When I was in the hospital a nurse came in and handed me information on living with heart disease. I remember thinking I had a heart attack, I don't have heart disease. The two were in no way mutually exclusive in my mind. What a sheltered world I lived in, huh? I had never been really sick with much more than strep throat or the occasional flu. Carolyn over at Heart Sisters wrote about this phenomenon in her post ‘Healthy Privilege’ – when you just can’t imagine being sick. I could have never imagined this. This was something that happened to other people, not me.
I am in the CCU which I can't believe in the first place, and I know I am looking stunned while this nurse is trying to go over this information with me. As if I had not reached illness overload already I could hardly digest that she was telling me I now had a lifelong chronic illness. (See Post Heart Attack Stun). In my mind heart disease was for old people. Let me tell you that 42 feels really young when you are talking about heart disease and heart attacks. A heart attack was a one time thing; it was over and now I am well and I go home. Wrong--now I go home and take a lifelong regimen of cardiac medications including an anticoagulant, a beta blocker, a statin drug and aspirin. Now I go home and decide how this defines my life.
I came home and decided this was indeed going to define my life and that it would play a large part in defining my life. I was pissed as hell that this had happened to me. I was pissed that it had ruined my 'healthy privilege' as Carolyn calls it. So, never one to sit idle I posted it on Facebook a couple days after I returned home. Even some of my closest friends did not know when I decided to put it out for the world. After working through a whole lot of anger and an extreme fear of dying pretty publicly, I've never looked back. I shout survivor to whoever will listen. If you give me more than two minutes of your time you will know that heart disease can affect you and not just affect you but kill you. Even if you don't give me a full two minutes I will still tell you I am a survivor. I will tell you over and over and I don't care if you get sick of it. Why? Because it will stick with one person and they will call an ambulance when they need to--maybe it will be you.
I have a friend that had a heart attack two years before I did and still to this day her friends do not know. She has a hard time with the word survivor. Hers was not massive, but something she found out about after the fact. She is ashamed she didn't know and ashamed that she let her health get bad enough that she had a heart attack. The funny thing, she can tell complete strangers but she is ashamed to tell those that she knows. I told her to hang on to her hat, I'll make sure she gets comfortable with the term survivor (I know you are reading this girl--you'll get there!) Not to say I haven't had my struggles with this journey but overall I think I've done pretty well.
I think what this shows is there is no right or wrong way to react to a heart attack. Really there is no right or wrong way to react to any serious diagnosis. Each person has to work through the journey their own way. So, if you are new here and you have found me because you are searching the net to find information after your own heart attack, just know that you will settle in. I know the feeling of fear you are experiencing and I know you are pissed that you now have a lifelong chronic illness. I have met enough people that have been through this and everyone handles it differently. Every emotion is valid.