December 2, 2009. That’s the day that I went in for a medical test and came out with a different life. In the months before, my husband and I had been trying to conceive our second child. I wasn’t getting pregnant. Then in the midst of that challenge, I started having chest pains. Bad ones. I went in for a stress test and knew I was in trouble when I couldn’t even finish it. At 41, all I could think about was whether I’d be able to have another baby, but all I kept hearing from the doctor was I was lucky to have made it to the hospital alive.
An angiogram determined I had a 95-percent blockage in a major artery known as “the widow maker.” In short, I’d been walking around on the verge of a massive heart attack.
I wasn’t superfit, but I did have a reputation as a health nut; my family often teased me about eating “rabbit food.” So the last thing I expected to hear was that I had a heart issue. Had I brought this on myself? I should have worked out more, stressed less—on and on went the self-blame. In the months leading up to my diagnosis, I’d been under constant pressure. My father-in-law and grandmother passed away. We relocated and had to do a short sale on our home, which created a significant financial strain; then later, my husband was laid off.
Once a stent was put in to alleviate the blockage, I felt better physically; emotionally, however, I was still a wreck. I was afraid to sleep because I didn’t think I’d wake up. I was afraid to have sex with my husband because I thought I’d have a heart attack. And I was afraid that I’d get a pain in my chest every time I felt a strong emotion. My peers and close friends tried to understand, but my issues were those of their grandparents. In my struggle, I felt fragile and alone—which is why I finally made a decision: The shrink needed a shrink.
That choice changed my life. My therapist gave me permission to grieve and to be angry. I took a mindfulness meditation course and incorporated the practice into my life. As we worked together to address my emotional self, that made room for me to consider how I would address my physical self—and to discover the bridge between the two.
Here’s the connection I finally made: When you don’t pay attention to your mental and emotional self, your physical self always pays the price.
My recovery has been about learning to take care of myself again. I now exercise consistently. In 2011, I completed two 5Ks and a sprint triathlon. I’m also taking more breaths and slowing down. We all get caught up in life’s breakneck pace, but if you don’t get off the never-ending wheel, here’s what I know: It can kill you. I’ve been given a second chance at life, and I promised God that as long as I have breath, I’d pass that on to anyone who will hear me. My heart—and yours—depends on that critical lesson.
Read more in the June 2012 issue of EBONY Magazine on page 73.