Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Truly Living or Just Surviving?

For that past few days I have been in the grips of a series of angina attacks. My angina, and for that matter, my heart disease, is atypical in that I have no clear risk factors for heart disease other than being overweight, which is not a factor in itself. There are theories, of course, but they remain theories because unless something shows up in some measurable way during one of the countless tests used in diagnosing these sorts of things, all one is left with is symptoms. And theories. The only time my body has ever cooperated and presented a symptom that actually showed up on paper, so to speak, was when I had a heart attack 8 years ago.

So the prevailing theory has something to do with cardiac artery spasms, which means that at certain times (such as during stress, etc) my cardiac arteries spasm and decrease blood flow to my heart. The heart attack is theorized to have been caused by a particular artery that spasm-ed to the point of damage. Apparently, the body used cholesterol as a bandage for damaged arteries. Who knew? So my artery was "bandaged" by cholesterol up to 80%, and when another spasm happened, the "bandage" blocked the oxygen flow completely. Voila. Heart attack. And lots of pain, denial, and confusion.

Eight years ago, in the face of crushing chest pain and an almost useless left arm, I got my two foster kids ready for daycare, drove them there, dropped them off, had a conversation with a friend in my driveway when I got home, went inside and had a shower all before I called a friend for help.

Denial, she's a powerful thing, no?

There is a heady feeling of almost euphoria that happens when one has been ill or in pain for a length of time and then begins to feel better. I have a chronic, painful bladder disease, interstitial cystitis (IC) that presents itself in flares of abdominal and pelvic pain that can last anywhere from a day or two to over a week, and the experience is the same when it finally lets go. It's more than relief. It's almost like a victory.

When in the painful time, the focus is on dealing with the illness, on coping, managing symptoms, remaining hopeful and trying not to crumple into a pile of self-pitying goo. The entire family is affected by the illness of one of it's members, and not everyone reacts well every time. I am generally known as a patient, kind, gracious, forgiving person. My faith in God provides a relationship that steadies me and gives me hope and peace in the most difficult of times. Sometimes, that hope and peace means that no one gets killed.

Last night, I was feeling particularly miserable. Every time the dogs barked, my adrenaline spiked and pain shot through my chest. They barked a lot. Grace came home, did the day's dishes, made supper, but when she fussed about doing the supper dishes it angered me, and the adrenaline did it's thing again. What was supposed to be a gentle, meandering walk outside to check out the chickens turned into me, irritated, lugging buckets of food and water to the chickens. More adrenaline and exertion. Even watching the beginning of the new show, Hawaii 5-0, was enough to set off the adrenaline and get me teary eyed.

It was not a good night, as those of you know know me on Facebook are probably aware. Nitroglycerin, which I carry around in handy little lipstick sized spray pumps, is a miracle drug that pops open arteries and sends blood right where it needs to go. It also triggers eye-tearing, cheek twitching, hair pulling, lip biting head aches if you're not used to using it. Thanks to it having been a long time since I have had any serious angina, I wasn't used to it. A good thing, really, and yet...

So every wave of adrenaline that set off the chest clenching angina called for another mind-blowing shot of nitro. And still, everyone survived. Yay me.

Because, between the IC and heart stuff, chronic illness is a daily part of my life, it is important to me that I learn to truly live my life, not just survive it. I am a child of God, heir to all that God has for His children. It is not enough to just survive. Just to get though. I feel the euphoria of having made it through to the other side of another bout of pain and illness without having to visit the hospital, without having actually killed something or someone, even without having been snarky to anyone, although I really, really wanted to. I am relieved that it is over. I am glad that, through the experiences of fellow heart disease patients, I have learned a few things that will make the next bout with angina easier to get through.

I am learning to walk the fine line between being honest about the struggles I am going through while I am going through them, and not sliding down the slippery slope of wanting everyone around me to be as miserable as I am. When asked how I am while I am hurting, I am less likely to push the inner button that artificially lights up my face while I grunt out "Fine!" through clenched teeth. I am also less likely to give you a 20 minute play-by-play on just how cruddy I actually feel. There is a middle ground. Somewhere.

I think the thing about truly living is that it requires effort, above and beyond the effort of just surviving. To be honest, given the wonders of modern medicine, it is unlikely that either or my health issues are going to kill me anytime soon. So just surviving is a given, for now at least. But living...truly living takes work. It takes determination. And for me, it takes faith in a life that is larger than my own, a plan that I am a part of and that is gloriously wonderful and exciting. It takes the knowledge that in my weakness, God is strong in me. It takes joy and gratitude and love, the reality of them and not just words on a page. It takes forgiveness and patience, for everyone, including myself and the freakin' barking dogs.

It means talking about it but not obsessing about it, knowing where the *do not disturb* button is on the phone and being willing to use it, taking the time to stand in the midst of the chicken coop at night, listening to the soft, sleepy cooing and letting the stress release, and really listening to my daughter's day, told as only a 16 year old girl can tell it.

Sometimes I don't know whether I am truly living or just surviving. But I know what I want to be doing, which I'm taking as a good sign.


: ) said...

Hi Kelly, sorry to hear abt ur heart condition n i pray things will get better for you.
Bein overweight has alot of risks and months ago i was introduced Herbalife and i felt it has helped me watch my weight and got healthier with it. have u heard of it, u shd try the tea though the shake is great as well to replace meals and give u the nutrients ur body needs.probably u heard b4 as its famous in the US.

I decided to help people with their weight problem and it has been great with those who followed thru.

Hope u feel beta soon. Soak in God's presence and allow Him to bring peace to ur soul even intimes of vexations. take care!

Kelly said...

Thanks so much for your kind words!

I think I have heard of Herbalife, but I believe that my struggle with food is essentially a struggle with the sin of gluttony, and I am dealing with it on that level.

It is a stronghold for me, and so difficult to let go of, but I believe that God gives us freedom from sin, even gluttony. I have been set free from many sins and strongholds, and am confident that God will help me with this as well.

Because the issue is gluttony, the problem is not the actual food but my desire for more food that the amount that my body needs. In essence, I want to transfer my attachment from food to God, not to a food program. I am trusting God to lead me to freedom as I follow Him.

I pray that all goes well with you, and thank you for thinking of me. God bless!

: ) said...

Hi, its great ur dealin with it, some people tend to avoid it. Well anytime if u need advice on how to lose weight healthily, feel free to ask. Herbalife products is an assistant to help some of us who might not have a conscious mind in picking out food. One thing i liked abt it is it comes with a personal coach where you have someone to encourage and to follow up.

I pray God's breakthrough in ur situation and wholeness to your body and soul.

Do drink at at least 3 liters of water to wash the toxins and it helps to stay full. Drink a cup each time b4 a meal. Remember that coffee absorbs 2 cups of water. :)

Have a nice day!

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