My story is not that special; and certainly not remarkable in any way. As such if you bore easy then you may want to close down your browser now – but before you do; just remember that being open and honest with yourself, your friends and family is always the best policy
OK, so my recent history is one of a complete change. Back in 2013, I was diagnosed with a chronic heart condition and my world turned upside down. Coronary Microvascular Disease has changed me forever. Being in my late 30’s at the time this came as a shock – I am sure it would do to anyone. The doctors assured me that I was fortunate to have been diagnosed quickly and am heavily medicated to help manage the symptoms. After several medical procedures, it was confirmed that whilst there was no cure, there was a way to medicate and just manage the symptoms going forward. Several lifestyle changes would be required and a “new normal” was needed.
To give this some context, I need to explain a little about my background. I quickly learnt as a child that only the strongest survive. Having seen family members and close friends follow the wrong path in life I was committed to making a difference and became obsessed about what I wanted to be and how I would get there.
I was fortunate enough to start Martial Arts training at a young age and by my late teens, I was already helping my instructor by taking classes in his absence and sparring with people much older and heavier than I. I had found my calling and it was a lifestyle and philosophy I threw myself into 100%. When my wife and children came along I naturally mellowed slightly but training and fitness was always a massive part of my make-up and daily routine. With this in mind it was hard to be sat in front of the cardiologist who was telling me I have a chronic heart condition that, although well medicated, will obviously have a huge impact on my life. Being handed leaflets, aimed at those in their 70’s (who would usually be the target audience), about how to manage the condition was horrible. Being informed that a bit of gentle gardening is acceptable followed by a lay down / relax in a comfortable armchair was not what I was used to at all.
Understandably, I slipped into a deep depression. 5 years later that continues, but is well managed (by yet more medication) My weight ballooned with me not being able to train at all. Coupled with the comfort eating of things I had always denied myself when I was training, as of today, I am around six stone heavier than I was when I was first diagnosed. Ironically, this makes the condition much worse and is something that I need to remedy – I’ve lost count how many times my Cardiologist has had some very harsh words and gave me a straight talking to. The message has now been received and I have a diet and activity plan I’ve promised to stick to.
Naturally, having to be constantly aware of my heart rate etc and following the guidance of no over excursion or stressful situations I am almost completely in a state of heightened awareness. This, in turn, leads to severe anxiety. Having a doctor tell me that if the GTN spray (that I have to constantly carry with me) doesn’t work on relieving an angina pain then I must phone 999 is quite honestly terrifying. Hypervigilance is of course going to be a consequence here – and to be fair that is actually, what is needed. As such, CBT (Cognitative Behavioural Therapy) is pretty much ineffective in my case. The use of “Controlled exposure” within CBT is not something any counsellor is willing to try out with a cardiac patient (nor am I, to be honest!)
So where am I now?
Well, as it stands I have my depression under control. My heart condition is well managed but will always flare up; and I have to be very careful not to put myself in situations where my Angina can rear its ugly head. My anxiety is a constant battle.
After suffering a really bad angina episode on a train back in November 2017 (where I collapsed and was taken to hospital with a suspected heart attack) I have a real fear of travel now. I have fortunately been able to go on holiday this year with my family after being mildly sedated before the flight (those of a certain vintage can think Mr T “I ain’t getting on no plane!”) !) I am still under a therapist and we are finding ways to make things manageable so I am hopeful for the future.
Life is hard – but also life is also a gift. I suppose it is true when they say “Yesterday is History, Tomorrow is a Mystery and Today is a Gift – that’s why they call it The Present”
Thanks for listening.
PS – If you have any concerns over your health, please see your GP! The help is out there, you just need to ask. Despite being so well connected via technology the world is seemingly a more and more lonely place so reach out if you need to.