When someone experiences heart break, it generally is not welcomed as a happy life event. It can be filled with tears, regrets of lost love, and promises broken. Hours confiding in friends who assure you that he or she was not good enough for you. Empty pints of Hagen Daz ice cream scattered on your kitchen counter.
So why in the world am I willingly submitting to, and even looking forward to, a heart break? The reason is that for me, the term heart break has a different meaning. As you will see as this blog unfolds, it took me my whole life (58 years) to figure out that it is important to protect and nurture my heart. But circumstances in the last 3 years compel my vow to be a steadfast disciple of heart health. I am now giving my heart the attention it deserves, giving it a break from the strain and hectic pace of life.
The medical issues I have endured mean that I can no longer hold a demanding job. In fact, if I engage in any work, it has to be at my pace, and be something that is fulfilling but not stressful. How do you find work like that? Beats me?!?!? But I’m not too concerned. I’m still young enough to figure it out. Until then, I have two priorities. One is to take care of my heart health. The other is to write a blog.
The first priority is a tall order. As the center of your cardiovascular system, the heart is responsible for just about everything that gives your body life -- ranging from the transportation of oxygen to the success of your immune system. So to have optimal heart health, I need to be vigilant in a number of areas.
First, diet is important to good heart health. I must follow a heart healthy diet which includes being under a sodium restriction of 2000 mg or less of salt per day and a fluid restriction of 64 fluid ounces or less per day. In the blog, you will see that I went through a lot of ups and downs over a three year period. While it may sound incredible, one of the hardest things in this period that I had to endure was to give up salt because I salted everything. My family used to kid me that I would put salt on salt, and leave a little trail of white salt crystals around my plate. At work, I kept a trove of salt packets in my drawer for the countless times that I ate at my desk. But I went cold turkey on salt, and no longer salt the food on my plate. I read labels carefully and purchase only products that do not contain a large amount of salt.
A good disposition will enrich the heart. According to medical studies, a really good laugh can send 20% more blood flowing through your entire body. One study found that when people watched a funny movie, their blood flow increased. So since one of my goals is to decrease stress and strengthen my heart, one solution is to find humor whenever and wherever I can. In other words, I realized that I need to stop taking myself so seriously, and looking for a funny side to every curve ball life sends to me. Funny sides do exist, it just may take a while for the humor to sink ibn.
Sleep plays an important role in heart health, as sleep is involved in the healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. I can tell you that throughout my career, I always shorted myself on sleep. I’m pretty sure that this was detrimental to my health. Fortunately, getting a good night of sleep (and sometimes napping) is now something that I enjoy and make a priority. I don’t know if I can ever make up for the sleep deprivation I experienced, but I can at least enjoy how nice it is to feel well rested.
Exercise is something I excelled at pre-heart issues. I worked out every day, not only lots of cardio but weight training and making sure I walked lots of places rather than driving. I could climb 10 flights of stairs at once without feeling winded. Currently, I still work out each day because exercise can condition the heart. But the intensity of the workout is at a lower level.
Stress, or rather the lack of stress, also influences heart health. I spent much of my career taking on challenges. I was not seeking power; I was seeking to contribute to the good of an organization with a mission I believed in. The problem was that whenever a crisis occurred, or someone had an important project and said jump, I would say "how high". (As a family member says, I would also say, "how long do you want me to stay up here?"). For almost my entire career, I believed I could get through any problem by just doing more, pouring more energy into the effort. What I realize now is that the thing I thought was helping me survive in a hectic world was ruining my health, especially my heart.
Now the stress that accompanies taking on new challenges or overexerting causes things to happen in my body that can hurt my heart. Figuring out what is stressful is easy. When stress appears I can still experience an adrenaline rush urging me to power through whatever the task or issue is. But then my body goes into a panic mode. This is because the adrenaline is damaging my heart, and the beta blocker drug I take is blocking the adrenaline in order to protect my heart. So I follow what my body is telling me and I do not pursue whatever it is that is causing stress if at all possible. It is not always easy to say no, especially those who are used to me as a person who was previously an overachiever. But it is becoming easier as I see my heart health improve from protecting it from stressful situations.
Why am I writing a blog? I have been on this journey for over three years and I wanted to share what I learned through the school of hard knocks (and am still learning). Chronicling the rollercoaster ride with my health over that period, and dealing with the impact on me exposes raw feelings and is intimidating. It is a challenge to let people see inside me, to see me in my weak moments, to see my warts and all. But it is also helpful for people to see that as I am working through the process of grieving the passing of the old Melanie, I persevered and ultimately have grown from the experience. They also need to realize, as I am realizing, that this is a cyclical process likely will continue for the rest of my life. And at the very least, if readers see similarities between the problems I experienced and something they are currently experiencing, it might get them on the phone to the doctor's office.
My diagnosis and my setbacks did not occur overnight, and likely will continue to have some twists and turns. There also have been many times over the last 3 years when I wondered if the course would ever start to change or just even out. This blog is to help reinforce in my own mind that I must remain positive in order to have the best health possible, and also to reach out to those who might be heading down the same road. I want to help those who may be able to benefit now from the lessons that I learned the hard way. So this blog will unfold gradually as well and continue indefinitely. So for those of you who want to read along as I relive the demanding yet ultimately uplifting chapters in my life, and create new chapters, thank you. My pledge to you is to make this blog thoughtful, interesting and even entertaining.
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.