I would like to know what it is like to not be complicated. To not be so completely complex that you feel like you have no control over your own body. To be genuinely healthy and to not live in fear. I was asked the other day what my main concern was with all of the electrical issues going on with my heart. My answer was simple. I fear that I’m going to go into V-fib and be shocked and hurt myself or someone else. I’m afraid it’ll happen when I’m driving and I’ll cause an accident. I’m afraid it’ll happen when I’m awake and alone and I’ll fall hitting my head or hurt myself worse. Most of all I am afraid that there is no solution to my particular perplexing issue and that it could be my demise.
My whole life I’ve been rather challenging. The punishment was always worth the crime as a child. I always pushed my limits with my parents. I tend to tell the truth when people aren’t ready or used to it. I’ve been an ever-evolving person. I’ve had many stages in my life and I’ve only recently really come to know who I am as a person. My emotions have always been complex and so has my personality. I now appreciate my peculiarities and obscurity. Besides my challenging and evolving personality, my health has been a whole other beast.
While I have made it well known my heart has always been far from normal. It’s been something I’ve fought against and resented my whole life. I didn’t want it to define me and that’s exactly what it has done. It’s what makes me who I am. It’s consuming. While all of my friends and family would describe me as strong because of it I feel completely at its mercy. It started out abnormal, which to me is kind of ironic because I feel like I’m a little anomalous as a person, but it’s grown to be quite literally one of a kind. My particular malfunction in the heart is not a structural problem anymore. I’d kill to go back to my valve being the only serious issue. An easy answer and an easy fix. Structural issues of the heart are simpler, but no, I have to continue to be challenging.
A lot of you are not in the medical field and don’t know medical terminology and don’t exactly understand how it all works. Your heart has an electrical system that makes it beat correctly. That lub dub you’re supposed to hear occurs because of the electricity flowing through your heart. My heart, however, likes to have premature ventricular contractions(also known as skipped beats) at an abnormal rate. It also likes to go into ventricular tachycardia, which means my heart beats WAY too fast. I just learned the other day that one area of my heart was beating at 300 beats per minute during one of these spells. When this happens my heart feels like it’s beating out of my chest. Also when this happens my heart gets stuck in this rhythm of beating too fast to actually pump. When this occurs I am not getting oxygenated blood throughout my body because my heart can’t efficiently pump it out. When it’s stuck like this the muscle then begins to spasm and not beat all. That is known as ventricular arrhythmia and ventricular fibrillation. My pacemaker is designed to try to pace my heart back into a normal rhythm and when it cannot my defibrillator kicks in. If I didn’t have my pacemaker/defibrillator I wouldn’t be here today. I have had at least one spell of ventricular tachycardia and arrhythmia every month this year. I’ve had more but there hasn’t been one month without. I could have died at least once every month this year without my ICD(implantable cardiac device).
Finding this out and being told just how severe and serious of a case I am has been absolutely overwhelming. Honestly, there isn’t a word to describe the emotion I am feeling. I knew it was serious and I know that I downplay it to everyone else, but I can’t anymore. I can’t pretend I am okay and that I am normal anymore. I can’t mask my fear and uncertainty anymore. It is so exhausting physically because of the arrhythmia and the high number of PVCs I have regularly. I am extremely symptomatic with it all and it physically drains me. Also, being so emotionally concealed and strong for everyone else is beginning to take a toll. Completely relinquishing myself to the fact that I am not healthy and will never be medically “normal” is proving to be difficult and incredibly depressing. I’ve got a lot of uncertainty ahead and it’s not going to be easy. From starting a medicine with a black box warning label and severe side effects to accepting that there may never be a solution. It’s going to be a tough journey with a lot of ups and downs.
To everyone that has reached out and to everyone that has respected the fact that I am not ready to talk, I thank you. I have a lot I need to process still. Emotions are all over the place right now. But I appreciate every one of you that is in my corner, thoughts, prayers, positive vibes and listening ears, you all mean a lot. I have some of the BEST friends and even better family.
Well, here it is, my month, the month of June. At the beginning of the year I had set goals for each month, some of which I achieved and some I fell short of, but June’s goal was a month of me. A month of self-care and being selfish. I thought it was a perfect fit for my birth month and now that it has arrived I realize I need it more than ever.
The last few weeks, months, I’ve been busy. If and when I have had downtime I find myself overthinking and over-committing. I have managed to keep my schedule full and my focus on myself at a minimum. I have got to remember that being busy is not a personality trait and it is not how I want someone to describe me. I don’t want to keep myself constantly going and not enjoy the little things. I don’t want to give someone the wrong impression of myself because I am too busy. I have got to stop neglecting myself. My wants and my needs. I need to slow down. I always get caught up in whatever is going on around me and silence the voice in my head telling me to calm the f down!
As of late when I do have downtime I keep finding myself mindlessly scrolling through social media. This is such a negative way to spend my time. I find myself comparing myself to my peers and getting stressed. I should be doing things that promote my mental health, my well being, and myself rather than stress me out and cause me to over analyze things. So, starting today, I am removing all my social media apps from my phone. Well, it’s only Facebook and Instagram, but they’re being silenced for a while. Not having them at my fingertips will hopefully encourage me to spend my free time more productively. I have also been thinking about how I don’t need to be so readily available. I want to maintain some mystery. I am selective with what I post and write, but I have decided to be a little more in the moment than on the screen. If you want to know what is going on in my life you will have to text or call me. We will have to have a proper conversation, make plans, or hell do something spur of the moment. But if you want to be in my life then effort will have to be made. No more play by play on social media.
I am going to spend more time focusing on me and less time apologizing for it. I am going to make myself a priority this month. Staying in more to get rest. Spending less money. Working two jobs to pay off my credit card and to save. Actively working on getting things together for my move. Reading at least one of the books I have in my “to read” pile. Cooking more since I genuinely love cooking. Eating healthier and drinking more water. Exercising with my girls Lilly and Ellie! Spending time with those who make my soul happy. Spending more time outdoors AND most of all doing WHATEVER I want on my birthday. It’ll involve sushi and being on the water of course. I keep telling myself I am going to do more for myself, focus on self-care, and I don’t. I get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of life and trying to the best friend, daughter, sister, employee, etc., I can be. So, I am vowing to myself for this whole month to focus on MYSELF! I already spent the first 4 days working, cleaning, cooking and watching a totally cheesy Netflix show.
Self-care isn’t always about face masks, bubble baths, getting your hair done or pedicures. Although I will be doing all of those things this month…it is my birthday and all. It’s about making sure you are mentally, emotionally, and physically in your healthiest and happiest state. It is making sure you are taken care of and your heart is full. I have been neglecting myself. While I have been pushing myself out of my comfort zone in many aspects that past few weeks, opening myself up to new opportunities, and making big changes. I haven’t taken a step back to figure out how it is affecting me. I have been putting others first, which isn’t a bad thing, but I have to remember that my well being is most important. Being selfless is wonderful as long as you don’t lose yourself. I tend to lose myself in trying to be the person everyone needs me to be and not be the person I need to be for myself.
I am letting the month of June and the last birthday I voluntarily celebrate(29 forever club) bring the opportunity to modify a few things in my life. I am also letting it bring a month full of celebrating and using the excuse, “Well it’s my birthday so…” While I love writing and sharing my life with those I love, taking this break from oversharing and living more in the moment seems to be the right thing for me at this time. I hope everyone enjoys the month of the summer solstice. And if you see me this month looking a hot mess or having a little too much fun just remember…its the month of me. I am not trying to impress anyone, just doing what I want to do!
Sitting here waiting on my parents to arrive for dinner, I was actually on time for once, and I find myself thinking…”Holy shit! You’re about to be 29!” Where did my twenties go? This panic has set in a few times over the past 5 months.
Where did my twenties go? Why did I think I had all this time to accomplish things? Why am I so unsatisfied with where I am at in life right now? Did I even do anything meaningful in my twenties? Questions like these have been plaguing me and leading to what I can only assume is an existential crisis. Quarter life crises are played out. I’m taking this one to a whole nother level.
Existential crisis is also known as that moment when one questions if their life has meaning, purpose or value. I’d say mine definitely started brewing after my brush with death in November. I started thinking about what if I wouldn’t have been lucky enough to have my defibrillator? Would my short time on earth have made a difference? Have I made a difference to anyone other than those genetically programmed to love me? With these circumstances and 30 looming around the corner, I find myself pondering the deeper questions in life.
Recently I had someone ask me what the one thing I wanted from life was and I did not even have to think about it before responding. I want to make a difference. I couldn’t figure out exactly how to communicate it at the time, it was late and there had been drinks involved, but after thinking about that conversation I now know how to convey exactly what I meant. I want to make a difference, not in the sense of changing the world, but in helping others. I hope that my kindness, vulnerability, empathy and hopefully my words can make a difference to someone. To help them in their journey through life.
How do I go about doing that? How do I figure out what I want to do in this life that will help me achieve my goal in life? I thought it was Nursing. To be a good nurse, the kind of nurse that makes being in the hospital bearable. My health made it clear that that wasn’t it and now here I sit almost 29 feeling a little lost. Do I continue to write and eventually write a novel? Do I work to eventually open my own book and record store, since books and music are things that changed my life? Do I work for a charity like the American Heart Association? Do I move or do I stay in my comfort zone? How do I figure out the answers?
In January I had someone recommend the book 30 before 30. As I have slowly read this over the past few weeks I have been all over the map. I have related to the author, been inspired by the author and been envious of the author. She writes about how she made a mess of her twenties and accomplished all these small goals she set for herself. While reading this book in public I get unsolicited advice from strangers like, “Don’t worry your twenties are for figuring things out.” First of all, this isn’t a self-help book and what exactly are we figuring out in our twenties? Did I do my twenties right? Did I make a big enough mess? Did I accomplish enough? Does anyone else feel this way?
I spent my twenties in serious relationships and having heart surgery. Reflecting on my twenties I guess I can say I have realized just how strong I am. I was put through emotional and physical hell with 5 separate heart surgeries, all differing in severity, and I overcame every obstacle thrown my way. I never gave up and I continue to fight to be the healthiest version of myself. I don’t accept the answer “no” from my doctors. I loved with all my heart and in two completely different ways, two people. I learned to let go and how to take time to heal from hurt. I learned to be careful with who I trust and what I won’t put up with. I learned that sometimes the tough decision is the right decision. I learned what a broken heart feels like and how cold the bathroom floor is at 3AM when you’re sobbing and wondering why someone doesn’t love you. Most importantly, I have learned how to forgive and grow from disappointment.
I have all these questions heavy on my mind and heart as I approach my golden birthday and I have the typical late twenty-something shit going on too. Will I be forever alone? Is there anyone worthwhile to date? Do I have too much baggage? Why am I dissatisfied with my job? Do you ever feel like an adult? Being single at 29 was definitely not where I thought I would be when I celebrated my 20th birthday with my new boyfriend. My ability to self-sabotage relationships at this point in my life is uncanny. I seem to either put my foot in my mouth or retreat into my shell (there is your turtle joke, Alexandra!) and become too nervous to be myself, to text or call first, or to innitiate anything. Navigating your late twenties trying to figure out when you’re supposed to feel like an adult and how to act like one blows. I feel stuck in a transitional state. Every decision I make has so much weight to it now.
All of this being said, or written out… whatever, it has made me decide to develop my own list of 30 before 30 goals. Some big, some small and some that may seem silly to others, but they’re my goals. My goals to make sure I successfully make a mess of my twenties and figure things out. In the last year of my twenties I’ll be bolder. I’ll fight my fear and text or call first. I’ll live a little more, unapologetically. I want to be able to go into my 30’s and know that I made the most of my twenties. Take this last year by the horns and “figure things out.” Maybe answer the question of what can I do to make a difference? It may seem like a silly goal to some, maybe naive or make me seem like a dreamer, but I don’t think that being a good person who wants to help others is a silly dream.
Since people relate to and like photos. Here are some photos of some of my birthday celebrations through out my twenties for your viewing pleasure…enjoy
My writers block has been beyond awful lately. I’ve tried writing in different settings, with music, without music, after drinking a pretty full glass of wine, inside, outside and many other scenarios. I’ve felt rather uninspired. Earlier today I was attempting to write about accountability and after trashing 7 attempts, I gave up. I’ve had a few conversations with a dear friend, recently, on what my writing is to me and what I want this blog to be. I don’t want to be a fitness blogger, a fashion blogger, and I don’t want to be an “influencer”, whatever the hell that really is? I would loosely classify this as a lifestyle blog. If you read my writing you’re not going to find ways to be better organized, you’re not going to find the perfect dips to make for a party, and you’re not going to find the cutest new shoes that are a must-have. Y’all are lucky if y’all are going to see me in anything other than a casual tee shirt and shorts this summer. Instead, you’re going to find blog posts about the stuff that goes on behind the scenes in life, like holding yourself accountable, personal growth, mourning the loss of a loved one, health issues, dating dilemmas, and mental health. A lot of the issues people want to talk about but are scared of or don’t know how. I’ve finally reached the point in life where I’m not afraid to be honest. Where I’ve figured out who I am and I’ve accepted her in all her glory. The person I’ve grown into the past few years is someone I never realized I wanted to be, but couldn’t be happier that I am.
Now 15-year-old Madelyn had this, insanely detailed, picture in her head of what life would be like at 28. I had this image of me standing in my doorway of a cookie cutter house, with a baby in my arms, watching my husband and daughter play in the yard. I’d have a dog and a goldfish. I’d be insanely happy with a successful career. Obviously 13 years later I’ve missed every opportunity to have that life 😂. To be quite honest I am glad I did because I am not the person that would be content in that life. At one point, around 26, I had a moment of panic when I realized this wasn’t where my life was going. As happy as I am with who I am now and the growth I’ve made in my twenties, I have moments of self-doubt and panic. I have moments where anxiety grabs a hold of me and I feel out of control.
Today my anxiety reared its ugly head. Self-doubt crept in and I found myself on edge. I found myself asking, “what if I’m not good enough?” In those moments I could think of a million different things to make me feel unworthy. Unworthy of someone’s attention, unworthy of the job I want, unworthy of admiration, unworthy of anything. I found myself overthinking, something I do far too often, and could feel panic set in. I came home and cleaned. Usually, cleaning helps calm me down but no luck. I went to the grocery store and as I stood in the produce section I lost it. I couldn’t breathe and I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. I was the lady trying to put veggies in her cart with tears streaming down her cheeks. I’m sure I looked insane and I certainly felt it. As I found myself on the verge of a full-blown panic attack in Publix, I left quickly and loaded my car up. Now if cleaning doesn’t help then retail therapy usually does. My budget doesn’t allow for much retail therapy but I thought I’d try it before I reached hysterics. I walked into books a million and tried to pick out a book. Now if you know me on a personal level then you know I LOVE a bookstore and a good book. Yeah, I left empty-handed and listened to The Smiths my whole way home, if that doesn’t set the mood for ya then I don’t know how else to explain it. I decided to go for a run. Running is always a great stress reliever for me and I can usually clear my head. Pushed myself and got my heart rate up a little too high, my bad, only to find a tiny sense of relief. Now I sit soaking in a bubble bath, drinking hot tea, and attempting to write in order to feel better. Yes, writing on my phone in the tub not the brightest idea, but oh well. I need to express myself some way and this usually helps. 🤷🏻♀️
Y’all, I am FAR from perfect. I have days like today for no reason I get anxious, over think, and silently cry in the produce section. I have days where I stand surveying myself in the mirror thinking, “If only your hips weren’t so wide” or “If you could just lose that little fluff right here.” I have goals I am steadily striving for and I am not in the same place as many of my peers. My path is different and I’m okay with that, but some days I find myself comparing myself to my peers and I experience immense self-doubt. I have days where I have to go on a run in order to be able to think straight. Nights where I lay awake staring at the ceiling and wonder why I am in the place where I am. Everyone has anxiety at times or experiences self-doubt. We all compare ourselves to our peers, or over think. We all experience some form of body dysmorphia. And can find ourselves questioning why is this happening? Why now in this moment? Why me? But we don’t talk about it. We sweep it under the rug, we bottle it up, or we dismiss it in fear. Fear of being viewed as ”crazy.” I’m sure I’ll have people read this and think, “This bitch is crazy. She cried in the produce section at Publix on a Monday.” Yeah well some of us aren’t perfect.
I’m not crazy. I’m stressed and I’m human. I question if I make the right decisions. I’ve let others control how I have viewed my self worth. I’ve made mistakes and I experience anxiety. The thing is, I am not afraid to talk about it. Mental health is important. Mental health can play a huge role in your physical health. I don’t know why there is such a stigma regarding mental health when it’s something we all deal with daily?!
Y’all, talk about your shit. Don’t be afraid to put it out there. Get it out!
Now, since I’ve put my crazy on the front porch for all to see, it’s time for me to put on a onesie, drink some wine, and eat my feelings in the form of carbs. Y’all go on about your business people!
Here we are in April. Spring is in full effect and with it, change is in the air. Something about warmer weather, April showers and longer days makes me feel like all things are possible. Many exciting things are happening this month; Game of Thrones, Easter and I’m getting in with a new specialist to determine if surgery number 9 will be necessary. One of the biggest things, for me, in April is the week of the 21st-27th.
The week of the 21st-27th is National Infertility Awareness Week. World infertility awareness is in June, but I wanted to address it this month instead. Infertility affects men and women. 1 in 8 people suffer from infertility of some sort and only 15 out of the 50 states have insurance coverage for it.
If you’ve followed my blog posts, or know me personally, you know that I suffer from infertility. I suffer from ovarian failure and wrote about it back in September because one of my dear friends, who had a VERY hard time conceiving, was finally about to give birth and my sister had just told me she was expecting. The harsh reality of never being able to have my own children hit me hard that week. I was definitely caught up in my feelings, so I wrote about it to help sort things out. That was the most personal post I had written at the time and I found it to be insanely rewarding to share. That blog post got some serious recognition and reached TONS of people. I am still getting messages from strangers about it. So, I thought why not raise some more awareness?
When my sister and her husband told me they were pregnant I was so happy I wanted to cry. I actually did cry tears of joy when I got in my car. Now, I knew this news would be coming because they were wanting to get pregnant, but I was still so surprised and excited. Why did I choose to cry in my car rather than share my emotions with my sister? I chose to cry in my car because I knew after the tears of joy the tears of sadness would come rolling down. Once I was home I ugly cried where no one could see me. I’m not telling everyone this because I want your pity. I want people to understand what living with infertility is like. I could NOT be happier and more excited that my sister is having a baby. Y’all, I can NOT wait to hold my niece in my arms and tell her how much I love her already, but at the same time, I am sad.
I’m sad for myself and for women all over who understand this sadness. I don’t want friends or family to feel weird telling me when they’re expecting. I don’t want them to think that they have to deliver the news delicately. I’m not going to break down crying in front of you and curse the universe. I’m going to celebrate with you and be there supporting you throughout it all. I am going to love your child unconditionally. I will, however, in private, process my emotions of envy.
I will never experience that first time the baby moves in the womb or has hiccups. I won’t understand what it’s like to not be able to breathe because everything has shifted internally and my belly is expanding (right now I only feel that when I eat too many tacos). I won’t experience the pain of childbirth or breastfeeding. I will be envious of your journey throughout all of it. At times I may be jealous, but I never want someone to feel they can’t share their experience with me because I can’t have kids.
As a woman being told you can not have your own kids is soul crushing. You can not do the one thing you are biologically meant to do. Being told bluntly at 20 years young is harder than you could ever realize. I was at the age where I was still starry-eyed and naive. I had all of these plans for my life that I was going to accomplish and had yet to discover life had different plans. This was my first wake up call in that department. My biggest dream for myself was to be a mother. I wanted to be a mother like my own. One that encouraged me to be myself no matter what anyone else thought. One that would go without just so I could have what I wanted or needed. One who wasn’t perfect and showed me that it was okay to not be perfect. I wanted to raise children with my sisters and share stories and experiences about motherhood with them. The sense of utter failure I developed after being diagnosed was something I can not accurately describe. It’s been just shy of 9 years since being diagnosed and I still struggle to be okay with it to this day.
There is a sense of obligation to immediately tell anyone whom you are seeing and see a potential future with, “Hey just so you know my womb is barren!” Dating in your late twenties/early thirties is hard enough. Everyone has baggage at this point they’re bringing to the table and when you bring a bag full of bricks like infertility to the table, well it can be a deal breaker. This makes it discouraging to date. You hope and pray that you eventually find someone who will think life with just you is enough because sometimes IVF or adoption is too expensive or isn’t an option. Infertility is draining.
The depression that comes with your diagnosis…Lord. My doctor recommended therapy after I found out. At the time I thought I would just process this on my own. It wasn’t as big of a deal until I got older. Once your friends start having children and you experience that first breakdown because it hits you that that will never be you. I felt guilty for feeling sad for myself. I’ve since gone to therapy to try to process it, to become content with it. Most days I am fine. I know I will be fun Aunt Madelyn and I am totally okay with that role. It wasn’t until I found out my sister was pregnant that I started to feel sad again.
After Devon and Kyle told me the exciting news and I ugly cried on my stairs for a solid 45 minutes. I confused the hell out of my dogs sitting there sobbing, those poor babies, I felt immense guilt. I shouldn’t be feeling sorry for myself, I should be celebrating. I let it all go, or so I thought. Months went by and I went to the first appointment with them, I felt my niece kick, and I started planning my sister’s baby shower. A little backstory here, my sister is AMAZING, y’all. I’m sure everyone thinks that about their sister, but it is more than that when it comes to Devon. She still scares the hell out of me. One of my biggest fears in life is that I will disappoint her or let her down. She has the biggest heart and always goes above and beyond for others. She is the hardest worker I know and she loves even harder. Devon has hosted many a baby shower for her friends and poured herself into making sure everything was just right. Therefore, I knew this had to be perfect for her. I spent 3 months planning, coordinating and crafting. I was putting myself under an extreme amount of pressure and stressing myself out beyond belief.
Two days before the shower I was agitated with myself, so much so, that I cried the whole way home from buying succulents for centerpieces. I essentially put myself in timeout. I avoided the rest of the tasks I planned to tackle that night, took a shower and went to bed. The next day while reprimanding myself for being so damn emotional it hit me. Why was I making such a big deal out of this? Why did it have to be perfect? Well you see, this is the closest thing I’ll ever get to having a baby shower. It is the only one that my mom will be the Nana-to-be at. It is the only time Devon and I will share this experience. It was such a big deal to me because of my infertility. Once the shower was over I felt relieved and then the guilt crept in. I felt guilty because once again I found myself jealous of Devon. I could not have done this without the help of the lovely ladies below and I am sorry if I was annoying or overbearing when it came to planning. Hopefully, now you guys understand why I got a little OCD about the shower.
Infertility doesn’t come with a handbook. It comes with feeling distraught and depressed. It comes with hormone treatments and a price tag. It comes with a sense of failure and pangs of guilt. It comes in waves. Some days, weeks, or months you’re content and others you feel like you’re the only one missing out on the joy of motherhood. So the week of April 21st-27th is a big deal to me. It means more to me than it does to most. I will, personally, never go through IVF treatment and have repeated negative pregnancy tests, because I know I have infertility due to ovarian failure. So, to those women who put their bodies through hell and have yet to get pregnant…keep your faith. Stay positive and remember that even if you never get pregnant it will be okay. It seems like the end of the world, but I can promise you it isn’t. Remember, adoption is a beautiful thing and doesn’t make someone less of a mother. To those of you going through the adoption process, I have the utmost respect for you. Adoption may never be an option for me either because adoption agencies aren’t too keen on giving a baby to someone with heart failure and I am okay with that. But, those of you waiting and getting discouraged, be patient. Your child is out there and you will get a chance to be a parent. And to those of you who know you may never be a parent…YOU ARE NOT ALONE! I may only be a dog mom and in the end, that is okay. Ladies, when you find yourself sad, feeling sorry for yourself, or feeling guilty, FEEL IT! It is okay to feel those things. It is normal and we are only human. Don’t let anyone let you feel bad about not being a mom. Don’t feel ashamed if you have to take antidepressants, go to therapy or if you decide you need to change your whole life because of your diagnosis. No one completely understands what it feels like until it is them and you don’t have to explain yourself. Hold your head high the week of April 21st-27th and know that other women are in the same boat as you, a boat that no one wants to be in but one in which you are not alone.
My friends and family that have been patient and supportive, THANK YOU. Thank you for considering my feelings when you got exciting news and when you were sharing it, but next time don’t worry about me. I will be just fine. And Devon, thank you for going to my appointments with me, thank you for verbally assaulting the doctor that basically told me I was being a hypochondriac, thank you for letting me be so involved in this pregnancy. I love you more than I’ll ever be able to express. I couldn’t be more thankful for you understanding that this is as close as I will get to having my own child and for you to understand what that means to me. The kind of sister, daughter, and friend you are is why I know you are going to be the BEST mother to Cadence.
February is American heart month. For some that may not be important, but for me it is HUGE. While every month is essentially heart month for me, February is the month that brings attention to cardiovascular disease for everyone else. It is only appropriate that February was chosen for heart month with Valentine’s day being the day you’re supposed to profess your love and hearts desires for others(insert eye roll here). There are hearts, everywhere. So, why is February so important? Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States? Every year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease and most of the time the first symptom is the heart attack. Did you also know that heart defects are the most common type of structural birth defect and occur in 1 out of every 125 births? Congenital heart defects are classified into 35 different types…35! Out of these 35 types, there are different variations and they all differ in severity. Heart disease is a BIG deal and commonly overlooked in one’s everyday life.
This month I acknowledge, with much appreciation, the fact that I was born with a congenital heart defect and that I live my life daily, battling the side effects of heart disease. I was 6 weeks old when my parents heard my pediatrician say, “Uh oh” whilst listening to my heart. I can not begin to imagine what that moment must have felt like as a parent nor will I ever know. When I was diagnosed with an atrial septal defect and an abnormal pulmonary valve the outlook on life with congenital heart defects was much grimmer than it is today. There was not a large number of adults living with congenital heart defects and today the community for adults living with CHD is growing! This is exciting because it means we all got a chance to fight, a chance to live longer and that medical advances have helped each and every one of us. But what about the side effects?
When you’re having your second heart surgery, first open heart, just 3 days before your 4th birthday, all anyone focuses on is getting you through the surgery. I don’t remember much from this experience. Mainly trivial things because at 4 that was all I understood. Dealing with doctors and being in the hospital was a normal thing for me. I remember making everyone laugh because I couldn’t get my bed situated just right. I kept demanding ” A little bit up! A little bit down!” I remember I had a few meltdowns over panties and socks not fitting right. I remember being poked and prodded all hours of the night and how much I hated it. I would scream and cry. I remember the playroom in the hospital and loading the car up to go home. I believe I got a gift from every nurse in that unit. We had a car full of toys and stuffed animals. What my parents and family remember are the risks. The gravity of the situation. They asked the questions, they sat around waiting for hours, they dealt with a child who didn’t quite understand what was happening. They dealt with the insurance and financials. I did what I had to do, I had surgery and I healed.
Things were great after my repair of my ASD and my valve being reconstructed. I flashed my scar to strangers because I was proud of it. As I got older I realized that probably wasn’t the best idea(Sorry fellas no more dress lifting). I grew up knowing I was different, despite not feeling different, and knowing I had limitations. I grew up with a scar right down the middle of my chest and the insecurities that came with it. Growing up with a special heart was normal for me. It wasn’t until middle school that it started bothering me again. I had yearly appointments with my cardiologist for check-ups. I would have an EKG and echo, I always requested to watch space jam during my echos because if you have the opportunity to watch space jam you do it. I looked forward to the visits for that reason. My heart never felt weird or abnormal to me, but 7th grade it started to. The only way I could semi-accurately describe it was as if my heart had butterflies and not my stomach. While I was a boy crazy teenager I definitely wasn’t in love and having butterflies of the heart. I went to the ER, wore Holter monitors like crazy, and went to my cardiologist multiple times. We could not figure out what was going on and as quickly as it started it stopped.
Fast forward to my junior year of high school and my heart starts acting crazy again. I wore a heart monitor the majority of my junior year. I am not exaggerating. I wore one long enough that I had permanent red circles on my skin. My skin was thin and raw in those spots. It took MONTHS for my chest and abdomen to look normal again. Not to mention those old school monitors sounded like something out of a sci-movie when recording and transmitting over a landline phone. It was a nice excuse to step out of class whenever I wanted, I didn’t want to distract the class or draw attention to myself. I don’t like drawing attention to myself, as hard as that is to believe. Wearing the monitors for a total of 6 months, yep half a year, paid off. We finally were able to see that I was having premature ventricular contractions as well as runs of tachycardia and ventricular tachycardia. Here is what I learned from that diagnosis. 1) Those are electrical issues in the heart. 2) There is no easy fix for them. 3) They were caused by my heart being cut into previously. And 4) this meant surgery. So I did what I had to do. I had an ablation the beginning of my senior year of high school. Nothing like ringing in the new school year with heart surgery. I was lucky this time because it wasn’t an open heart. It was a procedure done through my femoral artery and I would be out of the hospital the next day. I went to Jacksonville and had my surgery. If you don’t already know, you will soon realize, if it can go wrong it will when it comes to me. This surgery did not go as planned. It was a LONG procedure and they had to tape my arms above my head. You know how if you lay on your arm for too long it goes to sleep? Well, imagine having your arms taped above your head for over 6 hours. My arms were like noodles and all I could feel were pins and needles. It was pretty funny for my family and boyfriend at the time. I kept knocking things over and hitting myself in the face, but that is not all that went wrong. When you have an ablation you can not stitch an artery. You have to lay flat and let it clot on its own. Well, I woke up as they were removing my breathing tube. I felt them pull it out of my throat and mouth. This caused me to gag. I then proceeded to lift my head, turn to the side and vomit. Well, I continued to vomit while they moved me from the operating table to the recovery bed. Causing my artery to start bleeding and a nurse to hesitate and move my leg. I passed out. Maybe it was the drugs making me fall back asleep or the loss of blood, I don’t know. I woke up to nurses applying the pressure of their full body weight to my groin and sandbags on my groin. I had to stay in the hospital longer, I was bruised from mid-thigh into my abdomen, and this made my recovery even harder.
The surgery worked, for a while. I tried different medications after surgery to no avail. They made me feel worse and lowered my heart rate. The procedure did show us that my QT interval was slightly longer than normal, but it was dismissed as not a big issue, this will come into play later. From the age of 17 to 19, my life was as normal as could be. I graduated high school, started college, experienced young love, and got my heart broken. My heart hurt in a normal way for the first time. I moved away from home because I got my heart broken and it felt like the end of the world. After moving back home, I realized I moved for the wrong reasons (never move over a boy, ladies), I began to feel off again. The butterflies came back and brought lightheadedness with them. I went to my annual cardiology appointment and relayed my symptoms. An echo, EKG and stress test later, I found out I was complicated. Who knew? I had to try more medicines and again no luck. Some of them I had to stay in the hospital for 4-5 days to be monitored because my heart rate would drop alarmingly low. These hospital stays are when I became an expert on how to hook up an EKG machine. I repeatedly had to hook it up to myself when I felt anything cardiac related. After medicines failed we resorted to another cardiac ablation. It all happened quickly. On a Friday in May, we scheduled me for surgery on Monday. My sister, Devon, drove me over to Pensacola that Monday morning and cracked jokes about how I was fasting and she wanted to stop to get breakfast. I got her back by trying to hook her up with the Nurse Anesthetist assisting on my surgery. Fair, right? This procedure was not successful and I ended up throwing up once again. Resulting in me staying in the hospital longer with sandbags on my groin. Knowing this procedure didn’t go as we hoped for we started to explore my options and I was referred to a specialist in Boston to have a cryo-ablation.
8 months later in January, I flew to Boston. The day we arrived they had their first snow. The Patriots won the playoffs and were headed to the Superbowl, imagine that. The next day I was prepped for surgery. An old lady came into my pre-op area with a lady bic razor and shaving cream. Y’all, they sent this poor old woman to shave my bikini region. I don’t know who was mortified more, her or me. Needless to say, I did not need her assistance. My mom and dad were brought back and I told them about this and we had a nice laugh. I was given my sedative because I have to have one before surgeries to avoid panic attacks. According to my mom, once it hit me, my feet fell to the side, my flip flops fell off and I yanked my glasses off all the while saying, “Oh that’s good!” My surgery was semi-successful. I learned that some of my problem areas are on the outside of my heart and my pericardium was stuck to the outside of my heart. Therefore making it physically impossible to reach the areas without causing more harm. Not the best of news, but also not the most discouraging. Before my surgery, I told the doctors about my history of throwing up so we prepared for it this time. All was well and I was in the recovery bed in the elevator going to my room…then it happened. Once again I threw up and lifted my head whilst doing so. I arrived in the CCU with a hell of an entrance. My parents and grandma got pushed out of the way, nurses rushed to me, and I was being rebandaged and then came the sandbags. While I was at Brigham and Women’s in Boston I met with a cardiologist who consulted with mine at home about some things they had discovered.
One cardiac MRI, multiple phone conferences, and lots of deliberating later we realized it was time to replace my pulmonary valve. After consulting with my parents we decided we would aim for October of 2012 so we could get through the busy season, for everyone at work, and then focus on open heart surgery #2. Well, October was a great goal for a date, but we didn’t make it that far. Everything happened what seemed like overnight. I woke up one day and realized I was exhausted. Getting out of bed and making myself do anything was taxing. I was short of breath walking from my bedroom to the kitchen. I got in with my cardiologist for him to tell me that this is what happens, “One second you’re fine and the next you’re not” and the executive decision was made that in a month I would be back in Boston having open heart surgery. My sister swept me away to St Augustine for memorial day weekend as a sister trip before surgery. 3 Weeks later I am back in Boston 6 days before my 22nd birthday. I did get to attend a Braves vs Red Sox game at Fenway the day before my surgery and it was AMAZING! The morning of the surgery I stood in the shower and cried while I scrubbed my entire body with a special loofah and soap. I got dressed in my comfy clothes and put on a brave face. I knew more this go around. I was having my chest cracked open, my lungs rolled up, and my heart would be in someone else’s hands. I knew the risks and I knew the statistics. I was terrified which made me antsy and ill-tempered. I tried to focus on the book I was reading and not discuss my impending doom while waiting. When it was finally my turn, I was starving, nervous, terrified and asked for a sedative. They gave me propofol, which I knew was what Michael Jackson overdosed on, so once it hit I proceeded to sing thriller and dance by myself while being wheeled to the OR. At least I am entertaining.
I don’t have much memory from the first day after my valve replacement. The surgery was successful and long. I woke up a few times while in the ICU. The first time my hands were restrained so I wouldn’t pull any tubes or wires. The second time I woke up and they were removing my chest tubes, I felt the pain of the first one being pulled, the morphine had not kicked in yet. Then I woke up when they moved me into a regular room. I did not throw up until I attempted to eat a few days after surgery. My hunger got the best of me and I ordered far too much and too rich food. Throwing up when your chest is super glued together is not fun. Don’t recommend it. I was hunched over like Quasimodo, too afraid to straighten up my back, and I was in extreme pain. My first shower was difficult, as well as my first walk around the floor. I had minor difficulties after getting released. While watching Magic Mike with my Aunt and mom, I noticed my breathing was labored and it was not because of Channing Tatum. We ended up in the ER on the 4th of July with my lung partially collapsing. Once I got back home to Florida I went in for my checkup with my cardiologist and got admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. Other than that I healed and recovered fantastically. Things were great for 2 years. I had felt better than I have EVER felt. I did not realize how tired I was until I wasn’t. I could breath better, I had more energy, and I no longer slept for 10-12 hours a night. I experienced heartbreak again and let my heart hurt in normal ways. I found new love and experienced butterflies in healthier ways. I was finally living with no worries again.
Then the fainting spells and lightheadedness started. My heart would feel as if it was going to beat out of my chest, my head would feel like a hot air balloon, the sound would disappear, and everything would go white. I couldn’t breathe and couldn’t make it stop. It would happen whenever it wanted. I had no control, not that anyone has control over their health. I was scared, angry, and confused. After becoming a frequent flyer at the ER and many heart monitors later my doctors decided on another ablation. So July of 2015 I had another ablation. Things went well and I did not throw up!!! I did, however, get up too early. The nurses told me it was okay and I could go to the bathroom on my own. So, I wanted to be independent and walk myself from the bed to the bathroom. As I was walking I felt warmth running down my leg. I half-jokingly yelled out to my mom, boyfriend, and nurse that I was either bleeding or peeing myself. I couldn’t move my gaze down or I would topple over, so once I sat on the toilet I noticed all the blood. I panicked at started crying and yelling out. Everyone panicked. The next thing I know I had a nurse applying pressure to my groin while I finished peeing. That was awkward and mortifying. I swear these surgeries are filled with more terribly awkward moments for me than you would think. I was swiftly carried from the bathroom to the bed where I had 3 nurses rebandaging my leg, cleaning the blood off me and changing my gown. I was legit buck-naked in front of, easily, 6 people. It’s a good thing my dignity went out the window years ago. I went home the next day and recovered quickly. Two weeks after surgery I was required to wear another 30-day heart monitor. This heart monitor saved my life.
Day 30, 6 weeks after my surgery, I was leaving work and walking to my car when it hit me like a ton of bricks. Rapid heart rate, no sound, everything went white and I couldn’t breathe. I pressed the button on the monitor, leaned into my car, and slid down the side of it onto the concrete. I came to and felt fine. I got in my car and proceeded to drive home. On my way home the people from the monitor company called me to check on me and tell me they were contacting my doctor. I got home and ordered a pizza and made a bowl of cereal. I did not get to take a bite of the cereal. My phone rang with my doctor on the other end. We finally caught it. I was experiencing deadly rhythms of the heart. My heart wasn’t beating. It was fluttering. I rushed to the hospital in Destin and was escorted via ambulance to Pensacola. I was in the hospital for 3 days then I had my ICD placed. I had a foreign object permanently implanted in my body. It is noticeable, it changed my life, and I hated it. It was painful and the mental recovery worse than any other surgery. I eventually got used to it and life got back to normal. Once again experienced heartbreak unlike any other before and forgot about my arrhythmias. I was finally doing better and feeling better. 3 years after being implanted it charged and fired up. Once again my life was saved. Now I won’t go into extreme detail since I have previously written blogs regarding getting shocked, but this shock is leading me to face another difficult path of living with heart disease.
I finally faced my diagnosis of Long QT syndrome. There is no cure for it, at this time. Just last week I did my genetic testing to determine which specific form of it I have. There are 16 different types of LQTS and they all are a cause of a different gene mutation. Not only is this happening but I am having to deal with side effects from my aortic stenosis. In the last week, I have had 3 veins blown while having labs drawn, been to 3 different hospitals and had an echocardiogram done. I am trying to patiently wait for my results, but I am beginning to feel that level of tiredness, I once felt before, creep in. Sleep is all I think about. I am constantly short of breath and any exertion makes it worse. My arrhythmia and lightheaded spells are increasing despite taking medication. It came on suddenly and now I am stuck in limbo waiting for answers. I am once again not in control of my body and it BLOWS!
I am telling you about my long cardiac history because it is February. I am shedding light on what people living with congenital heart defects, congestive heart failure, and heart disease in general deal with daily. Not everyone has as an extensive history as I do. Not everyone is as complicated as me, but heart disease is common. You could have subtle signs and genetic markers. Go to the doctor and have a cardiac panel performed. Have a stress test, an EKG, or an echo done. Stay ahead of the game. Have it done once a year… Have it done in February. Take it from someone who has been cracked open, you don’t want to be the one on that operating table. Here is to cardiac awareness and to American heart month!
In September I wrote about feeling off-kilter, unbalanced. I needed to clear my head and do some soul searching. So I went camping. I wrote about driving through Cape San Blas with the windows down, sun on my skin and singing along to one of my favorite songs with conviction. About how at that moment, while I was terribly belting my soul out, I had something similar to an epiphany. I had this realization that everything was about to change. Something big was going to happen and I just needed to be patient. I realized the universe was telling me I needed to slow down a little and I did not take the universes advice to slow down. I had no idea what was actually in store for me.
Something big certainly was brewing. It has taken me just over 2 months to really process the fact that my heart stopped. It took a few weeks for the reality of it to really set in. I’ve talked about it, wrote about it, cried about it and all together tried to ignore it. While it was terrifying and I live in constant fear that it will happen again, it has been the push I needed. I wanted to make changes but wasn’t following through with my actions. I was making excuses and still expecting big changes. I wasn’t holding myself accountable. I have since come to the realization that you have to start small for there to be any change. You can’t always dive into the big things. Sometimes you need to prepare yourself first.
I went to New York at the beginning of December and fell in love. As I was walking through the city taking everything in, I felt electric. For the first time, I felt truly comfortable in my own skin. Despite the hustle and bustle of New York, I was oddly at home and not overwhelmed. My last night there, while getting my groove on at the Roosevelt concert, Jesica looked at me and said, “Let’s move! Look at everyone. The lifestyle is different here. I want this lifestyle. I want change.” Well, girl, you may have been drunk, but you were speaking exactly what was on my mind. All I’ve been able to think about since that trip is going back to live the city life.
After leaving New York getting back to reality was tough for me. My mind wandered and all I could do was daydream about moving. Life was feeling mundane. It had been just over a month since getting shocked and I knew that this was my chance for big change. I, essentially, defied death and was given another opportunity to do something. So, I started small.
Over the years I’ve been told and have read that to start making a difference you should start with making your bed EVERY morning. So, I started by making my bed EVERY morning. This probably seems minuscule, but it makes a HUGE difference for me. I have always been guilty of not making my bed or putting clean clothes away immediately. Something small, but it was something that caused clutter and chaos. It was unnecessary stress. I’ve now been making my bed every morning for over a month and it has become second nature to make it as soon as I get the dogs out of it in the mornings. I’m also putting my laundry up as soon as it’s done. These two simple tasks have surprisingly eased stress I didn’t realize I had.
I’m not going to lie, I’ve been feeling really proud of myself with taking small steps. So, I decided little changes would be how I make my big changes this year. I’ve set a few big goals for myself to accomplish this year, but I now know I need to set little ones to help me get to where I want to be. I am finding that for me to able to hold myself accountable, I have to put my goals out there for the world to see. If I write them down just for me it is easier to let myself down and make excuses. However, if all of you are aware then it adds a little extra pressure and well I work well when under pressure.
So here are my monthly goals for 2019:
January- After experiencing the relief of stress from making my bed and putting clean clothes away immediately, I decided to de-clutter. Not just my belongings, but also my personal and social life. I dropped the number of classes I was taking this semester down to two so that I could focus on and absorb the information better. I am reading “The life-changing magic of tidying up” by Marie Kondo. I am also watching her show on Netflix. I am going through each room/closet and purging. It’s rather rewarding, but learning how to fold my laundry differently has been a task. I am also saying NO to things that I don’t really want to do/attend. That don’t bring me joy. I am also doing things like purging unused apps and contacts on my phone. Purging friend lists. January my goal is to de-clutter and I am working diligently at achieving this goal.
February- NO SOCIAL MEDIA! My goal for February is to be more present in what is actually happening vs social media. I spend too much time distracted by social media and I need to stop saying, “I’ll take a break later.” I am doing it now. February 1st all social media apps will be deleted off my phone. I’m going to do a full 30 days of nothing. I’ll work on writing for my book. I’ll stay focused on homework. I’ll be present in social settings instead of reaching for my phone.
March- Whole 30! I did it for 22 days once before and now I am going to do it for the whole 30 days. I am going to complete it, no excuses. I figure after a good social media detox I should do an actual detox. I’ve had friends who have had wonderful results and it’s helped them get their body back to a healthy place. I think the hardest part for me will be no mashed potatoes for 30days 😫.
April- April will be my fitness month. After getting my body to a clean and healthy state internally, introducing all those “bad” foods again could backfire. I figure I’ll need to get my body in a healthy state externally and stay on top of the lbs those bad foods will add on. I try to stay in decent shape as it is. I jog/run regularly, but I’ll be getting back into Pure Barre and staying dedicated. Pure Barre was something I fell in love with but couldn’t do with my schedule this past semester. It’s a damn good workout, that I can kind of do, and it makes my booty look realllll nice 🍑. So a solid 30 days of actively participating in PB. I’ll gladly accept a workout buddy to go look ridiculous with me! Hopefully, there will be another pop on the beach because that was one of my favorite classes!
May- I am going to do a 30-day writing challenge that was encouraged by one of my professors this past semester. I decided I would self publish one of the books I have been working on this year and to focus on growing as a writer. This will be one small step to help me strengthen my writing. My professor told me to master my craft I need to do it EVERYDAY. I try to write every day, but sometimes time gets away from me. This will force me to write every day and make it a habit. Remember doing something consistently for 4 weeks is how something becomes a habit. Expect a lot of blogs to come your way in May!
June- June is my month of ME! Being my birth month I decide June was going to be a month of self-love and self-care. I am going to do more things that I don’t make time for when it comes to myself. I am usually one to put others before me. It’s my nature and I put myself on the back burner. Well in June I will put myself first as I ring in the last year of my twenties. I will make sure to carve out at least one hour a day for myself. No phone, just me, and do what I want to do. I will do things I’ve been putting off. Self-love and mental health are important, that is why my birth month will be all about ME!
I am only doing 6 months of small goals at a time. I’ll reassess and see what I need to do in order to get me where I want to be by the end of the year. Life happens and plans change. It is more realistic to only set a few at a time. This way I don’t set myself up for failure. These small goals may seem silly to some of you, but they make sense for me right now. I’ve finally accepted that my timeline is my own and I am done comparing myself to others. I am comfortable in my own skin again and content with the progress I am making. I have set big goals this year for myself. Here is a few:
1) Self publish my first book
2) Actually, move out of Okaloosa County
3) Read and write more!
I picked a reading challenge for 2019 and I’ve already started it.
I’ll gladly take recommendations on must reads!
This week everyone has been posting this whole 10-year challenge of social media and it’s made me chuckle. I don’t so much care about how different I look from 10 years ago, as I do about the person I am today vs 10 years ago. But for the hell of it….here ya go!
Me 10 years later
Thank goodness I let go of my need to be a blonde 😂🤦🏻♀️. But my change in appearance isn’t what ultimately matters. I hope everyone takes the time to encourage personal growth and hold themselves accountable for the changes they want to occur in 2019. Set small goals that will help you achieve your big goals. Stop comparing yourself to others. There is no rush, just because one of your peers has achieved what you want already does not mean you need to rush to get there. Enjoy the journey. I definitely am slowing down this year and enjoying things more. You can have fun and work hard. It is possible.