I have talked about my faith frequently in my posts. While my prescriptions, my defibrillator/pacemaker, my medical team, and my own discipline are crucial to my treatment, I do not think I would be nearly as healthy if it was not for my spiritual faith. So I want to give a shout out to my parents for making sure that I attended church, learned the lessons of the Bible, and cultivated a relationship with God early in my life.
I also need to admit that there have been times when I have been reduced to tears before God, questioning how he could have let my heart be damaged. I have come to realize that perhaps heart failure was not a part of God’s plan. But I think how I have learned to deal with it is something God helps me with every minute of every day.
I have learned to keep my ears and eyes open for signs that my attitude of feeling blessed may be slipping, and perhaps anger may be waiting in the wings. Because as long as I can maintain my connection to God, I can maintain an optimistic nature and heart failure will not win. Heart failure may eventually take my life, but I am hopefully leaving behind a legacy that can transform others who are tormented by this chronic condition. Then I will have done not just my work, but God’s work.
So you’re saying, that’s a nice theory Melanie. But where is the scientific proof that spirituality and faith have any impact on either improving the condition of heart failure patients, or helping them manage the condition effectively. Well, I have found some articles that indicate there has been research performed to show that spirituality does help patients with heart failure.
An article on the website Everyday Health discussed a study conducted by Paul Mills, PHD, a professor in family medicine and public health at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. His study, which was published in 2015, documented results from 186 men and women with heart failure and showed that gratitude stemming from spirituality was linked with better sleep, better mood, and lower levels of inflammation. A patient’s inflammation levels are significant because inflammation can often worsen heart failure.
The same article also discussed a study by doctor Juglans Alvarez, a cardiologist at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. His study was published in June 2016 in Brazil Archives of Cardiology. In that study, Dr. Alvarez gauged the level of spirituality in 131 heart failure patients and found that the more spirituality they felt, the better they were at sticking to taking their medicine. The study did not prove cause and effect, but Alvarez speculates that those who are more spiritual feel more connected to themselves, their loved ones, and the world in general — and that means they take better care of themselves.
It is not just followers of the Christian faith who find that spirituality has positively impacted their management of heart failure. The NIH library contains a study by a doctor in Iraq who studied 18 patients with heart failure. These patients were of the Islamic faith. The study concluded that: “A spiritual strategy helps the patients effectively to cope with heart failure. Patients learn to use religious beliefs and faith to accept the reality of the disease and its stages and to manage their condition with patience, tolerance and hope calmly and confidently for a bright future.”
One of the quotes I find most uplifting in this study is: “I concluded that one should miss something to get better things; I suffered a lot because of my heart, but I’ve achieved greater things. I have a better understanding of life; I live with 10% of my heart, but I am taking full advantage of what I have.”
The study recognized that there is a frequent relapse of symptoms and this can bring a fear of death to the patient. But the researchers concluded that a positive attitude about death as a fact and a blessing from God did a number of things. It helped patients come to terms with the disease, overcome fear and create peace. All of these things helped the patients to cope with the disease and become thankful for every moment that they lived.
So how does one gain this influence of spirituality that will help you manage heart failure? Of course, the only experience I have is my own. It would be great if I could tell you that spirituality is something that just comes naturally and you can do it on your own. Maybe some people can. But I need reinforcement. So far, my method has not failed me yet!
For me, it starts with finding a faith community that you can join. I know this is very critical for me. How do I know this? Because even though I grew up in a wonderful faith community, I moved to another state for my first job after college. There were a number of years where I just could not find a place of worship that was a good fit for me. I stopped going to church, and looking back, I can see the negative impact on my life.
Once I moved back to the area where my childhood church was located, I felt at peace and I could almost hear my spirit sighing with relief. I find it best if I can attend something each week and I encourage other heart failure patients to do the same - be it the weekly worship service, or a bible study, or some other event that your church or temple or mosque holds on a regular basis. This is because you will need the constant reinforcement of God being within your community and your life, working for good. I find that the fatigue from heart failure limits when I can attend things. Night is just bad – after taking heart medicines all day and maneuvering through a full day with a less effective heart, I’m pretty much toast at night. Happily, there are plenty of other options.
It has also helped me to be involved in an activity where I regularly read, analyze and even write about scriptures. It started with being an elder at my church. I would have to come up with prayers for the communion service. I would find ideas for the prayers by studying the schedule of bible verses that pertain to the week's worship service.
My elder term ended several years ago. But I continue to write and analyze scripture, participating in exercises such as preparing advent devotionals for my church. As you know if you read this blog, I have also analyzed some scriptures in previous posts.
Another activity that builds my spirituality and my understanding of God is to be a member of a group that studies the Bible and religious matters. At our church there are many opportunities such as Adult Sunday School, or book study groups for events such as advent or Lent. I find that getting together as a group and discussing our views on the study materials and on religion in general increase my understanding of God and the Bible. I learn something new each and every class, and often it is from my fellow students just as much as it is from the author of the class materials. It is just another way of increasing my understanding of faith, and making it relevant to my life and my challenges.
So I will conclude by saying that following doctors’ orders is of course important to your heart failure treatment plan. But following the road to God, no matter which religion’s path you take, is critical. It helps you to develop a heart and a soul that will enrich humankind. Plus it makes your life with heart failure as well as your approach to leaving this earth much more manageable and peaceful. but even if you have no chronic condition, having faith just puts everything that is going on in your life into a much clearer perspective.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.