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.
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.
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.
When thinking about the last 2 plus years since my heart attack, I cannot help but run through the ways I have changed.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Ya, it is totally a cliché, a book has been written and many people will say they don’t sweat the small stuff. I don’t anymore. It is funny to think of the things that use to get to me or that I would worry about. Now, most times my first thought is, “ Is this worth worrying about or spending my time and energy on.” Stress, my friends is something I try so hard to avoid. The downside to this is that I become impatient with those who try to make small issues bigger than they are. It does piss people off or I come across as not really caring. In some situations, I really don’t. Nowadays, there are things that I do procrastinate on because things can wait and it is not worth the stress and let’s be honest here, I try to have more fun.
I prefer to be alone.
Ask anyone who’s known me a long time and they will tell you I always had to be around other people. This use to be how I got my energy, my zest for life. Mini loves people ! Post Heart Attack, I find in many social situations I get anxious or very awkward and have to leave early. This is why I never car pool with anyone. I need my escape. I spend more hours alone than I think most realize. I use this time to read more, work on many of my projects and try to sort through my head. I find it easier to be alone than to be in large groups. I know I have become socially awkward and I am ok with that. Being alone allows me to not put myself in an awkward situation or worry about upsetting someone.
I have a new normal.
This took me a long time to accept. I am still figuring out what certain limits are but I accept I am not who I was. I like who I am now. So who am I now ? That’s for another post. With my new normal, I have had to find new ways to do things I enjoy, accept restrictions and learn which lines I can push. Example, I will never run as fast as I use to but I can run. I may accept the new normal but I will NEVER give up trying to succeed at what I can.
I dream bigger.
I have many big dreams. Most are of the humanitarian and Heart Disease awareness type. I have so many dreams I hope to share and work towards in 2016. Some are way out in left field but I would rather put those dreams out there and get laughed at than keep them to myself like I use to. There is one dream I once had that I never made my move on now someone else made it famous. Lesson Learned. So, I may never become famous for a dream I pursue but I really hope one of them leads to creating the life I desire.
I actually like myself.
Most of this could be in another post but here is a start. From 2010 on I actually had a strong dislike of who I was and I had almost zero confidence in myself. I got good at putting on a show.
I like me J I am awkward, I am social, I am fun, I am smart in different ways, I am a good looking guy, creative, determined, flirty, playful, goofy. I am uniquely and imperfectly ,me. I am not for everyone but I do like who I am. This doesn’t mean I don’t have some insecurities but I am more confident than I have ever been.
Experiences instead of Things.
I have always had a hard time buying things for myself. Even when I bought my first DSLR Camera I was anxious. Over the last 2 years I have focused more on spending my money and time on experiences, dinners with friends, coffees. My time is valuable. I would prefer memories with my friends and family than something disposable. It may be morbid but I want to think that when my time comes and I am 6 feet under that I leave those I care about with good, fun and maybe slightly wild memories of “Mini.” No one will remember how many things I owned. After my Heart Attack I questioned how people would remember me.
Now I lay me down to sleep.
It is no secret that my sleeping patterns are messed. Sometimes I go more than 24 hours without sleep, sometimes I nap an hour here and there just to function. I have no idea how I function most days to be honest. The thought of not waking up consumes my brain before bed almost nightly. I want so bad not to think this way but living with heart disease I am aware of what could happen. PTSD is a bitch and that is one way it gets me. Every night I go to bed wondering if the day I had was a good one, did I do something positive? Did I make at least one person smile ? Did I smile ? Did I try to make a difference in this world ?
If I ever should die and not awake when the sun rises, I just hope the day before was a good one.
I want Love but I am Guarded.
It is no secret that I have been single for a long time. No girlfriend in almost 5 years, yep, you read that right, 5 years. I have dated but can’t seem to keep anyone interested long enough, combine that with the fact I keep myself busy. Just like most everyone, I have been hurt before but that is NOT why I am guarded. I am guarded because I want simply to be accepted for me but sharing my health issues has scared some females away. Can’t blame them because there are always things we as people can and cannot live with when it comes to a partner. I am an amazing man as soon as someone can see beyond both mine and their imperfections. I know I need to be a little more open with heart but sometimes it is so damn hard.
Random Acts of Kindness.
I give more than most people realize. I am not one to brag nor share every little Random Act of Kindness I do because I feel that defeats the purpose. One per week, I do something. Whether it is buying a coffee for someone, paying for their gas, leaving a random note or simply giving a homeless person a $10 or $20 bill. I do something. I want to feel like I have made a difference, even if for only a moment.
I care but it sometimes doesn’t come out that way and it sucks.
If you have read this far, then you now get a HUGE TRUTH. I say I Love You more than I ever did before and tell people I care as often as I can. So what is the problem? I have been told what I say doesn’t seem portrayed that way. I have a hard time comprehending this. For example: There was a woman I liked, I tried to show her but even she said she was not sure, that it didn’t seem that way. I tried so hard but I just couldn’t get what I was actually feeling outward by action or expression I guess.
I have PTSD, I struggle with understanding emotion and even portraying certain emotion. If you are emotional in front of me, like crying or upset, my brain is trying to empathize and understand but I just can’t ever seem to figure it out. It makes me uncomfortable in the situation and I am trying to think of a way out of that moment. It’s not that I do not care, it is that I just can’t comprehend why you are upset or even what I am suppose to do. It is not easy to live with and it keeps me up at night. I use to be a very empathetic and understanding human and I kinda miss that guy.
So, if you and I are in a situation like above and my face goes red or I slowly distance myself from you or I constantly look away…… please know I care, I just don’t know what to do, guide me or let me escape.
I like to end things on a good note so, I have decided to write about the bad before the good. Which will be part 3.
When you take photos of yourself for 12 months straight you are bound to face criticism or get mocked. Heck, nowadays anything you do consistently and publicly will have it’s trolls. I have definitely faced this by a few individuals and one in particular felt it necessary to comment on almost every photo and then not explain why.
I did receive messages from a few people that my photos were annoying, narcissistic. Some went as far to say they were getting sick of seeing my face daily. Even people who I was not associated on Facebook with sent messages ( good and bad.) That mostly has to do with the fact that I made all of my posts public.
Was I pissed ? No, not me. This project further proved to me I am a long way away from fully feeling total emotion. On the plus side I was able to think logically and not let things get to me.
What always seems to surprise me and I am not sure why, is how people can be so rude and disrespectful even to people they know. Now, I realize of course that not everyone I know on Facebook is a friend and ya, maybe at some point in my life those people may have been friends or a part of my life but are not now. So most of their comments don’t really matter nor do the thoughts of people I don’t know.
Because I am not a believer in public shaming I will not name on my blog the person who felt it was ok to comment on almost every photo saying “ You are a brave man.” Or giving me a generic, elaborate story as to why or why not he kept commenting.
However, I will say this…… He crossed lines when questioned about why he did it. He insulted a friend, a close friend who I have the utmost respect for. A friend who decided to defend me. In messages he said I need to get her Laid and for her to “calm her tits.” This is something that is not acceptable in any way, shape or form.
Insult, criticize and call me all the names you want, I can take it. I can take verbal abuse…wel,l at least right now because I feel nothing. Insult my friends and that is where I draw the line, especially when it is behind their back. If you don’t like being called out for your childish acts by a friend of mine defending me then shut your mouth and hold your insults.
Damn rights I am brave, I am brave to have tolerated some disrespect for almost a year. I am brave because I do put myself out there knowing that not everyone will be pleased with my actions.
In conclusion. I dislike negative things, therefore this post is shorter than most. I take chances, not always smart ones but I would rather fail doing something that sit on my butt and do nothing. If I succeed at a project, then great and if I fail and I show that it is ok to fail every once in a while then I am ok with that too. This photo project in my mind was a success even with the criticism and disrespect I received which leads me to my next post…..Unexpected Inspiration .
For one year I took a photo of myself once per day. I only missed 3 days.
As a Photographer I ask people to stand in front of my lens and for brief moments show themselves as natural as possible in order to “get the best shot.” Many times as these people are getting ready to pose for the camera I hear about their insecurities, physical insecurities. It is my job to make them comfortable.
That last sentence is why I did the photo a day project. If I am to make people comfortable with their insecurities I had to become comfortable with mine. I needed to see myself beyond my thoughts about my physical imperfections. I have always disliked seeing myself in photos.
I actually had larger plans with these photos. I wanted to be super creative and do fun shots but after the first few I quickly realized that me in raw, authentic form is what was needed to make this work. I did my best to tell a story from my day and not all the days were exciting or funny. In fact most days were completely uneventful, some tough, some quite fun.
In the beginning it was easy. Smile, take photo, add the date, the story or blurb and post to Facebook. As the weeks passed it became harder because I began to do the things I had sometimes read about. Instead of taking one photo then posting, I began to take multiple. I tried to find the best angle, hide the bags under my eyes maybe limit my double chin. I would waiver back and forth and some days I would only take the single shot.
Side note: Before I began this project I was perfectly happy with my appearance, my smile and who I was.
It was when I began taking multiple photos before posting the perfect shot that I began picking apart my appearance. I smiled everyday in each shot except I think 2. Those 2 were days I was exhausted, too exhausted to even smile. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t happy those days, just tired.
What did I not like ? My sometimes lazy eye, the bags under my eyes, my scar under my left eye, the cyst I have under my jaw or how exhausted I looked somedays. I hated when I could see how dry my skin was on certain days or the scars I have from small facial lacerations. I hated that no one would really see what was going on behind my eyes, I hated even more that I did not have the courage to talk about it. I started to not be comfortable with how I looked. This is not acceptable. We are all imperfect and yet we compare ourselves to what we think may be perfection.
The smiles. Oh the smiles. The good and the tough days I still smiled in the photos. Why ? That is a simple answer. Everyday, no matter the joys, challenges or feelings of loneliness, I had a reason to smile. The reasons differed but each day I could smile. The biggest reason to smile is that I was given each new day whether I deserved it or not. I was able to smile because each day I was trying to be better a better person than the day before. Some days I succeeded, some I failed. But I smiled.
So what did I learn? So, so much my friends. Good, Bad and Ugly. I could probably write a small novel about my lessons and leanings.
I learned just how much one person can really beat themselves up for thier own perceived flaws and how outwardly we can show people how much we like ourselves, our appearance and our lives but inside we question those same things.
I learned just how easy it is to manipulate our social media presence.
Through photos, stories and daily posts that our friends see and read we can make our lives seem so damn amazing, meanwhile, the reality is that many of us are lost and our lives are not as amazing as they appear.
Why would we show our real and Facebook friends anything other than perfection online ? There were only a few who were able to notice my less authentic days through my photos.
I learned that it is ok to be authentic. Yes at times I was criticized but who cares, I was me trying to be me.
I did my best not to allow myself to create a perfect presence in these photos but I also bet very few people would really know the difference between my authentic smile and the one I forced on the harder days. With each story that accompanied the photo I shared what I was doing, where I was ( sometimes) and a few of who I was with. I was as authentic as I could be.
After taking time to review each photo before writing this it was clear to see it was almost the same people liking my photos each time. I found at times I loved getting a lot of likes, it was rush and I actually felt maybe this wasn’t such a bad project. There is a whole other piece to the likes that I will share in another post.
Beyond the obvious likes and comments that regularly happened something else pretty awesome happened. Something that I was unaware of until the photos stopped. There were people who never liked a single photo, who didn’t comment once but made me aware of how much they appreciated and enjoyed seeing my photos daily. One person going as far to say that seeing me smile each day helped them get through some of their harder days. There is more to that story and I will be sharing in another post. Whether you know it or not, people are watching even when you think no one is. You can impact someone by just being you.
People will mock you.
People will write unpleasant messages, people will block and remove you from their online presence. People will even post almost daily, in a mocking way and not explain in a clear manner why it was important for them to take that 20 seconds to post under your photo. They didn’t seem to see how it was disrespectful and wrong Even with the mocking posts I still saw true friends who stuck up for me. Good from the bad right ?
This project challenged me, made me happy and at times made me dislike myself but in the end I own every part of it and what it took to actually complete it. It taught me that I need to keep doing odd stuff that people might find odd or intriguing because it gets me away from my comfort zone.
In the end I have to say this. I can’t promise I will never look at a photo of myself and be slightly insecure but I can promise that I will see beauty in my smile and what it can do, if even for a moment in mine or someone else’s life.
August 11, 2015. This day, I celebrated me and 2 years of life post heart attack. I wanted to be alone this day because it is my day, for me.
So how do I share a day so personal to me ? A day in which I think about the previous year and my growth. I also begin to think about how I envision the coming year.
So what did I do ?
I started this day by visiting the beach court where I had my Heart Attack. I sat alone for a while in thought….surrounded by kids playing at a day camp around me. I smiled as these kids played tag, threw dodgeballs at each other and had sand fights. Then it came to me…..sorta. Seeing all of this around me gave me a Happy Heart 🙂
Now, before I continue…..I used the hastag #happyheart for the day but #happyheart is not my original idea. For this, I give credit to my heart sister Sarah Klena from http://heartattackat31.blogspot.ca/. She created T shirts this year to raise money for American Heart Association. Ultimately that hashtag was created by her and I will give credit where it is due. I think about #happyheart a lot since Sarah first brought it forward.
So, after I took the photo below, I posted it to Facebook and asked my friends to share with me their stories that made gave them a #happyheart. I would read these at the end of my day when I returned to social media.
Now, I will get back to this in a moment.
My Heataversary is like my New Years minus any drinking and kissing someone at midnight ( unless someone wants to join me in a kiss. )
The rest of my day was driving through Southern Alberta and stopping to take in the scenery. I wanted badly to just be alone. Alone to be with my thoughts and to go about my day with only having to worry about where or what I would do next. There was no direct plan other than to drive and take photos.
The photos above are from various points along the route I drove and places I stopped. Truth is, I did not think much for the first half the drive, I simply took in the scenery. Whether it was the vast fields, mountains in the distance or the various Horses, Sheep and Cows along the way. It was completely breathtaking and relaxing.
Then came the drive home and although earlier I had thought about the direction I hope to go in the coming year, another thoughts came to me.
You see, I have definitely grown in the last 24 months and come so far but one thing occurred to me. I still play things too safe and don’t take as many risks as maybe I should. I still play it safe. So then my mind wandered as to why.
The answer is not as simple as I thought. I thought I have been taking more chances the last 2 years and yes I have taken a couple BUT I still played it safe by not pushing myself to reach beyond what I think are my limitations and in matters of the heart. I won’t go into too much detail as this is a little personal for now but I will say this……
I NEED TO STOP BEING SO AFRAID OF NOT BEING QUITE GOOD ENOUGH.
I NEED TO MAKE A MOVE
I NEED TO TAKE HARD STEPS
I NEED TO TRY EVEN MORE
I NEED TO BE OK WITH MAKING MISTAKES
BECAUSE ALL OF THIS MEANS……I AM BEATING MY OWN FEARS.
The drive home passed quickly with no stops for photos and although I was deep in thought, I was actually happy. Happy because, if you remember at the beginning of this post I said I wanted to be alone.
Somewhere along that highway I realized I wanted to be with friends, I really wanted to be around people to end my day. Lucky for me, my team had a dodgeball game that night. I had planned to skip the game to be alone, I honestly did not want people to see me at all. I am thankful that I changed my mind.
That game was our first win of the season, it was a fun game and I felt completely in my element being with people I love being around, playing a sport I love. Playing the sport in which I was playing the day my heart attack occurred. Kinda like slaying the demon in my head.
After the game we were invited to a our team mate Jesse’s place for a BBQ and a Beer. I had declined this invite a few times actually but eventually decided to go. BEST DECISION !
Ending my day with these amazing people was the perfect ending to a great day. A day of celebration, reflection and just being one with myself, nature and in the end, my friends.
I am thankful for life, thankful for growth and I am thankful I get another shot at living every single day.
2 Years later I am thankful for my Heart Attack because it was my eye opener and my life line.
Celebrate life and make someone happy, make them smile because as a quote I read the other day said.
“If you have the power to make someone happy, do it. The world needs more of that. “
–Don’t know the author.-
Happy Heartaversary to me 🙂 Here is to many more !!
Fire and Ice Heart- The Heart represents the soul; who someone truly is. The Fire represents passion, verve, emotion. The Ice represents logic, confidence, calm. The two together fuse into a combo much stronger than their individual parts. Synergy.
This synergy makes up a large of the soul, hence the Heart.
I have always wanted a tattoo and like most people ( definitely not all) I wanted something that was “ME”. So, 37 years of age, it finally happens. I mean, granted it took a life changing event, recovery and thinking about my own traits.
Oh and I can’t forget… 2 missed appointments and months of sneding random messages of what I was looking for to my artist.
So ummm obviously the tattoo was going to be Heart related considering I had a little heart misfunction almost 2 years ago…..holy crap…2 years !!
The final result is a Fire and Ice Heart described meaning above. Each part of the description describes me or traits I wish I had or had previously possessed.
She is not complete yet but I am so proud of this tattoo. I love it more than I can express. It is a reminder of how far I have come, how far I will go, to never give up. I love showing it off every chance I get.
My Artist. I cannot say enough about this woman. She has patience like no other, I mean she had to deal with me right ?
Her name: Ashla Bee, she works at Human Kanvas in Airdrie, Alberta.
I have known this fantastic, talented woman for close to 10 years. I we worked at the same place and even starred in commercials when we were younger for that company.
There was no doubt in my mind that she was the one who I would ask to take on my tattoo. I loved seeing her artwork on Facebook and seeing how much she loves what she does. I knew she would listen to my craziness and add a little touch of “her” to the design.
Thank you Ashla for making this man so proud to wear your art, for making the experience a lot of fun and for being patient with me 🙂