In a previous blog post, I talked about some of the clinical trials that my medical providers support. What are clinical trials? According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. These studies also may show which medical approaches work best for certain illnesses or groups of people.
So I am about to share with you the news of a very exclusive clinical trial that is so exciting and uplifting for me: the atrioventricular affirmations clinical trial. I suspect people in the the doctors’ offices I visit are probably scratching their heads and saying “We keep on top of all the clinical trials having to do with heart failure. Who dropped the ball and missed out on this one?”
So I’ll let you in on a little secret. Please don’t blame any medical staff members for failing to find this worthy clinical trial. Because this clinical trial is not sponsored, endorsed, or recognized by any medical organization. In fact, they don’t even know about it. This is something I developed on my own, after reading a few articles and analyzing what it is that really makes me less fatigued, less anxious and more energetic.
I figure no one knows me better than me. Sure, the drugs have been lifesaving, as has the cardiac device connected to my heart. But those just deal with how my heart functions. While the heart is important, so is my emotional well-being. I think that when my soul is strengthened my heart will gain strength as well. So I needed to find something that makes me realize each day how amazing it is to be me in this life, regardless of how crappy my heart is. (Sorry heart. I love you but honestly, you’re not the organ you used to be).
I have been doing a lot of reading and research as I continue to challenge the fatigue and anxiety that are the result of my heart failure. In fact, I want to do more than challenge heart failure. I want to learn to have fun with this chronic condition.
I saw a Washington Post article about a woman who overcame her anxiety by writing a gratitude journal. This was a timely article. I don't want to create a gratitude journal (it hasn't worked for me in the past). But I have conducted some brief research on using affirmations to improve your outlook in the last few months. So it was good sign to see that the Post article also referred positively to affirmations.
At about the time I saw this article, I found on the web an NIH study from 5 years ago. The study shows that there may be a connection between affirmations and lessening the impact of chronic conditions. In the same time frame, I ran across some affirmation cards I made up a number of years ago. So you probably want to know what an affirmation card is. Remember those flash cards you used as a kid to help you learn how to do basic math functions? Well these are cards that perform the function of inspiring me. When I read through the cards, I remember how positive I once felt about myself and my ability to persevere.
So I decided to start my own unofficial, exclusive Melanie clinical trial. Because this is a trial to improve my heart health, the logical name of the trial is: Atrioventricular affirmations. I suspect there are some confused stares out there because many of you do not know what his term means. Of course you don’t because I only recently invented the term.
Here is how this Melanie medical term is born. I took the definition of atrioventricular, which means: of or relating to the atria and ventricles of the heart. Then I took the definition of the term affirmations which means: positive pronouncements that are meant to be uplifting. I thought the practice of using atrioventricular affirmations would be so helpful when I felt depressed, or frustrated or as though I was losing ground. I could use the affirmation to lift me and my heart (ventricles, atria, etc.) and get us back on track to the most optimal heart health and emotional well-being possible.
I thought that I might even follow one of the tips from the Post article on gratitude journals and figure out how to text myself each day with an affirmation to boost my spirits. How inspiring would that be? I mean, when I looked at the affirmations I had written previously, some of them were pretty darn vibrant and awesome. Like: "At my center is an incandescent fire." I can just get so many meanings out of that one, and it helps me to remember that I still have a drive in me that can overcome even the most stubborn bout of fatigue. (Although to be honest. if the incandescent fire started to get real strong, the blasted beta blockers I take might dump a bucket of water on the flames).
So far using affirmations in the past month or two has generally worked for me. When I committed to the habit of using affirmations when I felt anxious or down on myself, I found myself feeling more optimistic and enthusiastic then I had felt in quite a while. I also found that words seemed to flow more easily into the various writing projects that I was working on when I used the affirmations each day. Friends and colleagues noticed that I seemed to be more energetic and perky. In fact, someone recently told me that I have begun to literally glow.
So yes, the affirmations have worked in my normal everyday life. But the test would come when I either had an appointment for a medical procedure related to tracking my heart failure, or even just a series of bad heart days. No problem, I thought. I just need to remember that I can be very stubborn. In this respect, I take after my Mom who came by her nickname of the Missouri Mule very honestly. So I tried to be persistent with the affirmations each day when I hit some unusual circumstances.
But despite my persistence, I somehow forgot that I also have a tendency to become anxious when an unexpected, daunting or unusual thing arises. So I had a bit of a meltdown as I was getting ready for my recent cardiac catheterization. A week or so out, I had a series of bad days feeling short of breath, incredibly fatigued and just scared of what the test might show. So I just hyper-freaked. If you don’t believe me, just ask my minister, my fellow church members, friends and anyone who just saw the look of wretched anxiety on my face. Thank God for the church, because it was the prayers of the minister and the congregation members that subdued my anxiety.
Then I decided I just needed to find a way to turn anxiety upside down. The affirmations I developed a few years ago are very heartening and engaging, and they have helped me through most days. But I decided that I need even stronger ammunition on those days when scary procedures or debilitating heart failure symptoms make it hard for me to focus on the positive. I need a different approach so that I don't immediately begin to wonder if I have reached a point where not only my progress is ending, but the heart failure symptoms are becoming more advanced. Simply put, I need to find a novel approach that avoids negative thinking and inspires me to get up, get out and try to find fulfillment regardless of where my heart is at any particular moment.
So it occurred to me that maybe I needed to identify and welcome the positive side of the symptoms. If that isn’t possible, then I need to identify and applaud the qualities within me that will overcome the tiresome tendencies of the symptoms. Since they are a part of my life, I may not be able to beat heart failure but I certainly can show it who the boss really is. So here are just a few of the new affirmations I have developed:
Here is the bottom line of Melanie’s atrioventricular affirmations clinical trial: I can choose to be singing the blues about my heart failure. Or I can choose to partner and even have fun with it. I choose the latter. I look at it this way. I didn’t ask heart failure to stow away in the cargo hold of the Melanie jet. So if it wants to stay with me for the rest of the journey, it is required to listen to my meandering thoughts, to laugh at my jokes, and to become a positive force in my life.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. She spent the next 7 years learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth. Then in October 2020, she received a heart transplant. This blog is about her journey of the heart.