“Stop Seeing The World As An Obstacle, And You Begin To See It As An Adventure”

I have discovered something through my heart condition that you cannot be taught. Appreciation for life, and the importance of how you live it.

On many occasions, pre-heart disease, my life appeared to be an unrealistic fairy tale waiting for something to go wrong. My parents held a healthy relationship, my grades stayed steady through school, and although we were not rich, we had money for what was important to us. The normalcy, and predictability created an undercurrent of apprehension and resentment in my perfect life.

In a perverse way, I wished for something bad to happen to me so that I could stand out. My childish desire for attention, mixed with my lack of direction in life, made me desperate for a thing by which to identify myself. It leaves me wondering… Did I ask for this heart condition?

“… I wish my dad would hit me, I just wanna feel shitty. Move me around a bunch so I can get bullied, I want to feel something other than goofy…”

I was incredibly naive, in the sense that the thing that I was wishing for often leaves people drowning in a state of emotional turmoil for years. The strength to thrive in life comes from the values and composure of the individual carrying the burden, not from the circumstances of the burden itself. Those who focus in on positivity and happiness, magnify its impact in their lives, diseased or not.

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Since being diagnosed, I have been trying to identify myself apart from the heart condition I subconsciously willed upon myself. In the effort to become my own person beyond the disease that precedes me, I have defined what I value in life, and the way in which I live it.

Why does it take a life altering experience for us to appreciate the life that we have?  We fear change, instead of embracing it in the anticipation of learning something new. The spectre of death does not have to be the catalyst to live our lives with enthusiasm. Challenges are opportunities to learn. Stop seeing the world as an obstacle, and you begin to see it as an adventure.

What do you appreciate in your life?

The Internet Saved My Life

I am a people person. I like people, and (for the most part) people like me. When my life challenges me in one way or another I go to people for a cure, for help, and for support. This week I needed a friend, and with a bit of bravery to admit it, I received much more than that.

Suddenly everything is in chaos, my name is being yelled, nurses are running over to me, and all eyes are on me. I was running on the treadmill in the Healthy Heart program when my heart leapt into a dangerous arrhythmia. The medical team quickly took control of the machine and brought me down to a walk, one nurse cautiously at my back asking me if I feel like I’m going to faint.

Every time I have collapsed I experienced this: the faces of shocked and terrified people gaping at me as though I have a gun to my head. Instantly a mixture of confusion, fear, and embarrassment consumes me and all I can do is hold it together, or cry.

The slow walk eventually turned into a sit down, and then a conversation with the cardiologist. Then a referral to another cardiologist and an appointment for a cardio CT scan and an ultrasound. After meetings with two cardiologist, I received two different diagnosis’s and two opposing treatment options.

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When I got home, I received an email copy of my heart rhythm from the incident that day. It was the first time I had ever seen my arrhythmia documented. It was the same pacing that left me in an induced coma two years before. My heart is broken… And the chart just proved it.

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I posted the photo on Facebook with heavy thoughts in mind. I always struggle to share these incidents with the rest of the world. The act of putting this feeling of frustration and loss out there leaves me vulnerable to rejection and judgment. Telling people about these kind of problems always makes me feel like I’m just fishing for kind words from my friends. Which is in essence, the truth…

I cannot tell you the feeling of needing something so bad, but it being so hard to ask for. Then putting yourself out there, and having people tell you that they love you when you most need it. For the rest of the day I sat in purgatory between the reality of my situation, and the comments and messages from friends online expressing support for me. I cried many times almost in shock at the response I received from people. Support is always there if you ask for it.

I am so thankful to be in the world at all, and then to have this amazing support from the people who care about me is so humbling and impactful on my life. I can’t say enough about how wonderful it is to have this backing. I know the title may have been a tad misleading,  getting better is entirely my decision, but the support of friends and family online continues to surprise and encourage me to pursue better health.

Thanks for Listening.

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“If You Never Fall, You Never Learn.” (Recovery Series: Depression)

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This may be a shock for some of you reading this blog, or maybe it won’t, but I have struggled with depression for most of my life. My funny guy, charming side has a very dark alter-ego with a uncanny knowledge of my weak points. I have never been diagnosed with depression, nor have I ever taken anti-depression medication, but some of the most difficult times of my life can be attributed to depressive thoughts. Having just recovered from a brush with it recently, I have decided that now is as good a time as ever to discuss this heavily under-discussed topic.

Depression is very invasive stage of recovery. In our daily life we work and live around our insecurities, but depression forces those fears to the forefront of our attention. Worry and anxiety are having a playdate in your brain, confidence and personal hygiene have left you for each other, and self-consciousness, along with the devil on your shoulder, are the only ones left for company. It is in this filth and self-destructive bad talking that we find the meaning of our troubles.

Mental health is a battle against a witty, strong, invisible opponent, who knows you better than you know yourself. This is a battle won with acceptance and modesty. If you have your ego wrapped up in being “OK” then you have handed yourself a hugely self-defeating task. Accepting the fact that you are depressed is one of the most important things you will ever do.

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If you gain acceptance of your mental state it does not mean that you have to do it alone. We as a society have made it much easier to say “I’m fine” then “Help”. You need help, everyone needs help, but we have been trained to last as long as we can without it. If it were not for my family and friends carrying me through the more senseless times of my recovery, I may not be here today.

The trick to recovery lies in consistent re-evaluation. You must be constantly looking at your situation from different perspectives and analyzing your feelings towards it. This is an opportunity for serious personal reflection. Take these days alone in your pyjamas to understand the feelings you have stuffed inside. Inside our vulnerability and scepticism is where we find our ability to persevere.

Depression can be extremely informative if you make a choice to understand it and learn from it. Like anything, the answers do not arrive over night, but you are brave enough to ask the questions you will be rewarded with a better sense of who you are as a person. Write about it, sing about it, go for long walks and cry about it. This is your time to be honest with yourself and be human. To let your fucked up side show, and trust me. If you do it, and you smile again… You’ll feel so fucking great.

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“I want to show people that there is beauty in struggle. That good things can come from the bad things, and that the world is beautiful.”

– Levi Hildebrand (2012)

ACT Foundation Radio Guest Spot (CLICK HERE)

ACT Foundation Radio Guest Spot

Recently I was featured on the radio speaking about the importance of CPR training in high schools. I told my story, along with the help of good friend and life saving rescuer Candace Bateson, live on The Bill Good Show. Candace and I have been advocating for the ACT foundation ever since my initial collapse in 2011.

I am so thankful to the ACT Foundation for the opportunity to speak on this topic. It is such an empowering part of my experience with heart disease to be able to share my story to try and make the world to a better place.

Our segment of the show starts at around 18mins. Thanks for listening!

If you would like to learn more about the ACT Foundation here is a link to their website. http://www.actfoundation.ca/

Recovery: Ownership

There’s a number of ways to deal with a shitty situation, some of which I want to talk about in the process of this blog, but with all the things in mind, it will always come back to ownership. It’s easy to take ownership of the great things, but it’s the acceptance of the bad things that will make you stronger. Ownership, in the process of recovery, is about self acceptance.

Post Hospital

In 2011 I suffered a sudden cardiac death and was put into an induced coma for 24 hours. What followed was the hardest 3 years of my life and the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Death and suffering, gave me perspective and appreciation. Every single day that I am alive I immerse myself in the world around me because I want to be here. There is a choice we make in everything that we do in life, we choose to become invested or not.

It’s hard to admit that you’re fucked up, especially when others always see you as something else. In order to grow you have to make the choice to remove your ego from your health. I had so much ego wrapped up in appearances that I was actually endangering myself. I had to step away from the gelled hair, and the ego whorish side of my public self to be honest: “I am not ok. I feel terrible and I am scared. Please help me.”

I took on the responsibility as an individual, but it was the people around me that carried me through the hard times. Ownership of our problems does not mean we have to be Atlas with the weight of the world on our shoulders. We personally have to bear the responsibility for how we deal with these changes, but it’s the community that creates the environment for success. My new years Facebook status sums up my feelings on the topic perfectly:

“This New Years I am thankful for my heart that puts up with all of my shit, and the people in my life that get me through the days when it doesn’t.” 

When I subconsciously willed the worlds resources from inside my lifeless body, putting in the (very tall) order for four CPR trained women to save my life, I took on the responsibility of being alive. I took on the challenge of living a life with these physical and mental limitations in mind. It is the ownership of that responsibility which keeps me alive and fulfilled to this day.

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This is a photo of me after being released from the hospital. Walking along the running trail on which I was found weeks before.

“If you don’t drink, why do you go to parties?

This is what drunk people look like to sober people. Still doesn’t remove from the fact that this was an awesome night, and the love I have for all the people in this photograph. Sober partying is all about perspective.

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“If you don’t drink, why do you go to parties? Isn’t it annoying having drunk people yelling in your face all night?” Whenever I am asked this I laugh, then I explain my appreciation for the occasional drunken yelling match. As a newly sober party attender, I have come to grasp and appreciate the inner workings of the drunken human condition.

The Pretender

The best way to not hate partying with drunk people is to pretend you’re drunk yourself. Immerse yourself in the party culture, and as Ron Burgundy once said, “When in Rome…” In what other circumstances do we greet each other with a shriek of happiness and a big bear hug? Divulge our appreciation for someone in a sentimental heart to heart? Recount tales of greatness with full gusto, and animated hand gestures? This is the stage of the evening that you connect with old friends to reminisce the good old days and make bold promises to hang out in the future.

I love this part of drinking, the passion and enthusiasm for the little things. Finally I have a group of like minded people willing to throw down on the dance floor and fill the airwaves with giggling gibberish. However, this is just a stage, because unlike genuine happiness found without alcohol, there is a always a crash, and suddenly the sober person’s role begins to change.

The Protector

Drunk people are vulnerable. All night they have been saying how they feel, and acting on impulses usually stifled in the office cubicle, and now the night is coming to an end. This is the part of the evening when the euphoria of the initial buzz wears off and the desperation to keep the feeling alive takes over. Fights break out, people hook up, and the final round of drinks are drunk. In this moment, a smart sober person knows to step to the side and let nature run it’s course.

Once the dust has settled and the arrests have been made, you can’t help but feel responsible for these now completely incapacitated, stumbling drunk, helpless people. And so, “The Protector” role develops into the, equally responsible, designated driver.

The Designated Driver

If you are really lucky you will manage to pull a few friends from the wreckage and lure them to the safety of your vehicle. This will take hours of drunken negotiations and perilous scavenger hunts for purses and missing people. Once everyone is in the car and the directions home have been surreptitiously drawn from the slobbering mouths of the semi-conscious, you are a fully legal, driving super hero. This is the grunt work, volunteer, shit shovelling part of the evening, but just like the girl at the Wendy’s pickup window, you have to suck it up and do your job. Throw on some pulsing house music and play the role of the cool limousine driver. You will be showered in compliments, thanks, and  maybe a tip if you play your cards right.

You should expect to be out later than the people whom you took home. You should expect to feel awful the next morning, but you should know that with great power, comes great responsibility. You have the power to enjoy yourself without getting drunk, and therefore it is your responsibility to ensure the safety of those who cannot.

The Observer

At the end of the night you are left to your thoughts. No drugs or fading effects of booze to lull you into a induced, dreamless sleep of respite. This is what I love about going out sober, and probably the same thing that most hate. I get to have these memories and learn from them, take in and appreciate those drunk minds speaking their sober hearts. It’s hard to imagine the positive outcome amongst the mayhem of the last few hours, but as you drive home in silence, or lay in bed before sleep, you run through the events of evening and, for once, you remember them.

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The Recovery Series: In The Beginning

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One day, 5 months after being found dead in a baseball field, I was out of the hospital and stumbling through my first day back at University. My teachers organized a meeting, in which they expressed their concern for the traumatic experience that I had, and offered their support to me if ever I should need it. They then went on to tell me how this experience was a great thing. A character building opportunity that would only make me a stronger actor. That this life changing experience was going to inform and elevate my work. “We are looking forward to what you can make with this on the stage”.

It seemed that people thought that because I had “seen the other side” or “been through some serious shit” that I had become this inspired, spiritually connected human being destined for greatness. Paradoxically, at the same time, it seemed like people expected nothing from me at all. Anytime I needed to take time off or not be involved with something I was immediately excused without question. I felt the weight of this imposed double standard and was cornered by it. During this time I wrote this in my journal:

“If I died today they would commend my few accomplishments, and speak to my bravery and perseverance… but if I live, and pursue my dreams I am expected to reach the stars.”

My story, as dramatic and serious as it is, deals with issues that apply to everybody. “Everyone has their shit”, is a lesson I learned spending time in the hospital. Mental or physical, psychological or metaphorical, there is a chip in everyone’s shoulder. People apologize to me, “Sorry, I shouldn’t be complaining, it’s nothing in comparison to what you’re dealing with”. Like my issues are so bad that divorced families and eating disorders aren’t serious. We all face these challenges, no matter how big or small society makes them, they are real and they need to be addressed.

The wounds that are visible are pitied and the ones that are invisible are ignored, but no matter where your hurt lies, my problems and yours have one thing in common. The need for a future. A future with this new problem in mind, a new you. How you recover from this experience does not lie in the rumours of your small town or your high school grad class. You will have to make sacrifices and become very honest with yourself. In struggle there is always something to hold onto, and something to let go of. A fine balance between ignorance and obsession, anxiety and denial, this is the challenge of recovery.

In “The Recovery Series” I am going to be talking about the recovery process. Whether you have a heart condition, or a bad week at the office, these posts are for you to commiserate and contemplate with. A place for sharing and ideas to be heard. I welcome all conversations and really looking forward to bringing light to this under-discussed topic.

Thanks For Listening.

Photo credit to Levi Hildebrand.

#Yolo Run

#Yolo Run

I have been immobile for the last 3 months. My physical activity comes from walking to and from work, and carrying the groceries home. The lack of physical motivation has really brought me down and now I have begun to feel self conscious about how I look physically.

Today I was having a great day, the last few leading up to it had been positive and productive and I decided that I felt well enough to push the limits a little bit and go for a SLOW jog.

The last time I did this however, I was taken to emergency in an ambulance. This time around I was able to notice the numbness in my legs and discomfort in my chest before my defibrillator engaged. I was able to walk myself out of atrial tachycardia and get home safely.

(Watch the video now) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vmCoG9SD78&feature=youtu.be

I really thought I was going to be ok, I thought that this run was going to be the beginning of my re-introduction to exercise and physical well being. My frustration and disappointment has lead me to one of my greatest weaknesses. Patience.

I have been registered for the Healthy heart Program at my hospital. In one weeks time I will be receiving professional guidance and supervision to aid me in finding the physical limitations of my body. I am nearly there, the answer is coming and I just need to wait 7 more days until that happens. As aggravating as it is, the payoff of waiting 7 more days for the knowledge to empower me to do what I need to do is worth the wait.

And so I breath deeply, remind myself to do my daily meditation, and put it out of mind until I can exercise safely.

Thanks for listening.

I’m Going To Re-Hab

Yesterday I registered for my first Healthy Heart rehabilitation session.

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The Healthy Heart program is a rehabilitation program for people who suffer from, or have risk of heart disease. In the program you find a “new normal” for your life within these new medical guidelines you have been faced with. You are connected with psychologists, dieticians and physical trainers to hone all aspects of your life to be safe and beneficial to your mental and physical well being.

When I arrived at registration I was given a questionnaire designed to evaluate my mental and physical state. As I sit down I realize all the other people in the room filling out this questionnaire are significantly older than I am. For a moment I had the “why me” thought. Most of the people in attendance could easily be my dad and could also be taking better care of themselves in the first place. Until a morbidly obese man stumbled into the room and fell into a chair to my left.

The hospital is a place of judgment. As much as you would like to think it is a place where you can get healed and get help there is always an element of judgement. Everyone is at their worst in a hospital. This man was at his worst, but he seemed to have been dealt a pretty awful hand to begin with. I am reminded of quote my mother always told me,

“If you compare yourself with others you will become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater & lesser persons than yourself.”  – The Desiderata

This man was so fat and ugly that I felt uncomfortable just being near him. He was the most unfortunate person I have seen in a very long time. I hoped that somewhere within this mass of social unacceptable physical appearance he has a nice smile or shocking charisma for me to latch onto. Unfortunately his misfortunes continued with  an imperfect smile with rotting teeth and a noticeable speech impediment. He seemed to have some sort of emphysema making his skin look red and irritated. He smelled, he wheezed his breath in and out even while seated, and he suffered from more medical illnesses than I can name. Every moment he had seemed to be physically painful and emotionally stressful.

The coordinator asks us all to go through and say our names and what we would like to get out of the program. Most of the people seemed rather uninterested in the process but a man beside me a long distance swimmer and was hoping to building his strength back enough to return to sport he loved after a triple bypass surgery. I explained my frustration in my lack of ability from my pre-heart attack life and a lofty goal of being able to run 10K again. Then the obese man to my left explains why he is there. He wants to be able to walk comfortably again…

A man with a life as unfortunate and socially unacceptable as him is still willing to try and better himself. He is statistically undesirable in more ways than I have ever seen, obesity, heart disease, diabetic, speech impediment, skin disease and who knows what else lays below the skin. How can I struggle with depression and heavy mood swings when I look the way I do and live the incredibly fortunate lifestyle that I do? I know that my struggles are real but suddenly felt like a fraud being there, this man, with all the challenges he faces, still tries.

Meeting this man made me realize how fortunate I am, I am always aware of the great gift I have by being alive today but sometimes it require a stark contrast for you to realize the beauty that you have in your life. If he can find the strength to get up and try for the two days a week we go to the Healthy Heart classes I think I can find it in myself to be the best that I can be.

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I’m a baby

ImageBabies are in a constant state of survival, always in a transition phase from needing one life sustaining thing to another. One moment they need food, another they need sleep, then they go poo and then they need food again. And so the cycle continues. Now where as I have grown out of pooping and burping uncontrollably and needing to be tended to by my mother, things haven’t really changed that much in the face of medical adversity.

I was feeling truly wonderful, something I hadn’t felt in quite some time. I went about my day, chipper and in good spirits basking in the glory of a clear conscience and promising afternoon. In the ecstasy of the moment began to feel light headed mid walk. I found myself feeling as though my head were floating along above my body as I strolled. Nearly headless Nick would have been proud! However, walking across Granville street bridge at midday with traffic roaring past you every second is not where you want to feel the beheaded sensation of your childhood wizard novels.

Suddenly I was in survival mode. The walk was no longer that of pleasure or for exercise but a endurance battle to find my way back home without having to lay down and order chinese take out in a park somewhere. With deep breaths, a lot of mental focus, and one random sit down chat with a lady working at Shoppers Drug Mart, I managed to get myself home and into a chair. Redefine “a walk in the park” for me please…

I slowly prepared and ate a meal in my own home, under my own power… and I take a little pride in that. It seems that even with the food in my stomach my body was tired. With that depletion to that level I was not able to regain my strength fully… I am finding myself in need of structure for the most basic of human needs in my life. Steady meals, lot’s of sleep, communication with friends and family, burpings and regular bowel movements…

Ok so maybe I am still a baby. A baby with the body of an 80 year old man with amazing skin for his age. I may look like a fit young man with nothing but a world of possibilities, but my aspirations are humbled by my ability. Everyday I feel as though I am torn in two directions. The part of me that wants the simple, easy life medically suggested to me, and the acting life and the rumpus lifestyle of spontaneous freedom. The two cannot live together unless they are together in tandem. I must find the patience and resolve to maintain myself and my career as two separate but equally important parts of my life.

With more focus put onto the vital components of my life that literally keep me alive and functioning my body works better for the tasks that I need to do. Quality of time spent rather than quantity. Spend 3 hours having a nap, eating a good meal and talking to your parents, and spend 1 hour working. Instead of 4 hours on no sleep and an empty stomach and a clouded mind full of unexpressed thoughts. And here we are… hypocritical me. Sitting in front of my computer at 1 am writing all this stuff out when I should be in bed dreaming of the 3 egg omelette I am going to make tomorrow.

Thanks for listening.