For many years I kept myself well hidden. Shrinking into back grounds, not daring to have friendships and feeling generally ill-at-ease with other children at school.
There were different reasons for this I am sure. But one that I remember being paramount was that I had a defect. One that drew a lot of attention especially in places like the school gym or changing rooms.
My deformity was Pectus excavatum, also known as sunken or funnel chest. It is a congenital chest wall deformity in which several ribs and the sternum grow abnormally, producing a concave, or caved-in appearance in the anterior chest wall. It causes difficulty at times in breathing and can be very uncomfortable particularly with girls as the time comes to find a bra that fits, works correctly and does the job needed! Mine was particularly concave and very deep.
I have learned and studied over time how this condition affects children. They can experience high latent anxiety, latent being used to describe how it exists but is not yet active or cannot be seen, any motivation broken and feelings of stigmatization can occur. I experienced my own need to hide, timidity resulting and by being disturbed by the strange body image. Ambivalence, and high latent aggressiveness develops, as well as of course inhibitions.
As one enters adolescence there can be much more dependence on parental home, alcohol and drug abuse, psychosomatic symptoms, displacement and generalized hypochondria. These all take effect in many areas of young people’s lives but the pectus condition has a tendency to accentuate that. This needs careful addressing if it is not to become exaggerated in later years and when it is present needs the counseling necessary to unveil the hidden anxiety and destructive tendencies.
My condition wasn’t really known about when I was younger. It was simply accepted as ‘that is what I looked like’ in me. There was an operation developed in the 1970’80’s and treatment of it, where you can have a metal rod attached under the sternum to force the bones to grow outwards. This is called the Nuss procedure. It was too late for me, having been born in 1960, to consider and I am happy that my parents did not resort to this, although I know for some it worked very well and they now have normal bone structure in their chests. Some I have heard it did not work so well for, causing pain and discomfort. But none the less I did still have difficulty breathing and never discussed this with my parents. I kind of assumed it was normal!
I would lie in my bed taking very deep, some times gasping great breaths to attempt to fill my lungs and have that wonderful feeling of having the ‘life force’ weaving though me.
Then when I had taken enough of these breaths I could relax and go to sleep. I don’t even think I knew at that age it was because of my deformity.
But that flow of air, that moment of deep breath that I really had to work for was a Godsend, I could feel it in my cells and opening my heart to expand more and more. From a tiny micro breath, to deep expansive caverns within me. It was so worth the effort. If i did not make that effort I could feel collapsed, dull, life less, and would sink into a dream like deathly state.
It wasn’t all discomfort though having this condition, as a child I would enjoy moments in the bath, filling my ‘hole’ playfully with water and even as a young woman had my lover drink champagne from it! I was asked to play a role in a film of a ghostly women in a rather sexy moment in a horror movie, dancing and putting her hands deep inside her chest, in a rather strange ritual. It looked very real once edited and I rather enjoyed the experience, dancing with a gaping bloody hole in my chest for all to see, morbid yes, but suddenly my chest became a movie star! And I can assure you the blood came totally from a bottle of color dye!
I would however get a little tired of people who tried to correct my posture, telling me to stick out my chest more, straighten my shoulders and spine when at times I could barely breathe because I had become so tightened. If I forgot to exercise or had spent a long time being still, for what ever reason, I would feel its effect. For sure my lungs were sometimes being crippled inside their cage.
Dancing was always the best thing for me. It opened me up and stretched me. It forced me to breathe more in the doing of this.
I had a pony who had broken wind. Which meant she had a hole in her wind pipe. This caused her to wheeze sometimes but she also needed to be kept fit, to exercise a lot and this would help her enormously. We worked together, riding the terrains and landscapes, both getting out of breath and both having to rest awhile and regain our posture, strength and ability to continue.
As I have become older it has been easier, as I have managed this deformity more and more and learned to live with it. Still to this day, dance is essential, stretching is essential, keeping my bones free and supple is essential for the very necessity of being able to breathe properly.
I always know when I havent’ done enough, it is always a reminder to me to hit the sounds of music button and ‘move,’ no matter how I feel! For all of us, no matter our condition, movement is a vital key, breathe is vital, without it for sure we die. And if, I learnt very early on, we do not breath deep enough, our life force is not fully present and it is very difficult to relax or find enough energy.
Movement Medicine has given me just the right amount of movement, breath and understanding of my bodies needs. No pushing, no force, just gentleness. Once my body is strong and healthy then I know how much I can support my life and the live’s of others. Finding my micro breath and learning to expand it has really helped me, rather than trying to force the breath in, as I felt I had to do when I was young.
I began to feel that I was given this bone structure for a reason, I had to! There was so much I could learn about breath and about movement because of it. It actually became a teacher for me, and I learnt within that to love this part of my body, ugly though I felt it was, then. The rest of my body was fine, it bore babies and danced freely.
I learnt to be with the tiny micro, the restrictions of life, to understand sometimes that things do not need to be forced. I learnt to be patient with my body and to take time with it. I learnt how important the breath was and how sometimes we need to really respect it, feel immense gratitude for it and learn how to use it to effect different areas of the body. I learnt how deeply connected to the breath are our emotions and how to breath through everything we feel. I learned how my voice, though also held in place through the cage of bone structure, wanted its freedom, wanted attention, wanted to be heard.
Voice and breath, riding together, just like the rider and the horse, my teenager and her pony, working together to be whole to be complete and to be free.
Learning to say thank you for the absolute simplest things in life… like the breath we take every day.