Breathing Room…

“A sigh is an amplifier for people who suffer in silence.” — Robert Orben

I sighed…and it got me in trouble. How? I am a customer service representative in a social services organization. I’m not exactly allowed to say where I work, but I interact with the public, regularly, over the phone. I sighed and my caller got angry…

You see, when I was in my abusive relationship, I was strangled a few times quite violently. Strangulation, not choking, is where one person tries to constrict air, with their hands or arm, usually, to restrict breathing of the other person to make them pass out and/or to kill them. My abuser worked up to these two episodes by squeezing my throat, while we were being intimate. In hind sight, I call it practicing to kill me. However, thankfully, he was not successful. Isn’t it amazing how they can manage to make things seem a part of a particular moment?

Present day: I have a damaged esophagus and trachea. I was already asthmatic, but the damage done can make it harder for me to breathe. I have an inhaler that helps me, but sometimes I sigh when I breathe, because I am struggling a bit to catch up my breaths. When my caller called in, she was already a bit agitated. I know that the callers are not perturbed with me specifically, but sometimes people are so worked up that it does make my anxiety and blood pressure rise. When that happens, I may sigh, as my breathing becomes more rapid. C-PTSD is SO much fun…

So when I sighed, the woman caller became angry. “Am I boring you?” she asked. She honestly didn’t give me the opportunity to answer. “I think I need to talk to your supervisor.” Um, what??? Hmmm…

“No ma’am, I was breathing. I have asthma, so I was struggling to breathe. I wouldn’t disrespect you like that. I feel as though I can solve your issue, but you’re welcome to speak to my supervisor, if you’d rather. I’ll have to put you on hold for a brief moment, so I can get her on the line. Could you hold for a moment?”

The woman hesitated. “Oh, I didn’t know you had asthma. You sure it’s not COVID? No, no, it’s alright. I just wanted my issue resolved. How can you help me?” I was able to remedy her issue quickly, wishing her a nice day.

As a customer service representative, I know that everyone has their own issues and bad days — it’s not pleasant when you have to assist anxious people when you deal with their money. However, that abuse that made me struggle to breathe at times, that caused a sigh, almost enraged a woman that wanted to talk to my supervisor and have my job — all because she didn’t know what I went through to struggle to live, to struggle to breathe, to provide for my family (because I’m the only one). All she could think was that I was disrespecting her, as she was disrespecting the entity for which I worked; I became my organization so when she thought I indicated that I’d had enough or didn’t believe her, she saw herself in me.

And don’t get me wrong, I do try to put myself in my customers’ shoes. I treat everyone as I wished to be treated, if not better. I have to remember that at the end of the day, I helped more people than I didn’t. And I wouldn’t even go into the real reason for my breathing issue, as I am not looking for sympathy and I wouldn’t lay that atrocity on her. And sometimes, thinking of all of that, makes me *sigh* and shake my head. And I do it all over, gladly, helping more folks the very next day. Because I am safe and I am the master of my own destiny — and out of abuse, where I previously had to suffer in silence.

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