Breathing – The End of Days

Marvin Raatz, 1940

It was October 8th, 2007 and a typical fall Monday in Minnesota.  I was working a technology job downtown Minneapolis where spent my mostly unremarkable days solving technical issues.  I recall my mind being focused on my tasks at hand when my personal mobile phone rang.  I was a bit surprised because I didn’t usually get personal calls during the day, so I was a bit startled.  I grabbed my phone and quickly pressed the accept button and said, “Hello, this is Dwight.”  There was a pause and I could hear the hiss of the phone line, but no one spoke.  My heart knew there was something deeply wrong and I could feel the my stomach churn.  A few seconds later I heard, “Dwight, this is Steve.” I was very surprised to hear my brother-in-law’s voice as I rarely ever received a call from him.  This heightened my senses even more.   I said, “Hello Steve, what’s going on?”  There was another pause and the hissing from the phone line filled my ear with foreboding. “It’s your dad.”, Steve continued, “He was killed.” 

In that moment, I felt as if I was jerked out of my body, floating slightly above and behind my back.  I recall forcing myself to breath and stay connected to my arm and to the phone in my hand.  “What happened?”, I asked calmly.  “He was killed in a car accident just north of town.”, he said.  I was having trouble thinking or speaking, but I managed to say, “Thanks for calling and telling me.  I’ll be coming as soon as I can.”  I ended the call and stared at my phone. Everything I did next was done mostly from muscle memory and a will to do what needed to be done to notify my employer that I had to leave.  Mechanically, I closed out of all my software applications and shut down my computer.  I recall having trouble standing and walking as everything around me seemed very surreal and distorted.  It was as if everything was moving in slow motion and each step I took didn’t feel like I was even touching the ground.

I managed to tell my boss about what happened and that I was leaving.  He didn’t hesitate to tell me not to worry about a thing, and to just go.  I felt a bit relieved in that moment because I don’t think I could have managed to do anything.  I grabbed my coat and lunch and walked slowly out of the offices and took the elevator to the ground floor.  When I reached the outside of the building, I stood on the sidewalk and stared across the street.  I had an urge to collapse to the ground as breathing become a conscious effort. I realized in that moment that I needed to get home, but I wasn’t sure how.  I had commuted part way into the city from Buffalo to a park-n-ride lot, and then I took a Metro-Transit bus from there to downtown.  Since this bus only ran a couple times in the morning and late afternoon, I didn’t have an easy way of getting back to my car.

Running on mostly auto-pilot, I wandered down 2nd Avenue trying to make sense of what was happening.  How was I going to get home?  I was confused, but there was a part of my brain that kept me moving and taking care of my immediate needs.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a yellow taxi parked along the street.  Not thinking, I immediately wandered toward the cab and opened the back door asking, “Are you available?”  The driver turned and said, “Absolutely, where do you need to go?” I hesitated because I had no idea if a cab driver would take me out to the west suburbs to my car.  I finally said, “I need a lift to Plymouth, do you go that far?”  “Yes I do.”, said the driver.  “Hop in and I’ll get you there right away.”

I sank into the back seat of the car taking another gulp of air and gave the driver rough directions on where I needed to go, to get him started.  “I have no address, so I’ll have to give you directions.  Is that okay?”, I said as my voice was beginning to waver and the words were harder to speak. I noticed that he glanced up to see me in his rear view mirror. He looked closely, and I had a sense that he knew there was something serious happening to me. 

We drove in silence. This was the first time I allowed myself to relax a bit and let the news of what happened to my dad sink in. I could feel the waves of emotions flow up from my chest and to my throat as I took deep breaths to allow the feelings to flow and for my tears to fall. I didn’t have any real thoughts in my mind, only the knowing that my father was gone and I never again would be able to touch him. I sat in the back of this cab, driving west down Hwy 394, but I had no real sense that we were even moving. It was as if the entire universe existed in the back of this cab and I was in the center of it. I recall forcing myself to look out the front window occasionally and focus on giving him directions to my car.

I made it to my car and realized that I had not contacted my wife to tell her the news. I fumbled with my phone trying to decide how to contact her at the hospital where she worked. I managed to dial the general number and the operator was gracious and quickly located her. She answered the phone with her normal friendly “Hello! What’s up?”. “Hey.”, I paused to breath, “I have bad news. My dad was killed in a car accident.” “What!”, she replied. “My dad is dead. I just got to my car and I’m on my home.” I continued. “Should you be driving? Oh my God are you okay to drive!?” she said. “I have to be. I’ll be okay. I’ll take it slow.”, I managed to connect more words together. “Okay”, she said, “I’ll see how I can meet you at home.” I ended the call and just stared at the steering wheel. “How am I going to do this.“, I thought. I had to intentionally walk through all of the things necessary to drive the car. Seat belt on – check. Keys. Where are my keys? Turn the key, press the brake, put it in gear. I continued down the checklist of things. Each step was an effort, to not only remember how to do something I’d done thousands of times in my life, but also to remember to breath. I have to keep breathing – check.

The rest of my memories of driving home are spotty. I’d driven this same road for years and I felt as if I was running on complete auto-pilot. I only recall a few of the cross-roads until eventually, I pulled into the driveway of my home. The world still felt out of focus. It was as if I was completely submerged in water, seeing the world distorted and heavy with its weight pushing in on me from all sides. I took a deep breath and once again recounted what it would take to get out of my car and walk into my house. What was I going to tell my kids? What did I need to do next? I decided I needed to breath.

Dwight J. Raatz – November 16, 2020

Ironing the Dish Towels

A friend of my suggested that I write more about my own experiences with depression and anxiety in my life and how I’ve dealt with it.I’ve hesitated for quite some time to look back at this state of being mostly because, well, writing about depression can be… depressing.But I’ve decided that perhaps some of what I can share might help someone else step out of that space and move onto actually feeling in control.So, with that here it goes…

As I’ve said before, I am not a doctor of any kind and have no formal education around psychology or psychiatry.I am however, an expert witness of anxiety and depression from my own personal struggles and triumphs.I’m not going to be so bold as to tell you that what I’ve done will work for you.But what I do know is the fact that you are reading this and if you have struggles with anxiety and/or depression, you have come a long way to making a permanent change in your life for the better.If you know of someone who struggles from these issues, I hope that this can give you some ideas on what you can do to help them.Just remember – you do have the strength to last another day.

I’ve written at length before in my blog post “Understanding my Depression” about how anxiety and depression started in my life, so I’m not going to cover that here.What I’d like to talk about now is some revelations on not only how I combat it, but how I see other people deal with it (even if they don’t realize that’s what they are doing).

I see anxiety and depression (AD) now as being very similar to constipation.AD is a blockage in my system that creates a downward spiraling, self fulfilling outcome of more AD.Just as your bowels can be constipated in the lower/large intestine and can cause a backup in the rest of your system so it is with AD.The very first and most basic step in combating AD is to create movement in your life.Movement can include a variety of things like physical, environmental, sensory, etc.You need to take one step, then another and another.If you feel so overwhelmed with your circumstances and have a storm of immobilizingthoughts causing you to freeze, say to yourself, “Excuse me – I’m going to interrupt you right here.” and then take a walk.Change your environment in some way.Walk around your room to start with and be sure to look at every part of your room.Look at everything and think about each thing you see, identify it, remember where it came from and think about what you can do with it, then move onto the next item and the next.

The next most important thing to remember is to breath!This seems simple right?Well most people do not breath properly.You need to take deep cleansing breaths.Breath in through your nose way down into your belly.Breath until you can’t suck in another morsel of air and then hold it for a few seconds, then let the air out slowly through your mouth.Once all the air is out, hold that position for a few seconds before taking the next breath.Do this process at least three times slowly and you will feel a burst of energy and be very much more connected to your body.

Anxiety and depression (AD) is constipated energy in our body and we can remove this blockage by breathing and movement.I also consider these actions to be a distraction from what we are lamenting over at any given AD moment.It is this art of distraction that will set you on a path of moving out of the AD state.It has also been proven that by getting more exercise, we increase a naturally occurring chemical in our system called serotonin.Serotonin has been linked to helping many people with AD moods.

I’ve often wondered what people did in the “old days” before medication or even knowing what AD was in order to deal with these feelings.In watching people and some of the older generations, they seemed to deal with hard times by keeping themselves busy.This “busy action” is the distraction that would pass the time and also make them feel good about accomplishing something worthwhile.I would often shake my head as I watched my mom ironing the dish towels, underwear and bed sheets wondering why did she do this?I know that culturally this was sometimes an expectation of the dutiful wife, but I also think it became a sort of mundane task therapy.It was a way to have time to herself and to be distracted from some of the stresses of life.

The real lesson here is give the mind something different to focus on rather than whatever issue caused you to slip into that state of anxious uncontrollability.This movement is a rhythm that brings you into a state of harmonics with the universe around you.This brings peace and creates a space for you to untangle webs that clog your mind.

Dwight Raatz