A woman having a panic attack because she can't breathe

Survival Mode and Incontinence Effects

Last updated: May 2021

It was about 7 am, lightly snowing, and still very dark outside. I needed to be sure that I got to work early because I didn’t want my co-workers and students to see me struggle. Hiding what it takes for me to get to work every day is my normal because I don’t need their sympathy nor do I want them to use it as an excuse to fire me.

As I parked the car, I jumped out a little too fast and while getting my walker out of the car, I lost my breath.

I had my walker open to support me

At least I had a place to sit. Unable to hold my body up, I felt like a balloon that had lost all of its air. I am deflated with no bounce and I am unable to move. The wind is blowing in my face and the snow is lightly falling. It is so dark out. I can only see the outline of people through the streetlight. None of them offer to help me.

This is a different feeling than needing to use the bathroom

This is not the feeling of pressure on my bladder from coughing too hard or from waiting too long to get to the toilet, but this has happened to me before. It’s a familiar feeling. My body has gone into survival mode. It means that all my resources have gone to my lungs, heart, and brain to save my most needed resources in this moment. This is the likely outcome of not having enough oxygen in my lungs.

It is a sudden feeling

I need to use the washroom, probably more than I realize. At this very moment, I cannot move so it will have to wait. Getting out of the car and pulling my walker out has cost me to use up all of my resources of energy. The thought goes through my mind that I may urinate right here and now while sitting on my walker. It begins suddenly and I will just have to wait it out and hope for the best.

Pursed lip breathing

I try to use pursed-lip breathing, but I am panting so hard that taking a breath in through my nose is harder than you can imagine. As I get more agitated and concentrate on how much I need a washroom, I get short of breath. Now, I feel the need to defecate too. I know I need to control the panic because I am all alone and I have to manage this situation.

This is a situation that is a part of COPD that no one ever talks about. Even doctors don't fully understand the impact this has on their patients because no one ever talks about it.

Scanning the area, I am contemplating making it to the bathroom in time. I know I have clean clothes in the trunk but right now I can’t move, so getting them will be impossible.

Grounding yourself to let this feeling pass

To begin, I am using a mindfulness exercise in grounding to try to bring myself back to a normal breathing pattern.

  • Seeing 5 things and say their names out loud
  • Feeling 4 things and say the names out loud
  • Hearing 3 things and I say the names out loud
  • Smelling 2 things and I say the names out loud

Finally, as I begin to regain a normal breathing pattern, I reach into my pocket and get the candy. As I put it in my mouth, the sensation of having to urinate and defecate becomes manageable.

Finally, I can move again. Episodes like this often leave me feeling drained and in need of a rest to recover.

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