The two years since my Sudden Cardiac Arrest have been challenging to say the least. You hear all the time about people coming back from death experiences with a whole new appreciation for life, for me that was not the case. Initially, I mean before the shocks started, I went into a deep depression,our life had suddenly changed so much and I was convinced that I lived because I had a purpose, I was in a panic about figuring out what that was. I spent my days, deep inside myself,shut off from the world trying to figure out what I had to do now that I had a second change. Once the shocks started, my survival instincts kicked in along with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, severe anxiety, a fear of going to sleep at night and a fear of leaving the house. The leaving the house part was two fold, one, I worried that I would experience a shock, from which I always go unconscious and fall and crack my head open and two, I worried that a stranger, in trying to help would hurt me instead. The fear of going to sleep came from worry that the device, after saving me 28 previous times would fail and I would die, every morning I opened my eyes was a relief. During the 10 months where my heart wouldn’t calm down, I experienced severe physiological damage my brain and body were battered, I had lost a great deal of muscle mass from spending so much time in bed, I was a shadow of my former self. For those 10 months, I had nothing to do but sit around waiting and worrying about the next shock between long stays in the hospital and a total disruption in our life. It seemed that the meds they were using were making matters worse and just as I was about to go on the heart transplant list, a drug was found to control the arrhythmia, I have been stable now for almost 14 months.
I really wasn’t able to start working on the physiological damage until last September, since my Cardiac Arrest at the beginning of 2012 Douglas and I had spent every single moment of every single day together while he took care of me, we had no time apart for a very long time. We were at a point where we needed to start separating our lives again, we needed to move on with our lives and get back some normalcy, it was time. I had the chance to take part in a weekly Mindful Meditation group at Vancouver General Hospital and I was determined that this was my chance to gain some of my independence back. I had so much anxiety around this, but I really had to push my way through it, it was an important step and just making the 40 minute trip there on public transit was daunting and I had to figure out a way that I could get to the class without crumbling from the anxiety. I decided to take a cab, it made both of us feel better. Ok, so now I’m at VGH, anxious about being around of group of people I didn’t know, worried that I would have a shock and cause a scene, all I could do was cry my way through my introduction. I was a mess and I felt really stupid. I sat through the rest of the day not saying a word, wishing I could bury myself in a hole. I called a cab home and despite feeling like a failure, it was the first step and I was relieved. The day before the next session, the facilitator of the group called me and asked me not to come back, she felt my depression was still too prevalent and that me being in the class would not be good for the others in the group. I was crushed but not surprised. One of the things that the facilitator suggested was that I get some one on one counselling and come back at a later date. That one little baby step I had taken the week earlier lead to another, I found a counsellor I could see within walking distance of our apartment, I started making the weekly trek alone, still anxious but doing it, two steps forward, one step back. I felt so happy that Douglas could have some time to himself and that I could work at being independent again, if only for a couple of hours a week. Each week I got more and more confident and the counselling really helped me to process things and see things from other perspectives. I also learned to take things one day at a time and not to rush things and to stop being so hard on myself that I couldn’t just stand up and dust myself off and carry on.
To this day I still experience anxiety, it’s depends on the circumstance now and not all the time. I still have nighmares from time to time and the flashbacks have slowed down too, things are looking better, how far we have come. One of the things that has made a huge difference in my mental well being has been mindful meditation. When I first started it was hard, my mind would wander off a thousand times in a 5 minute session and I had a hard time sticking with it but I kept hearing how successful it could be so I carried on. There are many forms of meditation and I found at first that I had a hard time focusing on my breath so I tried guided meditation or I would put on some ambient music and say positive affirmations for 10 minutes, as long as it quiets the mind. I find it easier to stay with it these days and I am seeing positive results. I feel a subtle difference in how I look at the world, how I deal with depression, emotion, fear and anxiety. I feel calmer, happier and much more positive than I have in a very long time. I’ve realized that I no longer need to mourn for the life that I lost but to live for the one I have been given a second chance at, I am more grateful. I’m coming to terms with my new normal.
I still have a way to go but slowly and surely I am changing. It took death to make me realize how much I want to live the life I am meant to live. Everyone, including me, deserves to be happy and to shine brightly, changing the negative self talk is probably the hardest to do as it’s so ingrained. I’m still trying to find my way down this path, but I am more sure than ever that I am headed in the right direction.