It’s a terrifying sensation. To choke.
To have a foreign object, liquid or food, to take place of where oxygen pulls in and carbon dioxide pushes out.
Your eyes start to water. You cough. Sometimes you gag in hope that the coughing will stop. Loudly choking is good, that means your airways are open enough to make noise. Silently choking– well, that is when life gets tighter and your heart beats faster.
When I was a wee lad, I swam into the mildly deep waters of a beach in San Clemente, California. I was a cute, tan surfer girl with wavy dirty blonde hair and kissed by the sun. I rocked a buddha belly and twigs of legs that took up 75% of my body.
This time stood wayyyyyy before self-consciousness, before I developed boobs and the thought of being on the sand was like— oh my gawwwd soooo much cooler than surfing. I loved the water and I was proficient at swimming in it. I imagined myself as a mermaid, that Mission Viejo stood as temporary and that the ocean was my permanent home. All of that changed, once I got caught in that damn riptide.
As strong as this little girl could swim, she just wasn’t strong enough to swim past the surf on her own and without fins.
The undercurrent pulled me deeper as I tried to swim north. I realized that I was in a meaty riptide that simultaneously carried me out further into sea and deeper down into fear. I desperately searched for the yellow lifeguard boat which was no where to be found.
My strength grew weaker. I sunk deeper and deeper. I pushed my little hand through the water towards the blind stars, and waved in a desperate hope that someone would see my struggle.
My younger brother and father stood on the shore looking at me. I thought, Are you kidding me? Come save me!! I panicked at the idea of my family, that stood statically watching me struggle.
I said a prayer and accepted that this was the end of my life. The choppiness of the Pacific Ocean bombarded her way into my virgin mouth, as I tried desperately to inhaled air, and not salt water.
Then suddenly by the grace of God, a strong hand latched onto my wrist and yanked me with a loving motion. I viciously choked and saw the face of a hero, and an all around fuckin’ bad ass– my mother.
That day broke me as a little girl. I ended my love of surfing. I quickly didn’t like the idea of swimming to far out on my own. But it wasn’t the drowning that was the problem, oh no…
From two years and on, I loved the bottom of pools. The bottom of pools is where my imagination lay. I worked to get every bit of breath out of me so I could lay on the floor of pools, to look up and just be in my world. Everyone trusted that I was fine, it was just Danika being Danika.
On that beautiful summer day in San Clemente… It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to drown, It was that I didn’t know how to choke.
In so many ways, I have choked. A game winning serve– choke. A final exam essay question, needing four supporting evidences, but I can only remember two– choke. A speeding ticket, from driving 68 mph in a 40 mph zone– choke. Life is full of loud choking moments, when people can hear you and point out that choke.
However, the most dangerous chokes are the ones which are not heard.
Emetophobia is the intense fear of vomiting. I know, I know– people don’t like to vomit, it seems like it is not a “real phobia.” It in fact, ruled my life for 12 years.
I couldn’t touch doorknobs without physically seeing the colors of germs transfer from nob to skin. I couldn’t use public restrooms without the thought of how many times someone had vomited in the stall that I use. I took two to three scorching hot showers a day to kill any virus on my skin. I avoided eating meals that could possibly rid me of food borne illness. I convinced myself that I will never have children because of some hasty morning sickness.
I was a division 1 student-athlete. Volleyball was my job, school was my side job and I silently choked, on my mental health.
Emetophobia, turned into extreme anxiety. My phobia soon became an eating disorder and worst of all it turned into the early phases of agoraphobia (the fear of leaving your home). All in this time I excelled in practice and weight training, laughed with my teammates, showed up and worked to coach, overachieved in class… yet I lived an absolute lie.
At the end of the day, I fell exhausted because of the constant war within me.
I silently choked and no one could hear the shortness of breath,
the wheezing of my spirit and the slow process
of a stopped heart.
I exploded. WHAM!
Five panic attacks in six days.
I could not eat. I could not sleep. I wanted to quit volleyball and drop out of school. My muscles felt as if I had ran back-to-back marathons with 70 pound weights chained to my ankles. I simply wanted to die because I already felt dead.
Others who silently choke..
They choke on their sexual identity,
to prove to their parents/ culture/ religion of their worth,
a career they think is perfect but it’s reality is enslavement,
a lost love,
an eating disorder,
the death of a parent,
or the pain of a rape by a neighbor or a family member.
When you are silently choking you start to think of a world where there is no pain, no fear, and unlimited air to breathe easy. That world is heaven– and I wanted to be there as soon as possible.
My mother saved me, that day in the ocean, when I loudly choked for my life, on that riptide.
About a year or so, ago– I told my mother my vague thoughts about suicide at 19 years of age. She graceful replied, “I know, Danika. I know.”
So as we explore how vulnerable we possibly can be,
as we fall, without boundaries, in and out of love,
as we accept ourselves and the world around us…
we must learn to force our silent choke into a LOUD choke.
We then face our flaws and our weaknesses.
We simply accept the things that we cannot change and adjust them.
We learn to keep going one step, one stride, and one test at a time.
We have to learn to make noise when we choke. Once we make noise, we are heard by the love of a mother, the kindness of a stranger, the passion of a coach, or the trust of a friend. They then can help remove the astronomical, sticky piece from our throat… and gasp with happiness for air.
Because in that beautiful space of time, we learn that life is filled with choking moments. However, when we learn to scream for help, is when we can accept, gather, and quickly keep moving forward.
It is how we keep breathing, and keep beating that keeps us alive.