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 ?
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.
When you take photos of yourself for 12 months straight or do anything that catches attention from people, unexpected things can happen.
I knew people would roll their eyes, maybe mock me ( which of course, did happen.) I knew different people would like my photos ( they did.) I knew people would say they liked the photos and make kind comments ( some did.) The one thing I did not know…..
There were a few who saw the photos and never said anything. Until it was over. I Inspired some people unknowingly.
4 private Facebook messages and 2 texts that went back and forth for a while.
“I am really going to miss your pictures, they made me smile each day and made my day better, especially when I was feeling like crap. Then, there was your face, smiling.”
“I never commented on your photos but I looked at them each day. It was nice to see someone smile , even knowing that you probably had some bad days. You still smiled, I liked that.”
“ Your smiling face made my hard days better, I am going to miss that.”
“Mark, you inspired me to smile. I had some sucky days and kept thinking, he’s smiling, so I could try. Knowing you and talking with you every few days, I knew not each day was good and you told me that this photo thing was hard but yet, you still tried every day.”
“You are a great guy, have a nice smile, you are inspiring. For selfish reasons, I wish you would keep doing the photos. I had some hard days, you helped.”
“I saw you’re not going to keep posting your daily selfie. Oh no! I was enjoying them! I hope you had a good year and looks like you’re doing awesome staying healthy!”
I didn’t embark on this project to inspire anyone, in fact, that is the LAST thing I thought would happen. I am not one to take compliments well, nor do the words “ Inspiration or inspirational” make me comfortable. They make me squirm actually. I have never once thought of myself as inspiring. I am just me, trying my best to live my life better and trying different things. If someone gets inspired or I make someone’s day then I guess I am doing something right.
I did love hearing that I made some people smile. That, I am ok with hearing. I strive to make people smile or laugh. I love smiling, it is my favorite haha !
So what does “ Unexpected Inspiration.” teach me ?
You or I may not strive to actively inspire but our actions, even the ones that seem crazy or dumb can affect others, motivate them, make their day or inspire them to just smile even when it is hardest for them to do.
Unknowingly people are watching our every move, even more so since the invention of social media. What you do or say can and will impact others just by being you.
My advice ? Keep being you because being you is authentic and awesome. That is what I strive for.
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 .
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 🙂
It took me a while to write this. I had to sort through all my thoughts on this race.
I trained hard, I was dedicated, I pushed when I wanted to give up, kept going to the gym even when I didn’t feel like it. Every moment leading up to the race was a challenge. I was as ready as I was going to be. My mind, my body felt strong.
Now, before I dive into this further please understand I am very proud of finishing the race and no one can take that away from me. The pride and the finish.
I spent time before the race meeting friends, taking photos and having my photo taken many times thanks to people loving my race shirt ! The Shirt….that is for another post.
To say I was nervous would be the biggest understatement of the day.
I was ready to take this race and make it mine. In my training I had felt amazing, was running an 11:45 min/mile. I only had a few blips while training but worked through it smartly.
Smart. That here is the key word my friends. I trained not for speed, I trained to be smart, healthy and to ensure I was having fun. Trained not to think too much about my heart attack and what could go wrong. I felt so amazing !
Then came race day. Up at the crack of crazy ( 3am) for a start time of 7:00 am. I never publicly stated I had a goal but in my head I wanted to finish in 2:25. That is what I trained for.
I won’t detail every kilometre, I promise.
The course was amazing, flat, scenic. The weather was cool at the start and quite warm as the race progressed. The first kilometre and a half I ran with my friend Susan but realized her 9 min per mile pace was too much for me and out of my training zone. I let her go ahead because I did not want her to stay behind for me. I really wanted to do the whole race with her but realized she was a lot faster than I was. Respect the pace, respect the distance is exactly what was going through my head.
The first 5 KM I felt amazing, was matching my 12 min/ mile pace and just before the 5 km mark I stopped to see my friend Danielle who was waiting kindly for me by the Starbucks in Bridgeland. It was so good to see my friend Danielle on the course, it gives you a little boost to keep pushing forward. I took a photo with her and off I went.
As I ran back across Memorial Drive I was loving the race having fun with other runners and was still keeping a 12 min mile but that was not to last much longer.
It was slightly before reaching 17th avenue that a little fatigue had started to set in. This was between kilometre 8 and 9.
17th Avenue. What do I say about this part of the course ? It was definitely the worst part of the entire course. It was 2.5 km of uneven roads, pot holes and a narrowing of the course. Pedestrians crossed at a few points from the sides of the street. Just before Kilometre 10 is when my race started to go downhill.
I went to pass 3 runners who were running side by side by side. As I cut to the right I hit a dip in the road hard, twisted my knee, tried to brace myself from falling right over ( BIG MISTAKE !). It took about another KM before I started feeling immense pain. Now in theory this could have absolutely ruined my race but something great came out of it. The Injury? A Sprained Knee which I am still battling the pain of a few weeks later.
As I went to walk to the side once the pain started, I bumped into a young woman, apologized and we laughed. This woman would be one of 2 that I ran/ walked the rest of the race with. Her name was Lindsay. The other girl was Shona.
The rest of the race we paced each other, taking walk breaks and although I admitted being in pain, I downplayed it. I remember at one point, Shona had said I was the reason she was running and staying in it. That was awesome to hear and yes, it motivated my ass to keep going.
My pace slowed to between 14-16 minutes per mile. There were far more walk breaks than I had hoped for but I knew pushing harder would have made this injury worse. So I did what I seem to do best in hard situations.
I laughed. I danced. I chatted with those around me. I posed as I ran past cameras. I hugged a random person. I pretended to be Superman, only, I was missing my Lois Lane. My Knee was my race kryptonite but it would not wreck my spirit. I kept repeating encouragement to my run mates as they did with me. This race was still mine.
The final kilometre was upon us and yes I continued to run/walk right up until the final corner where I ran, in tons of frickin pain but I ran. That finish line looked so close and yet so far away. The three of us kinda split at the end. I would run into Lindsay again at Bag Check and a few days later on Instragram.
Crossing the finish line. OH. MY. GOD. So much awesome that it is hard to put into words.
I Crossed, I Cried ( that is again for another post), crouched to my knees after crossing, got up and walked up to… and this is where it gets really cool.
Her name is Sarah Lynn Stephens. The day before the race she saw me at the packet pick up and told me I would finish and do amazing. Little did I know til later that the girl I got my medal from, who’s shoulder I cried on was the same girl who had encouraged me before the race. A Girl who’s sister is actually on one of my Dodgeball teams. Small World.
Seriously such an awesome finish, I would not have changed a thing.
The Race was fun, tough, but fun. My Heart felt amazing, not once was I worried about my heart. It was my heart that got me through to the finish. My body was up to the task at hand and I had fun for the entire 21.1 km. I made a couple new friends, experienced brief emotion ( again a different post), finished a race and became very proud of what I accomplished even if it wasn’t the goal time I had hoped.
So what else is there to say?
When you set out to accomplish a goal, No matter how hard you train, how prepared you are…..Sometimes things don’t go as you had hoped or planned. Sometimes we search and try for one thing but discover another. There is no reason to be disappointed if you don’t get your time or PR and complete your goal. Use it to move forward but don’t beat yourself up, be proud of what you did accomplish and look for what made the experience great.
For me, it was two women who made me laugh, crossing the finish line, crying on the shoulder of someone who said they were proud of me and in the end……Kicking Heart Disease’s Ass for yet another day.