In the previous post, I discussed how the beta blocker I take manages stress by blocking the surge of adrenaline that I used to rely on to get things done quickly and under pressure. I began to feel like the action of blocking the adrenaline was creating a feeling of anxiety. I still am not quite sure why this occurred. In researching beta blockers on the web, I learned that apparently some doctors prescribe beta blockers for patients who are feeling anxiety. But I was not one of those patients. In fact, after increasing the dosage of the beta blocker for a short time, I realized I would needed to identify the tasks gave me fulfillment and a sense of calm, versus those that that seemed to be creating more adrenaline and stressing me out. I would need to weed out those tasks in the latter category.
It also soon became clear to me that giving up those tasks that might cause me stress even if I had previously thrived on performing those tasks. This was not easy and to some extent stressful. Why? Well people had started to count on me to do thing , as a member of the board and secretary of the federal leadership organization, as the director of the mentoring project and even in my church. But the fact of the matter is that at least at this stage in my heart failure, I could not perform projects that required me to show up to do certain tasks on certain dates. This was because I was unable to predict when I would be having a good day, and when I would just feel wiped out.
The first thing I decided to do was to resign my position as the director of the mentoring project. You are probably asking why I would give up doing something that I found to be so fulfilling. But the reality was that while I experienced tremendous rewards from working on this project, there were expectations that had to be meant in terms of getting the next version of the project up and running, coordinating activities, appearing at events, etc. As detailed in the previous blog post, I would have mornings with extended episodes of feeling something akin to dizziness. And I would have days where I just felt drained. If someone would kindly have provided me with a crystal ball so I could figure out exactly when those episodes would happen and plan around them, I would have continued with the mentoring project or maybe even a job with some flexibility. But alas, there seems to be no crystal ball that predicts down days with reliability.
Another factor that led to my decision was simply that the mentoring project needed someone with energy and new ideas to match the energy of the mentees and stimulate their development. It needed someone who could step in at a moment’s notice to find resources to help the mentors and mentees, or who could assist a mentor who was perhaps under some pressure in their own job. Again, with the unpredictability of when I might be having bad days, I could not be that energetic, resourceful person that the project needed. So with much regret, I resigned the position.
One thing I held onto for a while was being a board member and the secretary of our federal leadership organization. As secretary, I needed to be able to attend two meetings a month in person so that I could take the minutes of the meetings. Apart from the meetings, I also needed to respond to matters put to the board for decisions, either in an e-mail or in a phone call convened to discuss the issue.
Responding to issues over e-mails was never a problem for me. I did not find it stressful or tiring to read through an issue, analyze it, do any quick research needed, and respond quickly. In fact, sometimes I found it stimulating to be on those e-mails and exercise my brain cells. So this was not a problem.
The two in-person meetings were a different story. The two regularly scheduled monthly meetings were always scheduled for 6:00 in the evening. I would take a subway to and from the meeting location. I would take my second dose of beta blockers and other medication at the time that the meetings were held. The combination of the medications I was taking could wipe me out in terms of energy. Even if I delayed taking the medications till after I got home, I was still just tired from being up and doing things throughout the day. The fatigue I experienced especially in sitting through the meetings, debating sensitive topics and then taking the trip back home by subway would take a toll on me. It was possible to phone into the meeting, which is what a number of members did because of their job locations and hours. But I felt that to be able to report an accurate representation of what was said during the meeting, it was important to be there in person.
As I reviewed the previous paragraph, I realized that pre-heart failure, I would have responded to what I just wrote with "This woman can't attend a simple meeting and take a subway trip home? What a major loser! But now I felt the impact of having a weakened and enlarged heart and I knew that if I did't pay attention, it would get worse. So I had to focus on doing whatever I could to hopefully change my future heart outlook. So I decided to resign my positions as a board member and as a secretary.
A few people had a difficult time accepting that I felt I needed to resign. This almost made me question a decision made in the best interest of my heart health. Some people sometimes do not understand why I am so open about my heart failure and how it impacts me. Others wonder why I felt it necessary to write a blog. Well perhaps the inability for people to understand where I was coming from had caused me to become open. But more important, I needed to show others who were in my position that sometimes, the popular decision and the decision that is right for your heart health is not the same.
I know how hard it was for me (1) to go against my Type A nature and make the difficult decisions of what I needed to give up and change, and (2) how stressful it was for me to disappoint people by telling them that I could no longer commit to performing work, or I could not take on any additional stress. So I think I was so open with people at first to let people know that I was serious, and that what seemed normal and acceptable to them might be causing me stress.
I also began to realize that I had spent my life too much worrying about what other people thought. While it is important to take the needs of others into account, there may come a time when this has the potential to cause you harm. One of the biggest lessons I have learned from doctors, from websites and from members of my family is that I have to listen to my body and act accordingly. So when my body is telling me that activities might cause too much exertion, or taking on tasks could cause too much stress, then I need to act accordingly and just say no.
I am pretty sure that the lessons I have learned apply not just to me, but to any person who has a chronic illness that impacts how his or her body performs, or that causes anxiety. So I thought it was worth discussing this in a blog so others could know that it is okay to say no. In most instances, I think people will respect the no. But if they do not, then you should not be stressed. It’s okay for you to disagree with others in your own best interest. And there is good news. Like me, you will be able to learn how to add tasks and activities to my plate, when they can be done with a minimum of stress, when they fit in with the limitations of your chronic illness, and when they provide fulfillment.
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.