of these powerful mental and spiritual breakthroughs. After some convincing by my friend, I attended a class. Marina, was the teacher, and from the moment I walked in the door I just KNEW Mind Body Flow was for me! I felt a sense of community. When I’m at Mind Body Flow Yoga, I feel like I can say or try anything without judgement.

I’ve attended a couple of workshops offered by the studio for the first time in my life and in the last one I attended, I literally broke down and cried, while standing in front of EVERYONE. What? That is NOT the Karen that walked in the door of Mind Body Flow Yoga a little over a year ago. That Karen was a tough cookie on the outside – putting on a brave face like I had everything figured out. The version of myself that practices at Mind Body Flow Yoga now, is open to change and growth. I know it’s ‘OK to not be OK’ as Marina would say. That idea alone has helped me in many situations both on and off my mat! Another thing I took away from a workshop, ‘Baby steps.’ How simple! You don’t have to ‘nail’ it the first time or every time, to achieve the pose – to continue to grow.

While I have not completely eliminated bouts of anxiety from my life – I have learned, and continue to learn through yoga, the tools to minimize it’s negative effects and diminish it’s hold on me. Yoga and it’s benefits brought new, effective tools to my life. My perspective has changed. I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to have it all together. I don’t have to pretend. I can just BE and I will be OK.

The feeling of getting on my mat in the studio is now something I crave. I’ve not once left a practice feeling worse than when I started. Even on the worst of days, I will ‘just show up,’ because I know that once I do, the work will get done and the growth will continue.

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