Fighting Fear with Gratitude
Happy May, Loving Lately readers! I can’t believe Allison and I are going into the 7th month of Loving Lately! We are beyond humbled to have received such incredible feedback and support from so many of you. Loving Lately has served as an outlet for me to truly open up. To put myself out there and be extremely vulnerable. To be raw and speak purely from the heart. It has been, and will continue to be, one of the most integral pieces of my continued mental and physical health journey. Thank you all for holding space for me.
In tonight's post, I tackle what's been plaguing me for almost two months now: abject fear regarding my health and the uncertainty of the path it will take. Let me be completely honest – this is a very new feeling for me and I absolutely hate it. Sure I have wrestled with a plethora of emotions regarding my health: anxiety and depression surrounding the future, trauma from the past, a sense of loss over certain things (like the ability to biologically carry a child) but I have truly never really experienced any day to day consistent fear and panic. In fact, I was the complete opposite. I've always been relatively fearless and un-phased day to day regarding my heart. I was the girl who worked a full 8 hour day before going to the ER despite being 99.9% certain I had blood clots in my leg. I underwent a 9-hour procedure without batting an eye. I spent hours googling the symptoms of a heart attack with my mom when I was having significant chest pain before finally deciding to go to the ER (note to everyone out there: NEVER EVER DO THIS!) and I've laid in the ER countless times and had my body invaded in multiple ways without ever feeling too bothered.
So what changed? How did I go from SUPER HLHS girl to a terrified mess? I mean honestly…what the actual f*ck?! Recently, I've had an impending sense of doom. I've been struck by uncontrollable panic that something isn't right and that something is going terribly wrong. My incredible counselor believes much of it is a delayed reaction to my mind processing all the trauma that I experienced with Mike's unforeseen heart issues. Apparently, trauma can take months to fully resurface. He's doing much better now – and for all intensive purposes is "fixed." I, however, am not fixed. Make no mistake – this statement is not me being dramatic. It's not me seeking sympathy. It's just a scientific fact. All of the open heart surgeries that I had done as a child were palliative. My surgeries have enabled my essentially half of a functioning heart to work as a normal heart for the past almost 30 years. But the heart is a muscle. It cannot sustain working overtime until I am 80, 90 or 100 years old. Eventually, it will begin to fail and as of right now a heart transplant will be inevitable. Although I've always known this – recently it seems much more realistic than before. Over the past 5 years I've wrestled with blood clots and arrhythmia issues, and most recently an MRI of my brain showed an old stroke. There is no way of telling when the stroke occurred, but it could have been as recent as a year and a half ago when I first experienced Atrial Fibrillation. This year I will be entering my 30's. Heck, the first true successful surgery for HLHS was a mere 37-38 years ago. I feel like I'm entering into unknown territory when it comes to HLHS and it's progression and that in and of itself is terrifying.
So why am I sharing all of this? What are the lessons here?
Embrace the power of vulnerability. I believe in the recognition, normalization and readily available support and treatment for mental health issues. Panic disorders are no freakin' joke and for anyone who has experienced something similar – please know you are not alone. The answer isn't always to ignore your feelings and plow ahead without addressing them. It is important to feel what you feel. It is important to move through grief. It's essential to know that sometimes it is ok to not be ok! I have to remember to practice compassion towards myself and to stop comparing myself to everyone around me. Because let’s be honest – not many other almost 30 year old’s have had multiple open heart surgeries, blood clots, arrhythmias, a silent stroke and are on more medication than a lot of 70+ year olds.
Remember the power and importance of self-care. Remember that you are beautiful and worthy no matter what. You deserve to be cared for. You deserve to rest. You cannot carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, nor should you.
"Take a shower, wash off the day. Drink a glass of water. Make the room dark. Lie down and close your eyes. Notice the silence. Notice your heart. Still beating. Still fighting. You made it, after all. You made it another day. And you can make it one more. You're doing just fine" – Charlotte Eriksson
Fight fear with gratitude and love. This has been the biggest takeaway, and the biggest challenge, for me. Just last week I was confiding in Allison about the panic and fear I have been feeling lately towards my health. She (as wise as ever) went on to discuss how it is important to appreciate and say thank you to the part of you which thinks it is keeping you safe by panicking or freaking you out. "It's important to recognize that that part of you is not bad or stupid, but has gotten the message (or been programmed) to do so because it thinks this will keep you safe. So thank it for keeping you safe, but let it know that it no longer needs to have that programming and that you are going to give it a new program to run on" – Allison Poore. I have also had this very same conversation in various counseling sessions. Recently I lamented to my counselor that when I am in a state of panic I get so frustrated because logically I know I am freaking out for no reason. She pointed out that when the body is in fight or flight mode logic or rationality is completely useless. Instead, we should fight this fear with gratitude. So like Allison says, thank the part of you that is trying to protect you and then let go of it. Instead of trying to rationalize things, switch your thoughts to things that you are grateful for. For me, Mike instantly fills my mind, followed closely by my friends and family. I have also been focusing on the immense gratitude I do feel for my body and all it does for me. Recently I've been getting in walks twice a day and averaging anywhere from 10,000-15,000 steps – I'm in the best shape I've ever been in! As I continue to fight through this newfound fear, I am determined to expand my gratitude practice even further. Stacy starts each day by sitting down with her gratitude journal. She writes down at least 3 things she is grateful for each morning and also incorporates a morning meditation or podcast that focuses on gratitude. This is a practice I am determined to start as well.
I had this post all written and ready to share last night and it didn't end up happening. What happened instead was the greatest lesson and act of gratitude I could have ever hoped for. Last night I was in the hospital for 7 hours. But as Ms. Cindy (my best friends mom) pointed out...I was in the hospital for the happiest of reasons. I was there to witness the birth of my best friends son! 5 years ago I watched Kate give birth to my goddaughter, Leighton, and at 12:24 AM this morning I stood by her side as she delivered her beautiful baby boy Jackson. My heart went from carrying around weeks worth of panic to overflowing with gratitude and love. I watched life enter this world. I got to be there to support my best friend in the entire world, the closest thing I have to a sister. And wouldn't you know it, tonight I am calm. I am fighting fear with gratitude and gratitude is winning!
To my family who I'm sure is reading this – please don't worry, I am ok! My courage, non-victim attitude, determination and zest will always prevail. They are engrained in who I am and who I will continue to become. I know that I am a powerhouse. I know how incredible my life and body are and I know that I am destined to live a long, happy and fulfilled life. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t go through periods of fear. Of grief. Of processing. By allowing myself to move through these emotions I’m only bolstering my depth and strength going forward. Although now I may be working through this period, I believe in the good things coming.