I Refuse to Consider Myself a Choking Victim

As I look around the Red Lobster dining table, at people whom I consider friends, I can tell you’re not looking at me for my whole self, but just one aspect of my experience. I see the concern in your eyes, the warble in your tone, the sympathy in your disposition as I just try to speak. But now, even though it’s difficult for me to say this, enough is enough.

Yes, there is an entire shrimp lodged sideways in my trachea, but I refuse to see myself as a choking victim.

When we perceive ourselves as victims, we allow external forces to dictate our lives. This mentality is especially harmful when those external forces become wedged in our throats.

When I first started choking, I was naive enough to think that no one would notice, or if you did notice you’d have the tact to look me in my desperate, bloodshot eyes instead of creating a scene and disturbing the lovely restaurant staff. Ask yourself, why does my mere presence make you panic?

You should be embarrassed. You should be the one turning red.

Am I struggling to breathe? Sure. But I will not be defined by that struggle. I also love to do watercolors and have even taken up the mandolin. I am a lot of things, and yet you only choose to see me as someone thrusting his torso again and again against the back of a chair.

Have you taken the time to examine why I make you so uncomfortable? Is it because I’m gurgling and flailing? Is it because my stare is that of a deer stuck in a bear trap? Is it because I’m knocking over vases and swiping food off other people’s tables with my body limp like the wet head of a mop? If so, I’d invite you to analyze what inside you makes you so concerned about what’s clogged inside me.

If you pat me on the back, I’d prefer to feel like it’s because I earned it.

You see, when you call for help, you fail to consider that I may not want it. In fact, it’s actually quite centering to take this experience to focus on my lack of breathing. Next time, instead of shouting, “Oh my god! He’s choking! He’s choking! Our friend is dying! Somebody help!” how about trying, “Oh my god! He’s thinking! He’s creating! Our friend is intelligent! Somebody buy art from his website!”

On the topic of language, I’ve adopted a new posture toward describing my experience which affords me agency. I’ve officially eliminated the phrase, “There is an entire shrimp stuck in my windpipe,” from my vocabulary and replaced it with, “My windpipe includes an entire shrimp, unchewed, tail and all.” See how much of a difference that makes?

So instead of calling my next of kin, I encourage you to put in the effort to take a cue from me. I’m calm, I’m cool, and I’m collected. I’m so relaxed, in fact, I’m lying on the floor and my vision has gone dark.

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