Seeking My Best Self

trying to make sense of my life – and lose some weight

It was a Good Year

By most measures, this was not a stellar year. In 2014, my marriage turned rocky, my brother had a stroke, I had a heart event, and now my mother has died.

Death, ill health and relationship struggles dominated, yet I feel fondly toward 2014. “Wasn’t that a nice year,” I find myself thinking. “I hope 2015 is as good.”

Really? From the outside, this doesn’t look like it was such a great year. Heck, I didn’t even lose weight. I’m still hovering at the 150 mark, which is about 15 pounds heavier than I’d like to be. How can I feel optimistic about THIS year?

The thing is, for all its sorrows, 2014 brought significant emotional growth. I am more content and peaceful than I’ve ever been, and it was the challenging events of this year that provided the jet fuel for my rapid progress. (That, and being in my fifties. Did you know that happiness increases dramatically beginning in this decade? I’ll talk about this in another post, but for all you youngsters – it turns out aging is something to look forward to on a LOT of levels.)

ertswed1313I’ve been pretty close-mouthed about my relationship woes. I’ll admit, it’s been a pride thing. I hate providing fodder for all the I-told-you-so’ers, who rolled their eyes when I married a much younger man, whispering behind their hands that it wouldn’t last. (Yes, your comments DID get back to me. Gossips gossip.)

Despite my best intentions, when B and I married, I drifted into some of the same old poor relationship habits. He did the same. As a result, in March we made an almost complete emotional break. We’ve moved to different homes. But over the ensuing months, we’ve discovered that this relationship – whatever it will be – is worth working on. Changing for. We’ve both been doing hard work on ourselves, to be the people we want to be in this and ANY relationship.

I don’t know what ‘we’ will look like when we’re finished. If there will be a ‘we’. But I’m not looking ahead, I’m doggedly focusing on now. Let the future take care of itself. I’ve wasted too many nows worrying about thens. This year, thanks to our relationship crisis, I finally learned to live in the present. Turns out, I am much happier concentrating only on NOW. I have so much more emotional energy for the present when I’m not angsting about the past and anxious about the future.

mikecorinnaIn June, my brother had a stroke. I immediately moved in with Mike & my sis-in-law Corinna, to help and (let’s be honest) to hover. When Michael came home from the hospital, it looked pretty grim. He depended heavily on a walker. He couldn’t hold objects in his left hand. His face drooped. When I left a month later, Mike was walking over a mile a day without assistance – no walker, no cane! His face was symmetrical. He’d lost significant weight, thanks to new, healthy eating habits. He was even recovered enough to do some photography work for me.

I didn’t participate in a tragedy, I witnessed a miracle. I watched Michael take charge of his life; make changes that were needed; show determination and optimism in the face of a terrifying physical event. We can ALWAYS make a new start. It’s never ‘too late’. Our dreams and our life lie ever before us.

Even more importantly, through this event, my brother and I reconnected. We’ve always loved one another, but we’d drifted off into our own busy lives, and hadn’t been close in decades. This brought us back together – Mike, Corinna and me. It rekindled our delight in one another. We rediscovered true family. Became a strong, cohesive team.

mom webWe needed all of that new-found closeness to work cooperatively in helping Mom, who was showing signs of mental decline. We worked together to move her from her house and into an independent living apartment. She went from a life of isolation into one of community. For the first time in years, Mom had regular interaction with others. A social life. Friends.

Then Mom died in a freak accident. How would we have endured if we hadn’t re-established strong ties? But we did, and it’s made ALL the difference. We text and call daily. “How are you doing?” we ask one another. “I love you. I need you. I just wanted you to know.” Our closeness holds us together through this grief. It is a blessing.

My heart event came as a result of years of maintaining ridiculous cortisol levels as I worked too hard, too long, took on more than any reasonable person could possibly manage – in other words, led the typical Amerian life. Then came a kicker event: in October, a job that I thought was going to provide tremendous income for me and for the family members and friends with whom I’d contracted, looked as though it were going to tank. All these people were depending upon me, I thought, and it looked like I was going to let them down.

BOOM. My heart called a time-out. I spent a month wondering if I would need to revise the almost four decades of life I envisioned yet spooled out before me. Would I have mere months or years? Would I have to let go the dreams of 500 mile walking pilgrimages? Of travel to foreign lands? Did I have a future at all?

The tests came back negative. My heart is strong. Chances of another event verge on zero. But I am not immortal, and I do NOT want to spend what hours, days, or decades remain focused on unfulfilling tasks.

So, since October, I’ve published my first book. I’ve started an art project that mixes Spirit and photography. I’ve moved to the helm, rather than the decks, of the exciting new venture that melds ministry and business. And I daily embrace my friends and my family. It’s a good life. It was a good year.

And next year, I’ll get those fifteen pounds off. No, really.

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Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy – WHAT?

takotsuboRight after my last post, I suffered an episode of Broken Heart Syndrome. It’s not an emotional condition, but a physical one that mimics a heart attack. I had crushing chest pain radiating into my left arm, plus excruciating pain in my right jaw that was as painful as my chest. (When I went to the hospital, I discovered that right jaw pain is common enough to be a check-the-box item on the ER heart attack list.)

The official name is Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. The cause is not infarction, but a bulging of the left ventricular apex with hypercontraction of the left ventricle. This causes a misshaping of the heart that resembles an octopus trap, called ‘tako tsubo’ in Japan, where the condition was first noted.

The cause is not definitively known, but it’s usually a one-time occurrence in response to acute stress. It’s hypothesized that a large jolt of adrenaline in resonse to a highly stressful event stuns or shocks the heart. It’s most common in post-menopausal women (over 90% of the cases, in fact) whose heart protective levels of estrogen have waned.

The good news is that there is rarely heart damage as a result of the episode, and recovery is usually 100% after a few weeks recuperation.

The bad news is, medical personnel are unfamiliar with the condition. Why? Perhaps because it affects women. Perhaps because it affects OLD women. Perhaps because it was first diagnosed in the 1990’s, and doctors haven’t kept up with new medicine.

The ER doctor rolled her eyes when I asked if takotsubo cardiomyopathy was a possible diagnosis. (Bryan first suggested it. It was part of his medical training in the Army, because front-line troops are a large part of the other 10% who suffer an episode.) She clearly had never heard of it.

Plus, she was offended that I was taking an active voice in my own care. I run into that a lot.┬áIn the 1990’s, a nurse injected me – over my objections – with a substance to which I am deathly allergic. Afterward, I refused to pay any part of the hospital bill, including the very costly resuscitation. Not surprisingly, they were more than happy to acquiese, once I told them I wouldn’t sue if they did.

Back to the present. The doctor’s ignorance affected my care, because once it was determined that I hadn’t suffered an infarction (even thought I’d clearly suffered SOME type of heart event) she sent me home. It took almost 3 weeks for the cardiologist to work me into his busy schedule, by which time, according to the Mayo Clinic and other sources, most symptoms would have vanished (they had) and the heart returned to its normal shape.

I can’t help thinking that if I had been male, they would have found an earlier appointment. The cardiologist never even suggested takotsubo cardiomyopathy as a possibility. It was only after I brought it up that he ordered tests – which, I pointed out, would likely be inconclusive more than a month after the fact. Indeed. It wound up being a diagnosis of exclusion rather than a prognosis based on evidence.

Rant over about the poor state of medical care in America. (But we can’t have SOCIALIZED medicine. Because people might have to wait.) Rant truly over now. The moral of this story is: take an ACTIVE role in your health care. Don’t depend solely upon medical personnel. They are not all-knowing. They can and will miss important things about YOUR health.

But definitive diagnosis vs. diagnosis by elimination isn’t the point. The point is, what am I going to do about the ridiculous stress levels that led to the event? Stay tuned. I’ll talk about that in my next post.

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