Jessica Withers – Support For Heart
At the age of 45, Jessica Withers was surprised to discover she had mitral stenosis. Valvuloplasty opened up the valve and her life has not been the same since. She works at Cornell University Library and spends most of her free time writing and enjoying being alive.
My cardiologist has repeatedly assured me that my heart is in great shape now. Yes, my mitral valve will need to be repaired again, but it will be another long, slow decline. However, having a heart condition is new to me. Sometimes my heart does things that scare me, particularly since I live alone. To help, I have developed a plan for when I am overwhelmed and frightened.
This plan includes self-compassion, which I have practiced for years and relied on before my heart repair. With my hand on my heart, I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and think to myself “this is a moment of fear, all humans feel fear, my heart is OK, everything will be OK.” Once my heart rate slows down, I repeat my cardiologist’s words to myself, “You took such good care of your heart, nothing sudden is going to happen.” This helped for months after valvuloplasty. I even did it during a work meeting once and no one noticed.
Then, one afternoon, it didn’t help. I couldn’t get my heart to slow down; my throat felt like it was closing. I was so scared that I started crying, which alarmed my boss. He called 911, and an ambulance took me to the ER. I was given a medication to slow my heart, but in the end the ER physician said almost the same thing, “Your heart is in great shape. It could take that rate for hours.” I had experienced supraventricular tachycardia, which might or might not ever happen again.
After follow-up appointments with my cardiologist and my therapist, I came up with additional steps for when self-compassion isn’t enough.
It is too easy for me to think of various reasons friends might not be available to help, so I asked a handful of friends to be my main contacts. My group includes a friend in a different time zone, one whose office is in the same building, and my two emergency contacts. Having this group already in place frees me from overthinking; all I have to do is send one text.
That message is prepared ahead of time, too. It explains that my heart is scaring me, asks if one of them can call or come see me, and lets them know I may eventually need a ride to the ER.
So far, I haven’t had to activate this plan. I am confident that if I need to use it, I will be less afraid, my boss will be less stressed, my medical bills will be smaller, and first responders will be able to focus on those whose hearts are not in such “great shape.”
If this sounds like a plan that would help when your heart is scaring you, I encourage you to set it up. Tweak it to work for your heart condition. Let yourself be supported by those who love and care about you.