Tag Archives: congestive heart failure

Some Days Are Like That

If you’re looking for happiness, hope, and inspiration, come back another day.  This isn’t it.  One of the first rules of good writing is honesty.  So, here it is.  This post is about living honestly on those days that don’t feel very good.

As I have written recently, the last few months were difficult health-wise and turned me into a hermit.  This extrovert makes a horrible hermit.  I feel isolated and depressed.  It shuts down my voice.  I feel invisible, little, and useless to the world.  Even moments of joy, laughter or appreciation of beauty are fleeting.  I reach out to others with goodness when I can, but even that feels momentary.  It’s been frustrating, to say the least.

I lost my voice and coughed constantly.  My lung capacity dropped 40% again, so I had little energy for anything and was barely able to exercise or walk down the block.  I felt crummy.  My two conversation groups disbanded.  Life became so boring I felt I had nothing to say to anyone.  I trusted if I kept working the program of medication, rest, gradual increasing activity, and trying for a positive attitude I’d eventually return to a fuller, more meaningful life again.  But in the meantime, it was uninspiring to write or talk about my life.  It isn’t the kind of stuff I want to share with anyone.  After all, who really wants to hear it?

Like many people with chronic illness, I have good days and bad, and some that are just ….. there.  There’s not much to say about them except they’re frustrating and not how we want to be living.  Some days are just like that and there’s nothing to do about them.

For myself, I hate to share how I am doing at such times.  I feel like I’m whining and complaining.  I don’t want pity or sympathy, advice or problem solving, well-meaning as they might be.  I don’t want to have to take care of listeners’ discomfort with the unpleasantness of my life and the vulnerability of theirs–I have enough on my own to take care of.  I don’t want people to tell me things will get better, or to look on the bright side, or to have faith, or to say they understand how I feel.  Unless they’ve actually been in my very situation, they don’t know how I feel.

Sometimes I don’t know what I want from others, I just know life stinks and is boring and frustrating now.  I just want the people I’m speaking with or those reading what I have written to be O.K. being uncomfortable, to know they don’t have to fix me, and to recognize that even people they respect and admire still have crummy times but that doesn’t mean we’re going to stay in that space forever or jump off a cliff.  I want people who are uncomfortable to know it’s O.K. to be uncomfortable, but please don’t inflict it on others.  Just listen, accept the crumminess of it, and respond with a version of “That really sucks.”  Yes, it does.  For me, and I think for many people with chronic illness, that’s all we want.

cropped-billingsley2520creek_full1.jpgBecause I don’t want to sound like a whiner or to add to others’ discomfort, I withdraw into myself and retreat from others when my life is crummy.  Taking care of other people’s discomfort–or even having to listen to it–takes too much energy and gets too depressing.  I don’t want to build friendships on the dishonesty of pretending my life is something it isn’t, so I withdraw.

Likewise with my writing.  Anything I write that doesn’t come from an honest place in myself is noticeably hollow.  The dishonesty is transparent and uncomfortable to readers.  But if I write honestly at those times, it sounds depressing.  So, I stop writing in order not to seem depressing.  This time, after a week of finally trying to write an up-lifting, helpful, insightful post and finding every attempt deadly boring and useless, I decided to go for honesty.

Even though I hesitate to write this blog post, here it is:  honest.  The reality is that just because life is crummy today doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow.  And if tomorrow is wonderful (as was the weekend I spent with my children and granddaughter recently), another crummy day is around the corner.  That’s how life is with chronic illness, or grief, or care-giving, or aging, or any number of other types of unpleasantness. Some days are like that for us.

Please don’t try to fix us or give us advice.  Don’t worry too much about us or give us too much sympathy.  Agree with us that it stinks, it sucks, it’s lousy, that it is probably really frustrating and maybe even unfair.  It is all those things. Some days are like that.  And then we’ll move on in our conversation and our journey.  After all, unpleasantness is just part of life.

Photo by Barbara Anderson outside Hailey, Idaho, May 2012

Go Red: Women’s Heart Month Saves Lives

The #1 killer of women is heart disease.  Heart disease kills more women than do all cancers combined.  It strikes as early in life as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and lymphoma do.  The death rate begins to climb for women in our 40’s.  Who would have guessed?  I was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure at 48, seven years ago.  You can read my story in “Life Upside Down” (09/29/2010).

The good news is that, like cancer, much heart disease is preventable, and if caught early, treatable.

Warning signs of heart attack women are different for women than for men and are often subtle.  Don’t wait for pain down your left arm or a heavy weight on your chest, although these are possible symptoms for women.  Women’s heart attacks often feel like an strong tooth ache, or pain across the shoulder blades. Go to http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/ to learn more.

Denial is more than a deep river in Egypt.  Take the possiblity of heart problems seriously.  Have your heart checked and an EKG done, even if you feel fine, because it provides a baseline for future reference.  I had an EKG when I was 30, for which my doctors were grateful 18 years later.  It showed what had changed and what had not.

You know the drill:  Eat a healthy diet, exercise, reduce negative stress in your life, give up fast food and diet soda.  Get regular check-ups and learn the warning signs.  For all of this, your heart will sing your praise!

We know what we need to do. The question is whether we will value our life enough to do it.

The Journey
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice-
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug at your ankles
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried with its stiff finger
at the very foundations-
though the melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly recognized as your own
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do-
determined to save
the only life you could save.
-Mary Oliver

My Flight Pattern: Zoom-P-P-P-P-P-Zoom

I feel like a balsa airplane whose rubber band releases too soon.  I keep going p-p-p-p-p instead of z-o-o-m.

Balsa planes are low-tech—no engines, batteries, or even glue.  They have two pieces of wood for the body and wings, a plastic propeller, and a rubber band for power.   I used to play with these for hours.

images103U11YFTo make them fly, you hold the plane with one hand and rotate the propeller with the other until the rubber band is wound as tightly as possible.  If you do it right, the plane can zoom above trees and land in a neighboring yard.

If your finger slips off the propeller too soon, however, the rubber band unwinds and you have to start over.  The plane goes p-p-p-p-p.  It sits forlornly in your hand or plops to the ground.

Right now, I feel like I’m more p-p-p-p-p than zoom.  I get motivated and wind my rubber band for the next flight.  Then I lose momentum and go plop. 

One year ago, I looked for a new direction in life by starting this blog.  I was passionate about my new direction, my learning curve, and my writing.  I started to fly.  In January, my health went down the drain and I took a break from the blog.  Then I wound up the rubber band and got myself flying again.

By late spring, I realized that getting strong enough to enjoy my son’s wedding and manage the 500 details related to it would take all the energy I had, so I again set aside my blog.  Afterwards, I focused on recovery.  Done, done, and done.  Zoom in life, p-p-p-p on the blog!

Now I’m winding up the rubber band again.  Half the time, though, my drive goes p-p-p-p-p instead of zoom.  It’s hard to get restarted.

Thinking about balsa airplanes helps me get going again.  I remember that: 

  • No matter how many times you successfully fly the plane, your finger will slip off the propeller from time to time and the rubber band unwind.
  • After every successful flight, you have to wind up the propeller again.
  • The thrill of the flight is worth the effort, no matter how many times you have to start over.

Learning:  Pick up your plane and start again.  Flying feels great.