Don’t Wait to Feel Well to Live Well

When I was young, I was either a healthy, adventuresome kick-ass professional woman walking the halls of Congress or laid up in my bed counting my heartbeats and waiting to die.  There was no in-between. Not only did I make sure the world only saw one side of me; I only saw one side of me. The one without heart disease.

For most of my life I kept my heart disease (inherited) at an arm’s distance. It was an illusion, an annoyance that occasionally slowed me down, painfully long words on a foot thick medical chart. When the palpitations and chest pains flared up, I put on a shield of armor and mustered the grit and determination to conquer my fears. If I couldn’t muster the courage, I called in sick, took a cab to the ER, cried, and mostly hid. Either way, only a very (very) few friends were allowed to see me scared and trembling to the point I could not drive or fix a meal.

However, over time I learned to parse myself into parts I liked and those I didn’t, was like driving with one foot on the brake and one on the gas. I wasn’t going anywhere.  I wasn’t being true to myself and in turn, unable to be true to others. It took a good long while, but I now accept that heart disease is part of who I am, and here’s what I learned.

Nature is life’s best teacher.  Seasonal changes and the wonder of nature can teach us to accept the ever-changing rhythm of life’s ups and downs. The trees don’t fret over one being too tall or the other bent and too short. The sky doesn’t shun a bulky cloud, nor does the sun wait to rise another day simply because a storm has darkened the skies. When my world begins to shrink and I feel hopelessly alone, I look to moving water in a river, stream, wherever there is life that continues to flow regardless of what stands in its way and focus on that.

Someone needs your light.  There will always be people smarter than you, richer than you, more organized than you, and thinner than you. Likewise, there will always be people sicker than you, and many who are not. Comparing health complications and ranking who has it worse does no one any good; we’re all disappointed and scared when health fails.  Simply keep the light burning for others when you feel well and when you don’t, let someone else carry the flame for you.

Continuity of care is vital.  As someone in the hospital system for much of the last four decades, I can attest to the value of knowing that your care providers have seen you before. While each admission comes with its own tests, discussions, problem areas, and importance, living with a chronic health condition like heart disease requires that I remain diligent about keeping my own records, knowing trends and being able to converse intelligently with providers about treatment options.

Living with a chronic health condition is challenging and it only makes sense to learn your body, and how it responds, better than anyone.

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