We have all been asked this question in an interview, or in a performance review, or even asked ourselves this question periodically. The answers to this question typically have positive trends: in a more challenging job, or in a successful relationship, or on a beach after retiring or taking a break. The list goes on….and I suspect no one typically answers in a way that would predict doom or gloom.
But life can be tricky. Just when you think that you have everything under control, the “i”s all dotted and the “t”s crossed, a curve ball comes soaring at you. At the age of 55, I was a really fit woman with a lot of energy, I ate healthy meals and had no chronic health issues. I thought there was no end to the possibilities of where I could go in life. But within the year, I had congestive heart failure, and a pacemaker (later upgraded to a defibrillator), and eventually, a leaky heart valve.
Up until recently, tests showed that I had an enlarged heart, a weakened heart, and a low heart function. Happily, after a sustained period of following the doctors’ orders to the letter (including making a heart healthy diet, exercise and rest a priority) my heart has returned to a normal size. My heart is still in a weakened condition and the function level is still low. But, the doctors and I are encouraged that if I stay the course I will continue to see improvement.
It hasn’t been an easy journey for the last 3 years, and it has required a lot of discipline which is something I have, and a lot of patience which I definitely do not have (but I’m trying). I learned the hard way is that if you haven’t found the balance in your life, it may be too late to avoid some dire consequences.
But like everything in this life, there are a lot of gray areas. Even a dramatic setback can bring some opportunities that help you reach deep down and find energy that you never knew you had. You can refresh your spirit and change your life for the better. Because I hung in there, and with the help of a number of excellent doctors, my family, a gifted therapist, spiritual advisers and many, many good friends, I have been able to turn things around to where I think my life now has more meaning. Today, people notice how much more relaxed and spontaneous I am. Now when I laugh, there is no trace of nervous laughter because I am uncomfortable or inhibited or because I think people are judging me. When I laugh it is full and robust laughter that comes from the heart and is authentic.
Am I frustrated because I am focusing all my efforts on improving my heart health and because I don’t have the stamina to work in a conventional job? Sure I am. Having had jobs since I was a teenager, being unemployed has put me in uncharted territory. My self-esteem centered on Melanie in the workplace. (If you see yourself in the last statement, I encourage you to stop and list all the things you bring to this earth that don’t have anything to do with your job description. I am sure that list will be much longer and much more fulfilling than you think.)
I am fortunate to have a good retirement income. Of course it also would be nice to have additional income. But the price I might have to pay in terms of negative impacts on my heart health is not one that I am willing to pay. So I as I continue my self-imposed (and health-imposed) heart break, it is vital that I not give in to the adrenaline rush that fueled my long hours on the job. This will just lead to putting me into stressful situations which can harm my heart.
I also have the pressure of people, even strangers I just met, opining on how I need to make sure I keep working even though I’m retired. If like me, you find yourself getting unsolicited advice, you and I both need to figure out if we’re sending signals that we’re seeking that advice. This is because you don’t need unsolicited advice. The person who knows what is best is the person who has lived in your body – in other words, you. I am learning (and some days re-learning) that I need to stay open to the possibilities that fit my new circumstances and not give in to what other people might think I should do. I have faith that if I follow my instincts, I’ll find something incredibly fulfilling for me and for the people I love.
As this blog progresses, there will be some discussion of my career and some of the choices I made as mysterious twists and turns started to occur in my health. The most I will say to describe that career is that I worked for a Federal agency and was in a leadership position when I retired. I did my best throughout my career to always deliver the best job I possibly could, to mentor employees, to take on new challenges, and to treat those who worked for me fairly, not as my friends but as respected colleagues. I am taking the same tone in this blog. When I talk about things that happened while I was at work, it is for the purpose of showing the impact of the illness and the stress I was under on me, and not to criticize or assess blame for things that happened. If you want that type of commentary, find another blog.
I have opted not to give the names of the family members, friends and colleagues who are in my blog. Many of them value their privacy. So I have decided to refer to the role they play in my life while at the same time respecting that they may not want to be featured in a blog.
In five years, where do I see myself? Living a life that provides me with fulfilling activities, with friends and family members I respect and honor, and filled with a spiritual faith that makes all things possible. Regardless of how circumstances might change throughout those five years and beyond, I can’t imagine that my ideal life could ever be better than what I have just described. But it took me almost three years to get to this point…
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.