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Posts Tagged ‘Coping’

February is fast approaching.  The ‘red’ month… and I don’t mean Valentine’s Day. 

It’s a fantastic thing that a whole month is dedicated to raising heart disease awareness.  Anytime attention is focused on an issue that affects millions of people, it is a worthy cause. 

Overall, much is being done to spotlight what can be done to prevent heart disease.  Heard this one before?  ‘Check your numbers’; ‘Exercise regularly’; blah blah blah.  It would seem that the only awareness being raised is on how best to avoid it.

Since we don’t have that option, what we need now is information on how best to live with heart disease. 

Come To Terms

There.  I said it.  It’s like anything in life; you win some, you lose some.  So what if I have heart disease.  Everybody has something to contend with.  What’s important is how you view it.  Does it define you?  Or, by living your life the best you can, do you conquer it?

 Challenge Yourself

Mentally, not physically.  That’s a given.  Truth be told, I spent the better half of the day in bed.  However, the other half of the day was spent doing the things I love most.  What is it that you love to do most?  Stop to think before you answer.  Sometimes the more profound realizations come when you are quiet enough to hear them.

 Continue To Learn

The beauty of the Internet is that it continues to evolve.  Six years ago, you’d be hard pressed to find anything on the Internet regarding Microvascular Heart Disease.  That is beginning to change.  So, we need to change.  We need to continue to read and to research and to learn all we can about our condition.  You never know… perhaps we can, in some small way, dictate the direction of our care.

 Stretch Forward

Like a cat waking up from a nap.  Your condition might be static, but you don’t need to be.  Expand your horizons.  Volunteer.  Take a course.  Read that book you’ve been meaning to.  Remember, its the small victories that add to the richness of your life. 

Make this a February to remember.  Join the most important cause imaginable… yours.

 

 

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‘Heart Disease’.  With these two words, the lives of millions of women are changed in an instant.

While there is a sense of relief in knowing why your heart hurts, it is impossible to predict how this knowledge will affect your life.

Beyond the questions lie the reality that your life has taken a dramatic turn.  Although chronic by nature, your viewpoint of your condition doesn’t have to be.  It would seem, though, that this is a lesson best learned in retrospect.

20/20

As in ‘hindsight is’.  I’ve always thought this to be a strange saying.  It suggests that looking back is the only way to see if your chosen path was correct.  It makes sense, I guess.  Looking behind is the best vantage point from where to view the road ahead.  Only from this perspective can we know if we’ve made the best use of our knowledge and time.  This is the place where changes can be made and attitudes can be adjusted. 

Panoramic View

If you’ve seen ‘Pride and Prejudice’, you’ll recognize this scene:  She stands on a precipice, wind blowing in her face, clouds float by intermittently shading her closed eyes.  When she opens them, she has made a decision; one that she sees only now; now that she’s found time to stop and see where life has taken her.  Though probably not the best time to mediate as she is standing on a cliff. 

 Stepping Back From The Edge

Taking a moment to meditate on the past year has brought me to some astounding conclusions.  First and most importantly, I’m not alone.  While the numbers already suggest that, it’s the stories we share with one another that count most.  Secondly, the decisions we now make matter absolutely.  Will be chose to learn and share and live our lives or will we waste the time we’ve been given. 

While heart disease may be in your future, how you get there is your choice.

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If asked if the current state of your heart disease is acceptable, how would you answer?

It’s a tough one; I know.  Just yesterday I was asked this very question.  “If, when we first met, your chest pain and quality of life was terrible, 10 being terrible, what number would you assign your quality of life now?” asked my super-hero of a doctor, Dr. Bairey-Merz.

Looking her straight in the face, I responded, “That’s a tough thing to quantify”.

How do you assign a number to the quality of your life?  Of course, I understood the question.  I realized that she needed a figure to determine where I am on my journey.  How else is she to know what to try next. 

Leaning back in my chair, I looked down at my hands and fiddled with my ring.  Slowly raising my eyes, I assigned a number to my life. 

“I estimate my quality of life currently to be a 3”.  Her face relaxed a bit, but I saw no smile.  “About 75% better than when we first met; would you agree?” she asked. 

That’s when it occurred to me.  Her face gave her away.  This was the best it would ever be.

The Best Compared To What?

Every six weeks I visit my wonderful doctors.  With each passing week, however, something very interesting has happened.   My visits with both Dr. Bairey-Merz and the fabulous Dr. Margo Minissian focus more on managing my condition and less on curing me.  ‘Curing me’….  Only now am I beginning to realize how stupid I was to think that I would be cured.  After all, I have Microvascular heart disease.  You can’t operate on the tiny vessels around your heart. 

Why Compare?

I know my life will not be returning to the old ‘normal’.  To be sure, 75% better is better than 0% better.  Even still, the problem isn’t so much in the number assigned to my quality of life as in having to assign a number. 

It’s hard not to compare.  But remember; comparisons do one of two things; they either make you feel bad because others have it better than you or make you feel better because others have it worse than you.  Either way you lose.

So, I will stop comparing my current self to my old self.  I will stop comparing what I could do then to what I can do now.  I’ll stop comparing — period. 

Call it a compromise if you will.  But life is worth living.  Nothing compares to that.

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My doctor calls it “a flare up”.  I call it a nightmare.  I’ve spent the last two weeks wondering whether or not I should go to the emergency room.

I’ve learned to deal with the usual symptoms; pressure in the chest, extreme fatigue and the stomachache.  That’s everyday stuff – the stuff I wake up to.  It’s when the unusual symptoms begin that I get a little nervous; things like intense dizzy spells and shoulder pain.

So I wait.  I figure if it doesn’t go away in a day or two, I’ll call my doctor.  Two days pass and I still feel ‘schmoopy’ (my husbands loving description of what I look like on the outside when my heart gives me grief).  Here is where my head was this week:  “Is this it? Am I finally having a heart attack?  Will I spend the evening in the ER?  Maybe they’ll have to do a 12 lead EKG…did I shave my legs today?”

The symptoms remain the same, however, because of the overwhelming worry, I wonder what’s worse — having heart disease or the fear of dying from heart disease.

A Never Ending Cycle

It’s a unique situation to be in, one in which it’s best to keep things in perspective.  Those of us in this position know when the symptoms are manageable and when something just isn’t right.  While the management of a chronic illness carries enough stress in and of itself, it’s not as bad as the panic caused by the relapses. 

Don’t Panic

Apparently this heart disease isn’t going away so perhaps what I need to do now is focus on getting the emotional aspect of it in check.  The unknown is a scary thing.  However, worrying about it won’t change it, right?  Instead, I’ll focus on the things I can control; like medication and eating habits and exercise.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d better go shave my legs.

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On February 18th, the good folks at The European Heart Journal published their findings in an interesting study.  They determined that people who are usually happy, enthusiastic and content are less likely to develop heart disease than those who tend not to be happy.  They believe that they have been successful in showing an independent relationship between positive emotions and coronary heart disease.

So, in a nutshell, the better your outlook on life, the less chance you will develop heart disease.  Well, that’s all well and good for all the ‘normals’ out there.  But what about the 8 million women currently living with heart disease in the U.S.?  To have them tell it, that’s a whole lot of ladies in a constant state of funk.  Am I to believe that I have heart disease because I have a bad attitude?

I refuse to believe my condition was caused because I’m a grouch now and then.  Truth be told, I’m quite happy; even with this stupid disease.  I’ve always been rather optimistic about the future.  So, before I let this study get the better of me and send me into anger management, I thought it best to accentuate the positive.

Can’t VS Can

Yes, having heart disease sucks.  There, I said it.  However, instead of beginning my next sentence with the words, “I can no longer…” I’m going to begin my next sentence with “Now I can…”

Now I can spend more time with my family.

Now I can better discern my physical and emotional needs.

Now I can better appreciate every single day of life that I’m given.

Now I get to ride in a motorized cart at Disneyland instead of using my legs like a sucker.

You get the idea.

The more we focus on the positive, the better our life will be.  That’s true with all things, and according to this study, especially as it affects heart disease.

So, tell me.  How would you complete this sentence?  “Now I can…”

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I had spent the whole morning monitoring my heart rate.  I began to obsess over the number of palpitations I’d experience.  Forty-one in one minute – my all time best!  Since I was at work, however, I had to snap to and focus on the task at hand.  Smile – answer phones.  Smile – fax document.  Smile – hide my suspicion that I was having a heart attack.  Few can understand how difficult it is to pretend everything is ok when you believe you might be dying.  Nonetheless, I was at work; what was I to do?

I know there are many of you out there who know exactly what it means to experience chest pain while at work.  It’s as if you don’t know whether to panic or not.  You know it hurts but you convince yourself that its nothing; or worse, all in your head.

As your heart rate skyrockets and the beads of sweat form on your brow, you begin to imagine the conversation you will have with your boss.  Is there a way to calmly tell him that you need to leave early today because you are having a heart attack?  Not in my experience.  That being said, you have to do something!!

You start to panic and call home.  You hope for the reassuring voice of sanity on the other end.  Instead, you get the answering machine.  That’s ok; you know what you must do.  You take a deep breath and you knock on your boss’s door.

When It’s Time To Acquiesce

Telling your boss that you have heart trouble is bad enough; doing so with mascara-stained cheeks because you are freaking out is worse.  Trust me, I know.

However, it’s a fact of life when living with heart disease.  There comes a time when each of us must make the decision to alter our current situation.  Don’t say it can’t be done; it can.

When my heart suggested that I quit my job, I could have refused.  Practical reasons as to why this was an impossibility swirled in my head.  First, the ‘money hurdle’:

“I can’t quit!  We need the money!  What would the financial pressure do to my husband?”

Next, the ‘pride factor’:  “The office needs me!  They can’t so much as turn on the lights without me!”

And my personal favorite, the ‘denial roadblock’:  “I can push through this!  I have to! It’s not that bad!’

Reality Check

Whether I chose to stay on the job or not, life would go on.  Yet, when I put aside my pride and worry over an uncertain financial future, I came to one universal truth:

None of it would matter if I were dead.

Life goes on.  Bills get paid, my husband copes (quite famously I might add), and the office functions and remains well lit.  Your career is a very serious thing.  Just remember the universal truth mentioned above.

Has your heart suggested that you rethink your career?

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