The Heart of the Matter

July 5th, 2017

For as long as I can remember I have tried to live in the image of the quote “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It’s true that we never truly know what is on the other side of a laugh, a smile or a twinkling eye. And that is as true of me as anyone.

I’ve struggled with a heart arrhythmia since I was eight years old. I had my first surgery, an ablation, when I was in eighth grade. Then, after living for 12 years with a healthy heart, I was diagnosed with another at age 26, and back into surgery I went.

Unlike the first time I underwent surgery, the second ablation was a learning experience for me: For the first time I realized that although the problem was corrected at the time, it could absolutely come back.

With this in mind, I have lived the last 12 years in a state of healthy cautiousness. I eat well, don’t smoke, work out five days a week and am very aware of anything — like alcohol and caffeine — that can be a trigger for my arrhythmia. One of the most difficult aspects of living with an arrhythmia is anxiety. Similar to someone who may experience sporadic seizures, you never know when an irregular heartbeat will occur. And because of that, I grapple with debilitating social anxiety. I think I hide it well (but you tell me!), yet it takes me a lot of deep breaths to walk into most social situations. Even then, I often worry myself into panic attacks. I often have long conversations with myself, repeating the mantra “There is only so much I can control.” Once I accept that, life gets a whole lot better. But even the most healthy person in the world can’t avoid illness all the time, and I find myself once again in the throws of an unhealthy rhythm.

It took me a while to accept this could be happening again. In fact, as is my way, I didn’t even tell my friends and family that I was experiencing an irregular heartbeat this summer until I absolutely had to. You see, I have a self-defense mechanism I often evoke called “If I don’t admit it, it’s not happening.” (This is not something I recommend.) Eventually we all have to face the fact that bad things can happen to anyone, and it’s how we approach and fight the battle that will define us — not the fact that we need to fight it at all. Instead of burying my head in the sand for a few more months, I have decided to face this new challenge head on.

So, here I am, at age 39, learning even more lessons.

First, we cannot ignore our problems by pretending they don’t exist. This will only serve to compound them — and certainly won’t allow you to escape them. Illness, failure, loss — none of these things should be seen as weaknesses. We are who we are, and need to celebrate that every day.

Next, always speak up. If you know in your gut that something is wrong — whether it’s your health, your relationship, a moral issue — no matter the subject, if you know something isn’t right, say something. The alternative only leads to stress and anxiety. (And antidepressants.)

The last lesson? Fashionistas, let me tell you: wires and electrodes are very difficult to camouflage under cute summer dresses, drapy tanks, off-the-shoulder tops and fitness clothes. I recommend button-front tops and slim denim with a good waistband to clip the portable monitor. (Because the fashion gal in me had to learn something from this …)

I don’t know what the future holds with my latest scare. As I write this, I am still hooked up to a portable EKG, and I’ll get the results in about a month. But I am not going to worry and sulk. I’m going to live a normal life, and be happy for every moment and every beat — no matter how irregular it may be.


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