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Caring for Your Other Heart: Becoming Your Own Valentine

February 14, 2012

ImageToday in honor of February as Heart Health Awareness Month and to recognize the important link between preeclampsia and long-term cardiovascular health, we have a special guest blogger, Dr. Melissa Blount. Dr. Blount is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist at Blount Psychology in Chicago, Illinois, who was diagnosed with cardiovascular disease in 2009 at the age of 41. Since her diagnosis, she has been a vocal advocate for the American Heart Association and the MendedHearts organization, to improve awareness about women’s risk for cardiovascular disease:

My life often feels like it’s divided into parts: childhood blur, parents’ divorce apocalypse, college years, the horrid twenties, starting to get better thirties, husband, daughter, first BLACK president, sweet home Chicago, “let’s have a another baby?”… why aren’t I getting pregnant and then fatigue, shortness of breath; lots of doctors visits to find out why I’m not getting pregnant, palpitations, tightness in chest when I get stressed, tightness in chest gone, then tightness in chest all the time and doesn’t go away until I’m absolutely still and then December 2, 2009.

I went in for what I thought was a simple stress test… and then was off to a race in which I never intended to compete. I knew my test wasn’t going well when I couldn’t finish the test; the pain started and then the silence. Then, “I’ll be right back, do you have someone you can call?; We need you to go for more tests.” “No more babies for you; we’re trying to help you live for the one child you have.” From then on that’s all I hear. I’m numb to the fact that I’ve just been told I’m lucky I even made it to the hospital.

There was a great deal of denial: I wasn’t super fit but I have the reputation in my family of being a health nut.  The last thing I ever expected to hear was that I had an issue with my heart. I felt broken and didn’t feel as if I had any control to fix it. I felt alone. I felt shame because I felt I had brought this on myself. On and on went my self-blame as I began to process the news that I have heart disease.

The whole first year was like walking on eggshells.  I felt fragile and alone in my struggle. My peers and very close friends tried to understand, but my issues were those of their grandparents. My husband didn’t want to hear me; if the choice was between me and an unborn, non-existent baby… then the choice was me. And while I logically understood his choice, it felt like a betrayal. My life felt abruptly interrupted and I was angry. But I was afraid to be angry for fear of what it might do to my heart.

Halfway into 2010, I finally decided that this shrink needed a shrink. Suddenly I was given permission to grieve; to be angry and take my life, MY HEART back from the medical establishment.

And as we worked together to address my emotional self, it made room for me to consider how I would address my physical self, and the bridge between the two. The first thing I did was take a mindfulness course and began a mindfulness practice. The second is I really started to think about what kind of exercise I could do on a consistent basis and two activities came to mind: rowing and swimming.

Beginning in April of 2011 I began the overhaul of my physical self at a more intense and deliberate intention. I joined Rowfit Chicago and began to demand more of my body, setting goals that I’d always wanted to do and never imagined that I could. And I am proud to say that in the year of 2011, I ran two 5k and completed my first sprint triathlon. It’s been amazing to think of myself as more than a partner, mother, daughter, sister and cardiac patient. I am someone capable of pushing my body AND MY HEART beyond my preconceived physical limits. And my goal is to continue to push the envelope. And though it isn’t easy given all the roles that I juggle, I am determined that as a heart health advocate, I will help more women live a whole-hearted, fully-engaged life, rather than living literally without heart.

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