In my case, apparently so many times that I should also have experienced severe head injury. I think the gravity of the heart issue that was developing was masked in part by my desire to overachieve. I always thought if I just worked harder and really applied myself, I could overcome any obstacle. But what if the desire for overachievement becomes the obstacle that you have to beat?
My problem seemed to start around the spring of 2012. After a 5 year period of moving forward in my career, the agency had a change in leadership. While I remained at the same pay grade, I was reassigned to a job that I had performed 5 years before. In my mind, that meant I just had to work my butt off to prove my worth and move my career forward again. I didn’t factor in that for the first time in my life instead of having energy to burn and a positive attitude, I was incredibly tired.
If you asked people to describe me, Type A or intense or driven might be words they would use. I never let my fear stop me from doing what was required. I moved several times to new cities by myself and without knowing anyone or having any connections in the city. I worked in a very demanding job. I had driven through bad snow and ice storms. I worked in our agency’s command center during on 9/11, not going home till after dark and then taking the subway home over an altered route on a very eerie evening. I was always able to make myself get through the worst events.
But I had some unusual reactions to problems as the autumn of 2012 began. A bad storm in October resulted in the loss of electricity where I lived for a day or so. This was not the end of the world: I lived in an apartment building with lots of other people, I had plenty of food that didn’t need to be cooked, no issues with either heat or air, and I could shower in the fitness center at my office building. But I found it difficult to cope with what was just an inconvenience, and people began to take notice.
I was scheduled to meet two church friends for a weekend lunch. The restaurant was on busy highway corridor in an area near where I grew up. The restaurant was buried in a crowded shopping center, but not impossible to find. Unless you were Melanie stressed to the max. Then it became like finding a needle in a haystack. I wandered and wandered and finally called my friends. They were already at the restaurant and tried to lead me to it by phone. But I kept bursting into tears, berating myself for being stupid. I did not see that this was another inappropriate reaction, causing my friends to take notice.
I was losing weight for no reason. My diet and my exercise had not changed, but my clothes were starting to hang on me. I even had some of my skirts and pants altered because they were suddenly too big. I also lost my rosy complexion, and I just looked pale and tired. I put on blush, picked up the altered clothes from the cleaners, and continued to exercise to combat the stress. Great solutions? Probably not.
In early November our agency’s leader had an off-site meeting in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This was at most a 2 ½ hour drive from where I lived and worked. I felt too tired to stay alert to drive that unfamiliar trip on my own even in broad daylight. Fortunately, one of my colleagues lived in my area must have realized that I was anxious. He offered to let me ride along with him as a passenger. I will be eternally grateful for his kindness and perceptiveness because I am not sure I would have made it to or from that meeting on my own in one piece.
Has this ever happened to you? One or even two incidents that display uncharacteristic behavior on your part should be a sign that something is off. Do not make the mistake that I did and let it go by without stopping to question what is going on with your life, or whether you need a break.
For the Thanksgiving holiday I drove to another city where many members of my family live. I went back home with the calming thought that I would be returning in about a week for a long weekend getaway with my sister. But my calm was soon derailed. On the Monday after Thanksgiving, I learned at a staff meeting that a close friend at another agency had committed suicide. I was shocked and emotionally devastated. It was surreal to learn this news in a meeting where it became just another topic like our annual budget. My agency’s Director and his Deputy were very perceptive and kind, and cancelled any meetings they had with me that day since I overcome by feelings of grief. I went to my friend’s funeral the day before I left for my weekend getaway. The hall was crowded with colleagues, friends and family, and each of us would have given anything to erase the events of the prior week. So incredibly sad. I knew that I needed the road trip so I could reflect, regroup and try to put things in perspective.
The morning that I left, despite how tired I was, I got up at my usual 4:00 a.m. time to exercise in my apartment building’s fitness center. As I was leaving, I ran into a young woman in the fitness center who had become a good friend. She kidded me about my passion for working out early in the morning. I told her I was getting away for a long weekend, and how tired I was. She said she hoped my time away would give me a chance to rest. As I was walking out, something caused me to turn around and tell this young woman how happy I was that I had met her because she had already become a very good friend. Sometimes God nudges us at critical times to acknowledge how much friends or family mean to us. Do not ignore those special opportunities.
The long weekend getaway was nice, but I still could not get over being incredibly tired – even more tired than at any other time during the autumn. Despite being so tired, I got up early on the last day to run on a treadmill. I had just finished running, slowing down to a brisk walk. I was listening to Bruce Springsteen’s song “Tunnel of Love” on my iPod. I had a very brief thought “That’s odd. I feel dizzy”. The next thing I knew, I found myself lying on the floor in a fetal position. I was feeling very disoriented and sore.
I attempted to get up with help and once again blacked out. Despite this, I did not want to go the emergency room. But the ambulance squad said I had no choice – I blacked out twice and they were taking me. The squad immediately took all my vital signs, to include extremely low blood pressure. (This scared the trainee who was with the squad. I think he thought I was dead but couldn’t figure out why I was still talking). They took me to the nearest emergency room where they immediately began taking my vital signs and asking a lot of questions in an attempt to figure out why I had blacked out.
A cardiologist was brought in to see me. He asked me if I had noticed anything unusual lately and I said “No.” My sister, who had followed the ambulance to the emergency room, said "Well what about the fact that for months you have been complaining about being bone tired.” Even after the trauma of blacking out on the treadmill, I still could not admit I had a problem. After more questions and a few more tests, I was transferred to another hospital that had a cardiac unit. I think the only thing that kept me from being really scared was that I was still too incredibly tired to process fear. But I did realize that something was seriously wrong and I could no longer try to “power through it” and I could not ignore it. The kicks in the head stopped, at least temporarily, for me.
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.