For most 2016 was to put it lightly was a pretty rough year. I saw many friends hit some lows, struggle with themselves in relation to the world. I spoke with friends who battled depression, loss, illness and many other things that made life tough.
For me, 2016 was a mix of both challenge and greatness but the great did not come until I began to open myself up. I stopped updating my blog, in part because I got super busy and part because I was struggling with myself. It is so hard to write when your mind wanders so much that you have no idea what to add to your blog. I was struggling with my direction and struggling as I stepped away from comparison. Comparison with other bloggers, photographers and others whom I deem successful. I wanted to be like some of these people but needed to figure out how not to keep selling myself short. To accept talents that I play down, things about me that although drive some people crazy but others love immensely. I am “just me”.
You see, I also made myself way too busy, which only briefly distracted me from the fact that although I am a caring person I began to pull back. The pull back came from stress, from loneliness and from rejection from some people. I made myself busy to block people from getting too close. To me, my heart was too valuable to allow it to keep getting rejection from people who, now I realize were not worth the effort. This lead to just being afraid of even trying for the ones who were worth it. When you are afraid of people getting too close because you don’t think you are worth people’s time then you find a way to still be around people but keep them at a distance. Because, I love people and the energy I gain from them.
I did surround myself with things I enjoyed doing like my photography, volunteering, reffing hockey and for a brief moment…writing. I would say around May, maybe June I began to realize that by keeping people at a distance, I was hurting myself. When you desire companionship, like most humans do, pulling away only increases the loneliness.
The one thing I have yet to mention, is that since January, I began to feel a spattering of emotion again. Now, you may be thinking, awesome dude, I know how much you were struggling with no feelings. Ya, wrong, not awesome. My first emotion to come back was anger. I was not being as patient as I use to, this was affecting me at work and I wanted to be alone a lot more when I was on my own time.
I began taking forever to return messages, texts and calls. This did lead to losing potential clients and made a few friends angry. I know when stressed or anxious, I tend to pull back, to think and also to be sure I do not say something harmful to people.
As time went on, I knew something had to change, I needed to learn to deal and to make a few changes.
So, the first step was to finally book a trip I have wanted to do for years but made every excuse not to. May 2016, on an impulse I booked a trip to Thailand then asked for the time off. Risky ? yes, there is a chance I could get the time declined. Toss it into the universe, I thought. My hunch was right and it worked. This became life changing for me.
I had also signed up for another insane physical challenge as this is something I need to keep moving forward in my life. At the urge of my friend Sarah, I signed up to do the Spartan Trifecta challenge. Little did she or anyone know then, that this stretched my budget, I really couldn’t afford it but I also couldn’t afford not to. I wanted to support her in her journey not knowing exactly how all of this would affect me. Supporting her changed me. These events over the summer and fall would also be life changing for me. I still battled anxiety and even some self doubt going into these but it was, just like the Goofy challenge in January about remembering what one person can overcome when they stop doubting and start doing, even when scared.
I have no idea what 2017 will bring, nor am I making resolutions. I will, like always make some goals, sign up for a few things that challenge me and continue on the road that I started in 2017 which has help me build confidence, open my heart again and start to realize that even if the things I do drive people nuts, they make me who I am and why some people love me.
Writing has been a great outlet and I have so much to talk to about and for the first time, I don’t care if people “Like” what I write because at the end of the day, my blog is for me to share my wins, my losses, my challenges and document my life and my continued journey since my Heart Attack.
I may have readers, I may not but that is ok. Let it be what it will be as I go along. Set goals and keep kicking ass.
I cannot promise I will be perfect at updating this blog, I can promise, in the very least, I will try.
Sadly, everyday I spend way more time on social media than I probably should however, I also spend a ton of time on phone calls, texts and sometimes when time permits….coffee with friends.
“The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own. No apologies or excuses. No one to lean on, rely on or blame. The gift is yours. It is an amazing journey. And you alone are responsible for the quality of it. This is the day your life rely begins.”
– Bob Moawad
I love this quote. I love it because, I get it finally. I am almost there, to the point of really ensuring my life is my own. The scars and all.
In my previous post I shared the story behind my most liked photo, to kinda show how imperfect that photo is, even though I was proud of the end result.
Today, I want to discuss how I compare myself to others. This is where Social Media makes us all think we are not good enough. What you read going forward it also why I need a break from Facebook.
Facebook and 3 am.
Here is yet another night, 3:00 am, I am bored and no longer interested in editing photos. What is Facebook land up to ? Let us take a look.
Oh man, “he” is really kicking ass at the gym, I wish I could have abs like him, hell I’d even settle for toned arms, too bad my strength is only cardio.
Haha, look at how cute their little human is, too cute for words. Mom and Dad look so happy as newer parents. Hmm, am I really getting to old to have kids? Geez I will be 39 soon. Of course, I have to actually date to be able to make a tiny human of my own. I love kids, meh, maybe one day but I would love to have a child look at me with eyes full of love. OK, anyway…
Oh wow, she is looking stunning. Love that smile. Maybe, no, can’t ask her out, far from her type.
Look at that photographer !!I love this persons work, their photography is something I am just amazed by, I need to learn how to take shots like that but just don’t have time. Seriously, wow, I just spent an hour looking through their portfolio, mine is good but definitely not to the talent level of him/her.
Scroll, scroll, scroll…… Looks like some people did some fun stuff today. I am kinda boring. I edited, I read, napped like a cat again, enjoyed a little sunshine but stayed in Calgary. Sometimes a camping invite or hike would be nice. Maybe I should be the one inviting.
I really should call him/ her. Meh, they’d be too busy with their family to hang out. The joys of being a single person when all your friends have young families or new boyfriends/ girlfriends.
I hate being so damn busy, but….ugh, more free time would be just nice to try a few of these things that he is doing.
Oh look, she said I am an awesome guy, inspiration. Can’t see why she’d say this. I am just me, always have been, no one special, just someone who wants to see others smile, just a guy always trying to be better. Just Me.
Why do we do this ? Why do we compare?
OK, so ya, those are thoughts I have had when looking at Facebook. Other things that happen at 3 am. Let’s just say it is a lonely hour, In fact it is when I feel most alone. No one to call, no one to go home to, just me. It is the time when I am jealous of those who have someone to sleep beside.
So when I look on Social Media, I begin to question my self worth, my level of exciting and my mind drives forward thinking of ways to make my life exciting again, in a sense so others may notice. I think I am boring, I don’t go out much, I get more exhausted than I show, I cat nap and get social anxiety.
My goal going forward is not to compare my life to those around me. It won’t be easy. Just like those around me, I know others compare themselves to me and think my life is always happy. Now, to be clear, overall I am happy but I am not living my life for me in the way I want.
I have said to others who have come to me upset or falling into bad habits, that if you don’t like it, change it. Time to take my own advice.
I am ok with being imperfect. What I am not ok with is not living my life with passion and desire and rather than doing something about it, I sit here, compare and think I am just not good enough, smart enough, creative enough or talented enough.
Next time you are online and comparing your life to others, just remember someone is comparing their life to yours.
I would love to hear your stories of comparison. Will you set a goal like me to stop it ?
Given how my day went today it is fitting that I wrote this post a few days ago and now have 2 parts to share with you all.
Facebook fools us all into thinking others lives are perfect, some people even think my life is always smiles and fun times…..Let’s open that door and start with……
The story behind my most liked Facebook photo ever.
When you are not sure where to start, start with what makes the most sense. Authenticity.
Marathon Weekend 2016 in Disneyworld. My greatest and most successful moment in my Heart Attack Recovery, finishing the Goofy Challenge.
Great moment, right ? I will agree, in fact over 200 likes, 2400 views on blog Facebook page, a few shares and many positive encouraging comments.
Yay, yay for me right ? Sure. Let’s go with that. I made it look easy of according to some.
This is where most of us make a mistake on social media and I am not immune to it.
Now, I have definitely shared highs and lows and some not so great life posts but most of my Facebook shows more of the great life moments than the struggles. Authenticity of life is thrown out the window because who wants to show how they are struggling behind the photos?.
Comparison, it’s what we do but we shouldn’t. I had one message from someone who, while congratulating me also told me seeing my photo collage made them feel inadequate because they could never do what I did. My response, you can do it but I promise you it is not easy.
Let’s look behind the photo. Rewind a bit shall we ?
January 2013, Walt Disney World. I attempted my first Goofy Challenge. I failed. I got pulled at mile 22, put on a bus and taken to the finish where they gave me 2 medals which to this day, I still think I did not deserve. Those medals stay in a box. My first thought was embarrassment, shame. I had spent time on social media sharing my excitement for the event upcoming. How the hell do I now tell people that I was pulled from the course, not fast enough.? I wanted to be alone, I was ashamed, hurt, crying, angry. After some time, I shared my failure on Facebook. That was so fucking hard, so Hard that I turned my phone off right after to avoid any ridicule or mean comments. None came. People were encouraging and supportive. It took a long time to get over that failure. 2013 became one of my worst years overall. Life sucks a lot sometimes.
Continuing on. Aug 2013, Hear Attack. Starting over physically. I knew exactly what goal I needed to set but I also knew I could not rush it. So behind my successful photo in 2016, here is what you didn’t see.
My first time back on a treadmill where I couldn’t even walk for 8 minutes and had to accept that defeat.
The moments when I walked away from those who said, you shouldn’t do this, maybe you just can’t anymore.
Injuries that I never spoke of. Spraining my knee twice, slipped discs in my lower back and neck, angina attacks ( thankfully only a couple.)
My feet and legs that bruise and swell from running, every single time.
The days I awoke in so much physical pain I struggled to just get through the day knowing it would eventually go away.
The training miles. When you commit to a marathon you commit a lot of time, time you could spend with family and friends.
Sleepless nights where I would go to the gym just to get out of my head.
Did I mention daily pain?
The training runs that I had to stop because I was vomiting profusely
The moments of doubt, so many times I thought “maybe you shouldn’t go for this.” I lacked confidence.
The moments of reaching out to people who rejected my pleas to talk, some of whom I no longer speak with.
The moments when you are trying to share but others make it about them or compare.
Friendships that have suffered because I made myself so focused that I failed at maintaining some important relationships. Some may never recover.
The times I stopped training to help others but received not so much as a thank you which made me question my importance to others. Who thought I was worth their time, love.
Wanting it so bad, the “win” that I got into some stupid situations that could have cause more injury harm than success.
The many times I questioned my own self worth.
I could on and on. The point here is this. Behind most every smiling photo or “doctored” Facebook status is someone’s pain, someone’s sacrifice, someone who is looking for a win so bad so that they don’t feel like the loser they think they are.
Most importantly behind the success at the end may just be someone looking for authentic connection, a talk, a hug, someone just to let that person be themselves so that they can pull that mask off, be vulnerable.
Comparing ourselves to others social media life is unfair because it is rare that you will see the authenticity or vulnerability of someone and usually when we do, we cower and say nothing or think, gee that person is just looking for attention.
Comparison is something I see a lot of in the support groups I am a part of and daily on my personal FB page and it can be so sad to see how people beat themselves up outside of Facebook because thier life is not like someone else who posted a great experience or photo.
One of my goals is to be way more authentic in the coming 6 months. My one promise is this….. I will not “out” anyone but I will share stories. I will talk about what is actually happening and share the wins and the challenges because I believe now that there are no failures, just challenges.
I have failed or faced challenges leading up to finally completing my first Marathon and as of this writing, I have been challenged once again by having my first Did Not Finish on my second Marathon due to injury. I shared this on social media and although I got support, I know there are many who would not. Being that vulnerable was scary but worth it. Sometimes you just have to open up but also listen to those who may need you to step up for them.
I want to start this post by saying thank you to the reader whom renewed my blog this year. I had lost track of the date and missed my email reminders. Thank you so much. That renewal that showed me that I must have done something right or inspired someone enough to do that act of kindness. One person just made a simple difference in my life and for that reason I know I need to start posting what I have written but not shared.
I have so many things I need to talk about, to share and get off my chest. I needed time to sort through my mangled brain.
Being Vulnerable is scary for anyone, especially someone like me who always finds a way to be strong in a crowd.
I’ll start with this. I stopped posting on my blog not because I dislike it, I stopped because I went from the highest of highs in January to a low that I just could not comprehend nor understand that threw me into a tailspin of a dark tunnel that had me again re evaluate how I want to live.
December to now has been a lot of change. I always tell people if you are not happy with something, do something about it. So, for me, it is time to re start living with a purpose. I know I cannot change the world but I can change my life and maybe just maybe it will change someone or inspire them into something more.
Over the coming weeks and months I am going to get some serious issues out of my head. It has been know secret that I struggle with emotion, that I have been seeing a Therapist off and on and spending more time alone than someone like me should.
These last few months have been what I call a “hidden” struggle. Struggle in the sense that I am openly identifying things about myself that I have to accept while working on solutions to overcome or at least deal better with them. I need to focus on the things I have done well again and stop focusing on the things that have had a negative impact that dog my head daily.
I have no magic fix for my issues nor anyone else’s, I do have ideas and plans that I will outline as I move along. No one can fix anything in one day, it may take months or even years, it may take it’s tolls on relationships I currently have but also create new ones. I have read so much and heard so much about how who you surround yourself with becomes you, an element of your successes and failures.
I am not a failure, I am merely one person lost with many looking to define themselves, be successful, nurture my happiness and needs.
Life on purpose is my goal. No more wandering aimlessly with only hope. It takes small steps. I need to get better for me and those who believe in me. I need to believe in me again, like those who tell me they do.
Who are you ? Name, current age, where are you from ?
My name is Anne Clark, I am 50 years old and I currently live in Damascus, Maryland. Where are you from is a very complicated question for me, my Dad was in the US Navy and we moved often, so I am not really “from” anywhere in particular, although I do consider Hawaii my home.
How old were you when you experienced your heart attack?
I had my heart attack on 7/8/2010, I was 45 years old. Where were you when it happened? Tell me your story.What were your signs and symptoms? Did you have any pre existing conditions or
family history ?
In July of 2010 I was working as the Director of Acquisitions for a Property Management Company in the Washington, DC area. I worked in the neighborhood of 55-60 hours a week and had a 2-3 hour daily commute. It was a high stress job, to say the least. I had been with the company for 16 years and had worked my way up to the position I held. I was well compensated, but I was also expected to to put in as much time and effort as was needed to get the job done. I did not eat well, I smoked two packs (or more) a day and got very little exercise. Sometime after the fourth of July, I got into a huge fight with my sister (& best friend) and she stopped speaking to me, which added to my stress. On July 8th I left work and went to a homeowners association meeting, getting home around 8:30 pm. I went about my normal routine, I fed my dogs & let them out, I called my parents, sat on the back porch and smoked a few cigarettes. I hadn’t eaten since morning, I had been too busy to stop for lunch.
I started feeling queasy and I was hot. I wasn’t all that concerned, I have suffered with terrible acid issues for years and it was July afterall, it was hot out. I went upstairs (six stairs up) and thought I was going to throw up, when I didn’t I decided to lie down. I started feeling worse and somehow I knew something was terribly wrong. I tried to walk downstairs to the phone and couldn’t, I ended up crawling to the stairs and sliding down. The first thing I did was try to call my sister multiple times, as she was still not speaking to me, she didn’t answer the phone. Finally, I called 911. When the ambulance arrived, I was actually feeling better and I tried to send them away. Apparently, they cannot make you go to the hospital, so I refused. I was feeling better. Everytime I refused, the EMT said okay, why don’t you re-think that answer. He was not going to take no for an answer.
As the ambulance headed toward the hospital, when we were about two minutes away from my house, apparently I turned blue. I remember very little from that except I desperately wanted to go to sleep and the EMT wouldn’t let me, he kept asking about my dogs. We arrived at the hospital and I was immediately surrounded by 5 or 6 nurses/staff. I was wearing my favorite pink tee shirt and pants with my college logo. After they cut my shirt off, I heard someone ask the doctor about my pants, they were able to pull them off with out cutting them…yay! I don’t recall too much that the doctor said to me but one thing is still clear in my mind, he said “Smoke again and you will die”, I have never smoked again. They wheeled me into surgery where I have an angioplasty and a stent. One was 68% and the other was a 100% LAD blockage. I was somewhat conscious during the surgery and I remember at one point the doctor and the nurse started discussing baseball. I am not a baseball fan, I like football. Apparently, I told them if they felt it necessary to chat while they were fixing me,I would prefer they chat about football. Once the surgery was done, they brought my sister in to see me, my first words to her were, “I win”. She was not amused. That was a Thursday night, I was released from the hospital on Saturday. It took me several years to say it out loud, I had a heart attack.
How did this affect your life? Physically/ Personally?
After my heart attacked, I re-evaluated myself and my life, as many do. I went through a severe depression, which I am still struggling with and almost took my life, several times. If not for my dogs, I probably would have. My two dogs were already named when I adopted them in 2009, their names are Hope & Grace. In 2011, after 17 years, I walked away from my job and took a year off. I now work for a construction company, make substantially less money, have a fifteen minute commute and I am happier than I have been in a very very long time. What lifestyle changes have you made ? What are your struggles ? Stents/ Zipper or Defib ? What is your situation?
I have a stent. I still don’t eat as well as I should, I gave up smoking (cold turkey) and rarely drink anymore, although I do enjoy a cocktail from time to time. I don’t exercise as much as I should, but more than I used to. I am still a work in progress. What do you fear now ?
I don’t fear dying, but I do fear dying and not leaving a mark on this world. What are three things that are most important in your post heart attack life?
The most important things to me are my family, my dogs and my happiness Did you do Cardiac Rehab? What has been the hardest part of your recovery?
Cardiac Rehab was good, after I completed the program, I had a personal trainer for a while and that helped me a lot. The hardest thing was quitting smoking, I still miss it all the time. What are your new dreams ?
I don’t really have any dreams right now. I went through such a severe depression for such a long time that every morning I would set the goal that I would make it though the day without killing myself. I have.
Who was there for you?
I am blessed to have an awesome family and a few life long friends. There are very few people in this world that will drop everything and come running when they know you need them. I am lucky to have people in my life like that. Did you lose many friends after your heart attack ?
I lost several people that I considered friends after my heart attack. One in particular, we had been friends (so I thought) and co-workers for almost 20 years. On Monday after my heart attack she called me and asked when I was returning to work, according to her, things were beginning to pile up on my desk and the owners were not happy, at the time I did not know that was a lie. I returned to work on Tuesday. About a week later she asked me if I wanted to go to happy hour at an outside bar across the street, I said sure. When we got there she ordered a beer and I ordered water. She yelled at me saying what is the point if I’m not going to have a drink and stormed off. We have not spoken since 2011. What is the funniest thing someone has said or asked about your heart attack?
Every time there is an issue at work that my friend/co-worker thinks is going to upset or stress me out, before she tells me she always asks “How’s your heart feeling?”
The Saturday after my heart attack, my parents came to town to see me. I was home from the hospital at that time so my parents said they would stop at the store and get dinner. They showed up with ribeye steaks (very fatty) and baked potatoes, complete with butter and sour cream. Really?? I don’t think that’s on my new diet plan. My Dad knew that was one of my favorite meals and he just wanted to make me happy. His heart was in the right place.
If you could go back in the past how would you live your life differently?
I don’t really think I would do anything differently. My life has made a dramatic change in the past few years. If not for my heart attack I would not be the person I am today. I like the person I am today. I have come to realize that I didn’t really like myself for a very long time. What do you want more of in life ?
I want love and happiness. I used to be an angry, stressed person, I do not want to be that person ever again. Is this the hardest thing you have ever experienced ?
I would say this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through. It has been a learning experience and has reminded me what is important in life. What makes you great ?
I don’t think anything makes me great, yet. I am still trying figure that out. What advice would you give to a healthy person who has never experienced something like a Heart Attack?
I would say to all, don’t judge, be kind and show compassion. You will never know what is going on in someone else’s mind and you will never fully understand their struggles.
Hi there… My name is Amy Siegfried, I’m 50 years old, and I’m from southern Indiana, but have lived in chandler, Az for the past 5 yrs, and have lived in Az before… My daughter, 14, was born here, but we moved back home when she was in kindergarten, as my husband was traveling, and my grandparents were still around, and I wanted Jess to know them. We got four more years with them!!
I was 48, (5’5 and 135lbs) when I had my MI. I had been experiencing hot flashes, and some nausea, but chalked it up to menopause, and maybe a bug. I was hanging out with my grandkids, and driving them to dance class when things got started…my symptoms were off and on for 9 days before I went to the ER. Around the 8th day, I finally had my husband Scott take me to urgent care, because it was getting worse, and I had strange pressure/pain in my chest…they ran an EKG, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. The doc suggested I had acid reflux, and gave me a nasty concoction to drink, and sent me home with a prescription for nausea meds, and prilosec. I was chugging milk of magnesia, but not getting any relief. By now, I can’t lay down, because it hurt. Hard to explain that pain…it wasn’t sharp, but it made me cry. (I’m not a crier, and I have other health issues, and pain meds.) It kind of felt like a steel band around my ribs, and a heavy feeling in my chest. My neck and left shoulder hurt as well, but I didn’t connect any of these dots, yet. I also have fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.
Pain is my norm, so…anyway…Didn’t sleep much…woke my husband and daughter with my sobs, but I couldn’t explain the pain. Scotty gave me a Valium to help my anxiety, and I dozed sitting up… The next morning, I still felt awful, but Jess had to get to school, and Scott to work…he was worried, and asked if I needed to go to the ER. I told him I’d be ok, and was going to try and sleep a little, so check on me later. I knew he had an important lunch for his staff that day, but he said he’d come home early, and take me if I was still sick. I finally decided I needed to go when my neck and jaw started tingling, and i actually had a thought that it could be my heart, but dismissed it, and called him around 11, but said I wanted to get cleaned up before we went, so go ahead with the luncheon, and I’d be ready by one or so.
We finally get to the ER…I never did take a shower. Too weak, too much. Somehow I felt foolish and a little embarrassed when the clerk asked what brought me in…”chest pain?” (I said it like a question). She checked my O2 sats and I was ushered to the back immediately. A couple minutes later, I’m hooked up to an EKG, and then everything started happening really fast!! I was swarmed by techs and nurses, and one said “Mrs. Siegfried, you’re having a heart attack, and we’re going to take good care of you!” Nitro patch slapped on my chest, 4 baby aspirin shoved in my mouth, IV started, and poof! Off to the cath lab!! (Hubby was on the phone talking business until the announcement, and I looked at him with tears starting, and the only thing I could say was “oh shit” !! Lol!! Not very poetic, but I guess it fit!!) I spent 3 days in the hospital…2 of them in ICU, though I felt like a fraud for most of it. I just never felt like I belonged in such a “seriously ill” ward… I got “busted” in the cafeteria, trying to buy a coffee and a snack, because I didn’t have a “hall pass”. The ICU nurses didn’t know, as they never have to deal with people leaving the floor on their own!! (I was styling in my gown, with the porta-heart monitor tucked in my pocket!) Lol!!
Anyway, I now have 2 stents in my RCA, which was 99% blocked, then 3 months later, I had a stent installed in my right illiac, as they found blockage to my legs with an ultrasound after my follow-up. I still have the left one to do, but it’s not clogged enough to warrant surgery, yet. I now have PAD, and something else to do with the arteries…can’t think of it…the cardiologist suggested it was caused by RA. I had no idea that RA could wreak havoc on your organs!! Luckily, after all that, my EF was at 50%, and no damage!! There is no real family history of heart problems. My dad had a blocked illiac, and had a stent placed when he was around my age, but it never affected his heart.
I was left kind of wanting by my cardiologist… He blames RA without tests. (I’ve had RA since I was 12, and it’s moderate, so I didn’t think or know it was possible). I wasn’t even offered cardiac rehab, and didn’t know it existed until much later… I still don’t know for sure that was the cause. My stress levels had been through the roof, off and on… I did change cardiologists after a year, and my new one scheduled a stress test, which I passed with flying colors! I also had funky side-effects from the statin. She changed that from atorvistatin to crestor, but no change in my muscle cramping and charlie horses…I couldn’t deal, so, after much research, I quit taking statins. I’ve read many articles stating that they do more harm than good, I just can’t see taking a medication that causes more pain, and might damage other organs!
As far as lifestyle changes, I quit smoking…but it took me a year. I still vape, but very little. I walk more, too…and I’m thinking about joining a gym soon, with my daughter. My greatest fear is not being here for her, her milestones…her graduation, from high school, college…her wedding, children. The usual, I think. I have started looking for work…after being a stay at home mom for 12 years…looking for a passion though, that allows me to still be home for my daughter after school. I work with animal rescues as a volunteer… I (we) have 3 dogs and a cat. I took on a foster dog last year that was labeled aggressive and fearful…he’s still here, and he’s a beautiful lover-dog, though skittish still, and in the hall bathroom hiding from the wind storm as I type. I really want to foster kids…especially those poor babies that are yanked from their homes to keep them safe… I am a caregiver at heart. I helped care for my grandparents, I saw my mom and dad through colon cancer, and I cared for my aunt B until she passed last Jan. I still feel a little lost now that she’s gone.
The most important part of recovery for me has been to take better care of me…I’m not very good at that! To anyone else I would say, quit smoking, if you do, and do more…exercise more, love more, eat better! Oh, and don’t think it can’t happen to you, because I know it can…I’ve seen it happen to people that are way better at working out, vegetarian, nonsmoker’s…just listen to your body. Women present differently than men, most of the time. Hug your family tighter. I’m rambling… Peace out! 😉
Today I introduce you to Chad Miller. Survivor at age 39.
I had my heart attack on August 3rd, 2012 at the age of 39. I am a runner who has completed many half and full marathons in my lifetime and was on a 7 mile run at the YMCA after work on a Friday night. The run was an easy pace one and I was not pushing myself very hard at all. About half way through my run, I noticed I was sweating more than normal and had pain in my right shoulder. I am very in tune to my own body and thought both of those were odd. However, I dismissed them as nothing very important and continued running another mile or so. About a mile later I noticed my pain was increasing greatly in my shoulder and I was short on breath. I still did not think much of this, but realized that was “just one of those days” where my body was not in the mood for a run and decided to hit the showers. I was planning on meeting a friend of mine to go see a movie and would get a longer run in later in the weekend instead. During my shower I realized a few things: 1. I was still sweating heavily 2. I could not catch my breath 3. My shoulder hurt like hell and was starting to move slightly into the right side of my chest. Now I was concerned. My pain was increasing, but I was far from miserable. I hopped in my car and decided to head toward the theater for the movie. Along the way my pain vastly started to increase. Something was wrong. Very wrong. My mind started running the words heart attack in it. Surely that was not what was happening. I was a fit, healthy young runner who ate a pretty clean diet. I stopped at a convenience store and bought a four pack of Bayer aspirin. I chewed them up and drove myself to the ER.
Something was wrong, but I was not sure what it was. When I got the ER I was in pretty bad shape. I was light headed, sweating and my pain was very uncomfortable. It was6:30 on a Friday and for some reason the waiting room was already packed full with people needing to see a doctor. The gal told me to take a seat and wait for my name to be called. I firmly said “No!”. I am in pain, something is very wrong, the pain is now in my chest and I need to be seen now. The gal just stared at me clueless. However, another nurse was walking by, heard what I said and immediately took me into the ER. I was hooked up to an EKG, was told I was having a heart attack and wheeled into another room to be prepped for surgery. All hell broke loose in the prep room. I had 15+ doctors, nurses and others giving me their full attention. I was stripped naked, needles were inserted my arms, was given pills to swallow, pills to chew up and one gal even began shaving my groin area. I was asked endless questions mostly dealing with when did I first notice the symptoms. I can’t say my memory of all of this was the best. I was in shock. How on earth was this happening to me? I have friends that eat buckets of friend chicken nightly that have never had a heart attack. Why is this happening to me? Surgery was almost a complete blur. I was lucky that a heart doctor was on duty and free within 10 minutes of getting to the ER. I remember being packed with ice up and down my body. The surgery was very brief, or at least that’s how I remember it. One stent was put into my left ventricle. I had just survived the widow maker (with a 93% death rate within the first hour) I was told.
I was in the hospital the next several days and there was nothing very remarkable about this time. My story is probably no different than anybody elses while in the hospital. I was sad, mad, confused, happy to be alive, embarrassed and about any other emotion I could have. The time between my first symptom while running to surgery was right at one hour we later calculated. The doctor on call that weekend was a real downer of a guy. He told me I likely had extensive damage and my entire life would now be different. He also said I would never run again. Needless to say, I was absolutely terrified of everything he told me.
I spent my days surfing the internet on heart attacks and eventually found the Heart Attack Survivors group that weekend. I am one of the originals in there. I believe I was like the 55th person to join in the group that is now over 1500 people. Back in those days, the group was small and we all really got to know each other very well. My story of being a young athlete with a heart attack was new to the group. I asked dozens and was also asked dozens of questions. The group was awesome and I lived on that message board group for several months to follow.
I met with the surgeon who put the stent in a week after my heart attack. I had spent the last week of my life being convinced I was greatly damaged based on conversations with the doctor on call that weekend. My surgeon (a true heart doctor cardiologist) assured me that was all incorrect. He said my heart attack had been a mild one. I had very minimal plaque in my heart and my heart attack was caused by a small fatty deposit rupture. His exact words were “your heart was kind of a fluke”, He said I would need testing to confirm it, but he expected no permanent damage. He also said it was his opinion that it would be unlikely I would have another heart attack until I was much older. I later did a number of tests EKG, Echocardiogram, stress test etc to confirm that was all correct. I have an ejection fraction rate of 60 and ended up with no damage at all from my heart attack.
All the news I received after my heart attack was good news. However, for the next 2-3 months I went into true depression. I cried almost constantly and convinced myself I was going to die soon and would never see my daughters grow up. Every minor twinge of pain in my body had me convinced I was going to have another heart attack. I went to cardio rehab and I was the youngest person there by 30+ years. It was not uncommon for me to cry while walking on the treadmill at rehab. Physically I was fine, but mentally I was crumbling. Looking back, I should have been on antidepressants during this stretch probably. Then one night I watched my favorite movie of all time Shawshank Redemption for like the 50th time again. The phrase “get busy living or get busy dying” stuck in my head the next few days. What the hell was wrong with me? I was wasting my life away and had been given a second chance at life. To put it simply, I was wasting my second chance God had given me.
Suddenly I was embarrassed with my behavior. It was time to get my shit together again. I was almost done with cardio rehab and went in the next day and announced I was running that day on the treadmill after they had already hooked me up to the sensors for my walk on the treadmill. The nurses looked at my panicked and told me the hospital does not allow running for cardio rehab patients. I ignored them and started cranking up the speed. It was time to go for a one mile run. I will admit I was freaking terrified during that run. The nurses ran off to get a doctor and the doctor and nurses all watched a bunch of monitors feeding information from the sensors hooked up to me during that mile. I took a relaxed pace, but I ran and they could not do a thing in the world to stop me. At the end of my mile they said all was good and I was now graduated from rehab. I expected them to be mad, but they laughed and said I was now the first person in the hospitals history to run while in cardio rehab.
My doctor had already given me the all clear to run again and off I went in the weeks that followed. . For the next week I did several 1 milers. The following week I did 1.5 milers. I soon ran a 5k. Shortly after I ran a 10k. And then 163 days after my heart attack, I finished a half marathon. I have finished a pile of half marathons since my heart attack, but am not longer sure I have the desire to do a full again. Maybe someday.
Who are you ? Name, current age, where are you from ?
Con Birchall, 52, Ontario Canada
How old were you when you experienced your heart attack?
Big one at 45 but was misdiagnosed again another big one at 47.
Where were you when it happened? Tell me your story.
I went to my family Dr in 2006 complaining of “chest pain”. It was always at rest when this would come on and never with activity. It would gradually ease if I moved around. I was sent for an echocardiogram and a stress test of which both showed unremarkable, plus I was only 43 yrs old not exactly high risk! Because it was chest pain at rest relieved by activity I was diagnosed with GERD and given Nexium. That never sat right with me because it occurred so randomly, not after I ate a particular food etc. The chest pain continued and progressively over the years worsened. Every time I was in to see my GP I mentioned the increasing “chest pain” which still occurred randomly only at rest. I would wake at night with it, when sitting quietly at my desk, or watching t.v. I was working part time in nursing and as a full time dog walker and never once did I have it while walking my 6 hrs a day.
In 2008 I woke up in the middle of the night with horrible chest pain. Did my normal routine of taking an extra Nexium, Tums, Maalox, Gas-X…essentially anything I could get my hands on. The pain was crushing, radiating down my left arm, up into my jaw and mid back, I was sweating and felt like I was going to pass out. I was walking circles in the living room until it gradually passed. Wow that was a bad “stomach episode” I thought and set up another appointment with my GP. Again I was given reassurance it was not my heart…”angina occurs with activity and is not relieved by it”.
The chest pain incidents continued.
December 14, 2010 as I was getting ready for work I had another “stomach episode” that was particularly bad. I did the usual routine and tried to suck it up. We were in the midst of a bad snowstorm. I went out and shovelled our 10 x 20 dog pen which helped ease the pain. Within minutes of stopping it was back. I told my husband my “stomach thing” was quite bad that morning and he commented I should stay home (we worked in the same office) I told him I would go in but he had to drive. Within 5 minutes of leaving the house I started feeling very lightheaded and nervous so I told my husband to pull over and call 911 as I was pretty sure something bad was happening. I then lost consciousness. When I regained consciousness my entire body was pins and needles. I looked down at my hands and they were yellowish and waxy looking. I had been a nurse for 16 yrs and the only time I had seen skin that color was when someone died. My husband pulled off the highway and we saw the ambulance coming. They asked me a few questions and then asked me to walk to the ambulance as the snow was too deep. They hooked me up to the ECG and looked pretty nervous.
Unfortunately EMT’s come in different levels. Mine could only give me an aspirin, no I.V. no nitro…just an aspirin. I was brought to the closest hospital which unfortunately was in the opposite direction of the nearest cardiac hospital. The emerg dr explained I was having a “very serious heart attack” and things were going to happen very quickly. I was hooked up to an IV and the emerg dr kept asking me what my pain level was at. It never change despite everything he did. After a few minutes he said he had only one final option which was a clot buster. He said he needed a verbal consent from me because I had a 30% chance of having a stroke after getting it. I said wow that’s not great. He said “If you don’t get it, you are going to die” Well 70% is good enough for me I said! But it did nothing, the pain was terrible still. Then the strangest thing happened, he started walking around my gurney mumbling “This is bad, this is really really bad”. I remember thinking well that’s really unprofessional lol. I grabbed his arm on the next lap and tried to reassure him. I said to him “It’s okay…I am going to be okay” He looked at me and said quietly “No…no I am sorry…you are not going to be okay, you have no idea how bad this is” That was the first time I realized how bad it was. A decision was made to transport me to the closest cardiac hospital which in good weather is just over an hour away. The emerg dr and a nurse came with me in the ambulance with me. He told the nurse to just keep giving me boluses of morphine.
Because of the storm it took much longer to get there. Every so often he would ask me how I was. I told him each time I was the same. At one point he reached over and held my hands and said he couldn’t believe how stoic I was. I remember thinking hmmm…never remember being called stoic before lol. Within 20 minutes of arriving at the cardiac hospital finally a stent was put into my LAD in which I had a 99% blockage. During that procedure it was then determined that I had substantial scar tissue from previous heart attacks…I was only 47 yrs old. I was told later that I had the highest troponin levels they had seen. At least 50% of my heart has been damaged.
After my massive heart attack, I was sent home 4 days later unable to walk up more than 4 step without becoming very short of breath. I was told by my internist (no cardiologist in my small town) to return to work after 4 weeks. It was awful 🙁 I was so tired and so short of breath and no one was offering up answers! 4 months later I got the call to start rehab at which point I was told I was a grade 3 heart failure so should only do very limited things and that perhaps a few months after I finished my rehab I might be able to return to work!! Ha! What a joke! I had already been back to work for 3 months. My EF was at 30% initially after my heart attack. 9 months later it still sat at 30% so the decision was made to implant an ICD to lessen the risk of sudden death due to low EF.
What were your signs and symptoms? Did you have any pre existing conditions or family history ?
I had started having chest pain when I was about 40. It was like a wave that I could feel rising from my mid abdomen up to in my mid chest. It was like someone was squeezing my heart slowly. It was always at rest….never once did I have pain while doing anything strenuous, quite often I would be woken from a dead sleep with it. The pain would intensify then climb up to my jaw and down my left arm. I would become very short of breath during this time. Unfortunately it was alleviated by walking. I say unfortunately because that’s the reason it was misdiagnosed for years. Just before my heart attack (say the week before) I was extremely tired. So tired I was worried about being able to get my last minute Christmas things done.
As for pre existing issues, I had been diagnosed with very high cholesterol at 43. I was put on Crestor at that time and this did bring my levels into acceptable limits. I was also a pack a day smoker, at the time of my heart attack for 34 yrs.
Family history-My father had a 5 way bypass at age 60 after suffering a heart attack. My maternal grandmother had bypass surgery twice having suffered heart attacks from the age of about 50. My paternal grandmother had a stroke in her early 40’s followed by years of devastating heart attacks and strokes. How did this affect your life? Physically/ Personally?
Well physically because of the damage I sustained it’s meant I can’t physically do what I could do prior. I get sob quickly and tired much faster. My last angiogram showed my heart was starting to enlarge and the walls were starting to get thicker again due to the damage I sustained to my left ventricle.
Personally I have always had a good outlook on life. I am so grateful to be alive and I view everyday as a blessing. I stopped working 3 1/2 yrs after my ha because besides being stressful and demanding I was struggling to get done what I needed to get done. The problem was not having a desk job, it was the fact life goes on regardless of how you are feeling. I would be so tired and after working 40 hrs a week, my chicken coops still needed cleaning, groceries needed to be bought, clothes needed to be washed etc. Working and being able to function doing everyday things was impossible. What lifestyle changes have you made ? What are your struggles ?
I am physically more active now than when I was working after my ha. I can pace myself and not feel the pressure of having to do certain things at certain times. I quit smoking the day of my ha (5+ yrs smoke free!) I really watch my salt intake because of my CHF related to the damage. I travel more because you never know when your time is up!
My struggles are still asking for help instead of trying to be superwoman. I get shit often from my family because I am too stubborn at times and will do things myself that I shouldn’t do instead of asking for help. I miss being able to do things with my grandkids because I get tired so easily.
Stents/ Zipper or Defib ? What is your situation?
1 stent in my LAD, several other smaller blockages that are 30-40% which they monitor. Yes I have an ICD due to low EF
What do you fear now ?
Being alone and having another heart attack, being unable to get help.
What are three things that are most important in your post heart attack life?
Surround yourself with positive people. Don’t waste time on negative people, realizing you can’t fix stupid 🙂
Get a bucket list going, if anything this should show you never know if you will have tomorrow you need to do things, see things and not think you have next week or next year to do them.
Educate others! Heart attacks aren’t just for old people or men. There is no age or sex that this happens to exclusively.
Did you do Cardiac Rehab? What has been the hardest part of your recovery ?
Yes 4 months after my Heart Attack and 5 yrs later I am actually doing it again right now.
The hardest part was the crappy aftercare. They send you home and you have no idea what to expect. When I first came home I struggled so much. I had to sit down on my stairs 3 times to catch my breath just to get up them to bed. No one tells you it will get better!
What are your new dreams ?
I actually am very happy with my life. Just to not have my heart function decline too quickly.
What do you wish you could do now that you never tried before but so wish you could? Eg: Skydiving.
Machu Picchu. My husband and I always said we would go. I can’t go now because of my heart failure. I can’t do the altitude 🙁
Who was there for you?
My husband has been amazing, and basically everyone in my life has been there for me.
Did you lose many friends after your heart attack ?
I lost none but that might be because I’ve always had a positive attitude. Too many folks feel bad for themselves after. I am responsible for my own life, I don’t blame anyone for what happened…shit happens lol…move on!
What is the funniest thing someone has said or asked about your heart attack?
“I guess after all this time your heart is fixed now right? Like its normal again?” ummm….no my heart was damaged it will never be normal again “You must be so relieved to have an ICD because now you never have to worry about having another heart attack” Well actually the ICD fixes electrical problems…a heart attack is a plumbing problem, my ICD is not going to stop me from having a heart attack…but hey if my heart stops I’ll get a kick start!
Have you had any detractors or people who have been hard on you?
Nope…that’s those negative people I don’t allow into my life thing 🙂
If you could go back in the past how would you live your life differently?
Well I would follow my gut and insist there was a heart issue and not just listen to Drs telling me it was a stomach issue. I would have never smoked that first cigarette.
What do you want more of in life ?
Honestly I like my life right now! Wait….grandkids…could use a few more 🙂
Is this the hardest thing you have ever experienced ?
Accepting my life was going to forever be different after Dec 14 2010.
What makes you great ?
I have a positive attitude! I genuinely like myself 🙂
What advice would you give to a healthy person who has never experienced something like a Heart Attack?
If you feel something is wrong with your heart push the issue! Don’t assume because you don’t smoke, you eat well, you exercise you are bulletproof…no one is bulletproof!
Heart Attack Survivor to Marathon Finisher ( Goofy Challenge Finisher)
39.3 MIles ( 63.25 Kms) , 2 Days, 4 Theme Parks. 3 Medals. 1 Moment of RAW Emotion.
His name is Mark. At age 38 , he is now a Marathon Finisher. It did not come without struggle, committment and hard work.
One week prior to his 36 birthday he suffered and survived a Heart Attack. Four days later he went into Cardiac Arrest during surgery to place 2 stents in his heart. Only one was placed due to this event. He continues to live with another 70 % blockage in the main artery to his heart but this doesn’t stop him from living and trying to reach new limits.
For the next 2 years and 5 months he went through Cardiac Rehab, made a few lifestyle changes, lost 30 lbs and got back to one of his passions. Running. Mark will admit that none of it was easy and there were some days of having to push beyond what he thought he was capable of.
On January 10th, 2016 in the Happiest Place on Earth, Walt Disney World, Mark became an official Marathon Runner and Finisher. Equally as important he completed the Goofy Challenge which requires a runner to do a Half Marathon (13.1 Miles or 22 Kms.) the day before. Some would call this crazy, I guess that is why they call it Goofy.
In 2013 he attempted this same challenge and did not finish. Due to pacing requirements he just wasn’t fast enough to avoid being swept off the course. Some people say they were closing things early because of extreme heat and humidity. “ It doesn’t matter the circumstance, I just was not fast enough and that race, unknown to me would set the tone for my year. I failed but knew I would try again. I just didn’t think it would take me three years to get back here to do it.”
On his Marathon Finish Mark said “This was by far one of my hardest and most proud moments in life. I cried like a baby knowing I was going to finish a Marathon. I saw my friend Jennifer, a woman who I respect, admire and love for how encouraging and supportive she has been. I believe around Mile 24.
She gave me some beer. Yes I drank a beer and it tasted like heaven. Shortly after I hugged her and went on my way, tears began to fall. “
The course was not without it’s challenges. From mile 19-20 he had to fully walk because his heart rate was not recovering as quickly as he had hoped. It is the only point in the race where he thought that he may have to pull himself as his heart rate seemed to not dip back below 125 beats per minute on rest moments. Thankfully his heart rate eventually went down enough to keep going on. “6.2 miles to go, it became harder and I began run/ walk more frequently.”
To run a Marathon requires commitment, a commitment that most won’t give. For the last 9 months he trained while most were sleeping. Midnight and 2 am runs, sometimes he’d go earlier but that was rare. “Some people totally understood and others not so much.” Opinions began to not matter to me. This was not about other people, it was all about me. I was dedicated to finishing, so dedicated that I eventually stopped wearing my Fitbit on those late night runs. I kinda wanted to ensure I was challenging no one but myself. I was obsessed to say the least.”
The race started around 5:30 am with the first wave of runners set to go. Mark was in Corral M. 4 corrals up from the last, he knew he had to go hard in the beginning as to not fall behind and risk being swept. By the time it was his turn to cross the start line, the time was closer to 6:20 am.
Off went the fireworks and it was now time to put all that training to the test. He was nervous but not afraid, strong , focused but most importantly no matter the result, prepared to ensure he still had fun. “ I stopped for a few photos with people who had funny signs, looked on in envy of those who had time to stop to take photos with characters but still felt like a kid seeing the Disney characters on the course. I did eventually get my chance at a couple of character photos but that reward would wait until I knew I was going to finish the race.”
The first 13 Miles seemed to be the easiest according to Mark. 13 miles was a distance he was use to as he had run half marathons in the last but only once since his Heart Attack. As he continued he did experience some knee pain but was able to overcome that by stopping at Medical tents and utilizing bio freeze which numbs the area. He credits that with allowing him to focus on the race and not the pain.
As the remaining miles went by it seemed like forever, he began to run/ walk more frequently but still maintain a pace that was healthy and that would help him succeed.
How did you feel when you knew you were at the point where you absolutely knew you were safe and were going to finish the race without the fear of being swept ?
“ That moment is when I got through the ESPN zone, the most boring part of the course. I left ESPN and shortly encountered Mile 22. The Mile in which I was swept in 2013, I saw the buses that were parked there for those who would not finish this race sometime later. I gave those buses the two middle fingers, smiled and kept going. It was such a good feeling to know that I was now safe and the race was now mine to finish.
To finish this story, I will now leave third person and talk as myself.
As I entered Hollywood Studios my pace slowed, was is my sense of security ? No, I was tired and wanted to ensure a strong finish. They say with hard work comes reward. What was my reward before finishing? I worked so hard and skipped some character stops that I would have loved to do. Then I saw Boo from Monsters Inc. I had to stop for this photo, at least one, for me. Shortly after I saw the Genie from Aladdin outside the boardwalk and I was ecstatic that I could have my photo taken with him. There is a quote in Aladdin that I love . “ But oh, to be free, such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the treasures in the world.” This sums up how I felt crossing the finish line.
I came running around that 26 mile marker and shortly saw that finish line in front of me. I wanted to stop and admire what was before me but I could not, I knew I had to keep going. As I got closer I looked into many eyes of those cheering on the runners. I was bawling like a baby, I could not contain my tears, I forgot what it was like to actually feel emotion until that moment. My eyes were leaking !!
Just before I reached the finish all I can remember was pushing my arms out to my side in excitement and bringing them back into my body, almost flexing and releasing every emotion I had in me. Lucky for me the photographers caught that moment. Here I was, after almost losing my life a couple years before, accomplishing the most physically challenging thing I have ever done in my life. I smiled, received my Marathon Medal, hugged the volunteer and almost couldn’t let go. I am pretty sure her shoulder is still soaked from my tears.
Jan 10, 2016, I became a Marathoner. I finished in 6 hrs, 47 minutes and 13 seconds. I was not fast but I never gave up. The training for this race began from the moment I stepped back on a treadmill 6 weeks after my heart attack.
That feeling of finishing was worth all of the late nights, hard work, blood, pain and listening to those who told me if I trusted them, then they would get me back as close as they could to who I was before. That day I left it all out there and succeeded.
If anyone tells me they can’t do something, or that I can’t do something they have said it to the wrong person. Because I will show them what I can do, what they can do….. IF, they believe.
I may not have what others have in terms of physical capabilities but it’s not about that, it’s about my will power. I am proud of what I accomplished but I will never settle. I will always succeed and earn every moment of life. I am still not a finished product, I am striving each day to always be better than I was the day before. In my Heart I do not fear, I love as much as I can and am free.