Reminders

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The plan was to spend a good part of the day on my book. Having looked forward to this day off from work for a week, I mulled over phrases and thoughts from where I left off last time.

I woke up early, ready to take on the day. Sitting up to get out of bed, I took a deep breath and expanded my chest, startled to feel chest pressure and heaviness. Moving forward with usual morning things, I waited for the chest pressure to go away. And this is how the day went–waiting for chest pressure to go away.

Rarely do I have a full day like this anymore. I have figured out it seems to come during times of stress and, therefore, I try to avoid getting worked up or feeling stressed out. But, of course, in life this isn’t always possible.

Or, chest pressure comes when something really bad is going on with my heart. So my worries on Thursday were, Is it extreme pressure? Are my hands sweaty? Does my jaw hurt? Monitoring symptoms takes vigilant energy. My symptoms were relieved when I sat down and rested, so most of the day was spent resting. And being frustrated.

My brother called that evening and sensed something in my voice; he asked if I was okay. I told him I had felt crummy all day. He said he felt crummy the day before, like he was getting the flu. But with extra sleep and a new day, he felt better. “But,” he said, “I have the luxury of feeling sick and not worrying about it.”

This is the chronic part of my heart and vascular disease. Symptoms and extreme fatigue pop up, without regularity, as if to say, “Don’t forget, I’m still here.” I feel a bit sorry for myself, frustrated over the lack of energy and mental space to even work on my book. A day lost. A day sick.

These reminders come, always unwelcome, but usually with a lesson or a positive outcome. This day of rest reminded me of how grateful I am to feel well most days. More good days than bad is a good thing. And now I have plans to work on my book one day next week. Some of the thoughts and phrasing may be different, and just may be better.

Make is a good week!

 

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The Thin Line

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In the movie, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” one of the lines goes like this: “It seems as if the space between my dreams and my fears is nothing more than the width of an eyelash.”

The woman who said this was referring to her deepening love for a new man in her life. The fear of love was keeping her emotionally distant from him. She did not want to risk opening herself up to the hurt that often comes with love, but, yet, it thrilled her to be with him.

I love the image of the width of an eyelash, a thin line between dreams and fear. It is a universal experience to which we can all relate.

Right now this sentiment is true for me about my book.

My memoir, for the past four years, is the thing in my mind, after which, my dreams will come true. I have given it the power, in my mind, of being the pivot point after which my world will change. I’ll be rich and famous, or healthy and totally together… or… perhaps nothing will change? Fear of success and lack of success are equally powerful.

Now that I am close to finished with the edits suggested by my editor, I realized recently I seem to be stalling. When I finish these edits and get one more official proof, the hard work of publishing, marketing, and getting it out into the world is on.

Realizing that I am stalling, though, has been freeing. It is up to me whether or not I finish the book, and I decided that the risk of my life changing or not changing is better than a future of what if? I am committing to pushing through, finishing the edits, and hiring the proofreader. I will open that new door and see what lies on the other side, no longer allowing fear to win. When it’s done, readers, you will be the first to know!

Make it a good week!

The Guilt of Illness

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Some of the most profound experiences come in unusual places. Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the PGA tournament in Wisconsin. Can’t say I am a huge fan of golf but I was excited to be out on the course and watch the pros. Michael and I traveled with my parents on this weekend road trip.

Unfortunately, it was extremely hot (I later heard it was 94°F with a “feels like” temperature over 100°) in the mid-afternoon. It seemed the golf course and planners were unprepared for the demands of thousands of people in such extreme heat. There were not many concession stands; those available had long lines with long waits, and some actually ran out of water.

I was one of what must have been well over 50 people that day who experienced heat exhaustion. I know I am not very tolerant of heat. Some of the medications for my heart and blood pressure make me very heat sensitive. I was also unprepared for the golf course, the amount of walking, and unexpected lack of indoor facilities.

It is the fault of no one and, thankfully, I did not pass out or worse. But I ended up in the medical tent for over an hour. My blood pressure remained stubbornly high. I was nauseous. The volunteer physician treating me was kind and compassionate, and seemed very concerned. With my history of heart attack and artery disease, he felt I needed to be checked out at the hospital emergency department. I needed IV fluids, and they could not do that in the medical tent.

In the ambulance, a young, friendly paramedic started an IV to put fluids into me. I told her I felt really bad for my husband and parents; I had ruined their chances of fun for the day, and was causing a lot of worry—again.

The paramedic responded, “One thing healthy people don’t understand is the guilt that comes along with being ill.”

I could only nod as I let this profundity settle in. I had never thought of this as something common to many (most?) people with an illness.

I thought about all my trips to the emergency department over the past six years. Each time, I have apologized to my husband, family members or friends that are with me. I feel terrible for their worry. I don’t like to be the center of attention or to inconvenience others. I don’t like to be the cause for a change in plans. I don’t like the expense that comes with having a medical dust-up.

Each time I am being treated in an emergent situation, I worry about my family worrying about me. I know I am okay. I am with the medical people and know exactly how I feel. But those waiting in another room don’t know, except for the occasional update which I usually ask a medical person to provide.

I feel guilty for the ongoing accommodations my husband makes: lifting anything remotely heavy, being sure I am not too cold or too hot or over-stressed. Being willing to change plans when I don’t feel well. He does all of it very willingly and I feel fortunate to have him. I try not to take him, or his willingness to accommodate my medical peculiarities, for granted.

If you have been ill, chronically or short-term, have you felt guilty? How did you handle these feelings?

I imagine the guilt of illness is common because none of us wants to be the cause of distress for our loved ones. We feel bad for causing them to worry. I wonder if it is just natural.

Last weekend, after two bags of IV fluids and some potassium, I was good. No problems since then. Chalk it up to being unprepared for the conditions of the day, and the gift of understanding a new layer of living with a chronic medical condition.

Make it a good week!

Meditating

I am reading the book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works — A True Story by Dan Harris, one of the morning anchors on ABC’s Good Morning America. Can’t say I followed his work as a journalist until I heard about this book.

As the title suggests, his mind had a penchant for causing him real stress. Ego directed his thoughts and behavior so much that he craved fast-paced, drama-filled moments, constantly reactive to what was going on outside of him.The book lays out his journey to quiet his mind. He delves briefly into Christianity, Judaism, new age spiritualism, and Buddhism. His argument becomes, begrudgingly, (due to his preconceived notions of it being hippy-dippy-drivel) that practicing meditation is the one thing that will quiet his mind. Learning how to meditate, simply being still and focusing his mind on the present, changed his life.

New to meditating he described it like this: “It was a rigorous brain exercise: rep after rep of trying to tame the runaway train of the mind. The repeated attempt to bring the compulsive thought machine to heel was like holding a live fish in your hands. Wrestling your mind to the ground, repeated hauling your attention back to the breath in the face of inner onslaught required true grit.”

As one who has struggled with anxiety for several years, I began searching for a way to quiet my anxious mind a couple years ago. I prayed for freedom from anxiety and tried to be stronger, tried to tackle my anxiety. But it didn’t work. I experienced physical anxiety symptoms frequently–breathing hard, mind racing, heart beating fast–which was not good for my body. A friend recommended I look into guided meditation. She had been helped by it greatly. I thought meditation was for Buddhist’s and, not being of that tradition, I thought it wasn’t for me. I had negative preconceived ideas as Dan Harris did. But with my friend’s recommendation, I decided to try it. I expected to hear mysterious new-age chants and thought I would need to sit cross-legged like a pretzel with my index fingers and thumbs touching in a circle, humming “om”.

But what I found when I listened for the first time to a guided meditation was soft, calm music and the soothing voice of a man telling me to think about my breath going in and out of my chest. He told me to sit comfortably on a chair or the floor and to close my eyes. He said if my mind wandered, I should gently bring my thoughts back to the breathing.

After my first time, a full 15 minutes in which I opened my eyes and looked at the clock about 45 times, I felt renewed and relaxed. My anxiety (for that day) was gone. Surprised, to say the least, I tried it again and again, getting used to the 15 minutes and not thinking about the clock.

To meditate means to engage in contemplation and reflection, or to think deeply or carefully about something. I find that by sitting or lying quietly with my eyes closed, and thinking about my breath going in and out of my chest, I am calmed. No hocus-pocus, no chanting, not weird. My pulse rate lowers, blood pressure decreases, and I feel rested, like all my senses are sharper.

The book 10% Happier is an excellent read. In addition to describing the quest to quiet his mind, Dan Harris chronicles his 15 years as a journalist covering some of our nation’s biggest stories. He describes his relationship with other national journalists, which I like because it feels like a sneak peek into the real lives of famous people we know only as their television persona. I recommend it. And if you struggle with a racing mind or with anxiety, I also recommend you dip your toes into meditation. No guidebooks are needed. Here are Dan’s directions on how to practice mindfulness meditate:

  1. Sit comfortably. You don’t have to twist yourself into a cross-legged position–unless you want to, of course. You can just sit in a chair. (You can also stand up or lie down, although the latter can sometimes result in an unintentional nap.) Whatever your position, you should keep your spine straight, but don’t strain.
  2. Feel your breath. Pick a spot: nose, belly, or chest. Really try to feel the in-breath and then the out-breath.
  3. This one is key: Every time you get lost in thought–which you will, thousands of times–gently return to your breath. I cannot stress strongly enough that forgiving yourself and starting over is the whole game.

 Make it a good week!

The Colors of Summer

imageFarmer’s markets around town are the sure, vibrant signs of summer. This photo displays part of my vegetable and fruit haul last weekend. I try to buy veggies and fruits in all colors–the reds, greens, yellows, and whites–in part because they are nutritious and in part because they are pretty. We eat them raw, in stir-fry meals, or roasted. The difficult part, I find, is figuring how best to store fruits and veggies so they do not rot before we eat them.

I learned a very handy trick in the Heart Insight Magazine about fresh herbs. It is possible to freeze them for later! Just cut fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, or basil, and put them by teaspoon or tablespoon into ice cube trays. Fill with water and freeze. When you want to use the herb, toss the ice cube into the pot. Wa-lah!

Here’s a handy guide for storing vegetables and fruits so they may last their longest:

VeggiesEnjoy the colors of summer!

 

Keep Your Peace

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Adorable little photo, isn’t it?!  I laughed out loud when I saw it, thinking about the many times I have said this to myself. Last week, at work and at home, my nerves were tested by people with odd requests and unique issues that created more work for me.

But as irritated as I was, and feeling stress as I do, with pressure in my chest and a headache in my temples, I realized I can put myself at risk physically by allowing myself to be so irritated.

Annoyance based upon what others say or do just hurts me. And it does seem to come down to what I allow. Continue reading

Consider Your Heart

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February is American Heart Month and I would do my heart injustice by not writing about it. I try to be careful in how I talk about my heart. Sometimes, in effort to be brief and not get into personal details, I abbreviate my heart story by saying, “I have heart disease,” and leave it at that. Or I say, “I had a heart attack when I was 38 but I’m good now.”

A few months ago, attempting to explain away the reason I take so many medications, I said to a nurse, “Well, I have a bad heart.” As soon as the words left my mouth I paused, said no more, and wanted to yank the words back in. I felt awful. My heart has been through the proverbial ringer, with a heart attack and at least three different dissections/tears over the next couple years. It has been invaded by tubes and dye multiple times as doctors have gone in to look around and add stents. It beats with fantastic regularity. It pumps blood efficiently, and it accommodates the six stents that prop open one of its arteries. It is not a bad heart — not at all. I am incredibly grateful for all the work it does. It hasn’t failed me.

My hope in talking about my heart disease is to influence others to consider their hearts. About 80% of heart disease is preventable with lifestyle choices… the old adage of eating well, exercising, and working to keep stress to a minimum. The other surprising statistic is that more American men and women die from heart disease than anything else, including all cancers combined.

But statistics only share facts; they don’t tell stories. None of us consider ourselves a statistic, so we aren’t going to see ourselves in a fact. Stories are easier to identify with, and this is why I tell my story. Consider your own heart, your own story, within the facts.

As you think about eating and exercising, and about managing stress, consider the work of your heart. Will eating this food strengthen my heart and me, or will it make my heart work harder? Do I really want my heart to beat faster and my blood pressure to go up because of this irritating thing at work? Or is there a better way to deal with the stress than allow it to hurt my body?

You get the idea. As you consider other parts of your body and how you treat them, your face, your hair, your teeth, consider your heart.

My other hope in talking about my heart disease is to encourage people, especially women, to get things checked out if they think something is wrong. Ladies, our symptoms of heart attack include:

  • Extreme or unusual fatigue
  • Chest pressure, not necessarily pain
  • Jaw and/or neck pain
  • Back pain
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety, irritability
  • Extreme sweating, feeling extremely hot

As you can see, these symptoms could be due to any number of other daily benign things… stress, hormones, sushi for lunch, or a cold. But, being very general here, one of the things I think women avoid most is speaking up for ourselves. If you have some of these symptoms in combination, or if any of them start suddenly and get worse, get yourself checked out. You aren’t overreacting and you aren’t causing a scene or making trouble for others. Please. You know when you know something is wrong.

This Friday, February 6, 2015 is National Wear Red Day to raise awareness, specifically, about women’s heart disease and the fact that heart disease affects more women than men.

Wear red on Friday if you can. Tell others why you are wearing red. And consider your heart.

XOXO