All our lives we take breathing, a common respiratory function, for granted – after all, if we had to consciously take every breath, there would be no respite, the task would be all-consuming. We simply assume that there will always be oxygen in the air for us to inhale and that our bodies will just go through the motions, taking in however much we need. What if it wasn’t so easy? I suffer from Vocal Cord Dysfunction (VCD), an episodic condition that restricts breathing, particularly after intense exercise. Often confused with asthma for its similar symptoms, it lacks one key similarity, a cure.
I gasp, waiting for the rush of cold oxygen to fill my lungs, but that feeling never comes. My fingers start to cramp as I claw at my throat desperately trying to wrench open a pathway for air to flow through. Hands fly at me from all directions, people trying to help, but their voices are dwarfed by the raucous wheezing from my gainless attempts to breathe. One thing envelops my mind: fear. It eats me alive and ultimately, it is not VCD that I have fallen prey to, it is the fear that comes with it.
Fear, a paralyzing emotion that can grip your senses, leaving you helpless in a matter of seconds. It is fear that drives you to make split-second decisions, it’s the most primitive of sensations, and we are only human. No one is fearless, yet some have learned to control their reactions in the face of distress. This has become my reality. As a competitive swimmer, I am at risk of a VCD attack nearly every day and I am eventually presented with an ultimatum: quit the sport I love, or face the fear and continue to work hard towards my goals.
VCD has taught me a number of things, but above all, I have learned to never back down in the face of adversity. This setback did not deter me from pursuing what I was passionate about. Today, I find myself continuing to face the trials and tribulations of my condition, though I can proudly say that I never gave up. I still swim numerous times every week, starting morning training before the sun rises, and afternoon training after the sun sets. Regardless of my situation, or any other hurdle that may come my way, with the support of my friends and family, I am prepared to persevere with my life and find a way to work around it.