Recovery: Denial

After three years of medical trial and error my doctor prints off my chart and stares at it blankly. He takes off his glasses and squints at me the way you look at an old dog who’s started to pee on the carpet again.

“What are we going to do with you?”

I have reached a place in my recovery where my body and mind are at a stalemate. On the current prescription my heart rate is slow enough that it won’t kill me, and just fast enough that I don’t become morbidly depressed. My doctor and I sit, hesitant to prescribe something new for fear of disrupting the little balance we have taken 3 years to attain.

In my exploration of this heart condition I have been through many stages of recovery, all of which I will see repeatedly throughout my life, but the one that I deal with the most, is denial. In the waiting room that day I made a deliberate choice to deny my heart condition. I have decided to stop any further diagnosis and live my life by my own accord.

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Technically this would be called denial. It is not the first time I have ignored my life threatening heart condition. When I was first released from the hospital I was in an aggressive state of denial. 3 weeks after my cardiac arrest, you might have seen me on the news, amongst the swarms of people being chased by police during the Vancouver playoffs riots. I abused my already weakened body to the absolute limits without any thought of the consequences. I was blind to my limitations, and so in some ways, it was as though they did not exist.

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There is a difference however, in denial and calculated refusal to let something run your life.

Being in denial is like having a superpower. I did whatever I wanted for 3 months, it was only a matter of time before I found myself in back the hospital. Since then I have spent three years trying to find a cure for my situation, only to come out on the other side with only a greater understanding of how fucked up I really am.

It is a painful process realizing that I am no longer the physically adept, carefree 18 year old that I once I was. Inside of that loss however, I have found direction. I have wanted to travel since waking up from my coma, but have never been stable enough until now. This year I am finally going to make that happen. At the end of september I will be leaving the comfort of home to spend three months traveling in India.

How do you travel India with a heart condition? I’m in the process of figuring that out. Even getting on the plane is a challenge. I have to be legally deemed “medically stable” by my doctor for at least 4 months before leaving in order to be eligible for travel insurance. Even if I get on the plane, India is not only a logistical struggle, it’s an emotional one.

My choice to go to India is out of a selfish need to prove to myself that I can do it. My mentality during the trip could be the most dangerous part. I need to be extremely careful to not take any unnecessary risks while under third world country healthcare. One ego driven choice to do something I know is a risk and I could be in serious trouble. I have to be sure that my choice to deny further treatment in order to live my life doesn’t kill me.

I have spent 3 years pushing the envelope and finding the limits of my ability within my lifestyle here, but self control, and an awareness of what my body needs, is going to be crucial to my survival in a place like India. I know what kind of things my body is capable of doing, but in India every choice has to come from the acceptance of my condition in mind.

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It is insanely scary to educate yourself about any medical issue that you may have experienced, but it’s really insane to ignore that it ever happened, but most insane of all is to stop living your life once you have accepted that it is truly there.

You need to continue with your life but you need to put your health issues in front of you and do it with them in mind. Many of the people around you will encourage you to get back to your schedule, to your job, to your routine life as quickly as possible. The most beautiful part of a life changing event is that your life is changed. You don’t have to go back to the way that things were. With the acceptance of your new circumstances you now have the opportunity to create a new future.

To deny the occurrence of something negative is to deny the opportunity to grow and learn, which is inherently, the denial of life.

 

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“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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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.

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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“The Gift of the Gab”

Thanksgiving weekend has reminded me of the incredible amount of energy it requires to meet new people, but also how thankful I am to still be a part of my friends lives.

“The Gift of the Gab”

As my heart condition develops and changes I am losing the ability to do the things that I once did. I can no longer run or play organized sports, drinking and doing drugs are out of the question, one of the few things that I still have is what my mother would call “The Gift of The Gab”. This essentially means that I am good at talking, people like me and I like people. As my heart issue has progressed I have found that socializing has become a far more important part of my life. Even though I have always had a way with people, my interactions with others has developed greatly and now benefits me in more ways than one.

The Art of Conversation

When I meet a new group of people I feel the need to bring them ease and comfort while being in my presence. I make sure to find the subjects of conversation where I can elaborate, moments where I can be inquisitive, and personal details that I can be attentive to. The process of human dialogue is tiring. Throughout the evening I hold up many conversations and spend half my time just trying to remember names, references, past events and familial context (in the Thanksgiving setting), not to mention all your P’s and Q’s. This process for me is exciting! It is a thrilling game of socializing chess giving me a view into the life of another human being.

The Beauty of Human Interaction

I do all this work for the human connection, something I have come to value very much. Feeling the eye contact between myself and another person, seeing what they feel while they speak. A hug, a moment of eye contact, a blush or a nervous twitch. These natural human responses are the social gems I cherish when I come into contact with others. Suddenly the world is not centred around me, me laptop and my petty little problems. People are distractions. The most complex and articulate distractions in the world. Other human beings who are stumbling through this confusing maze of life with me in tandem, and for a moment I get to do it with them. That’s the reward of social interaction, the stimulus and excitement of fresh conversation, the social jousting match of exchanging information. In these moments I am invested in someone else, all my problems go on the back burner and my focus is on them, it’s an escape.

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Everything Has Cost

With this massive commitment to these moments I expend a lot of energy. After a long night of partying and social time I am worn out. My heart sounds tired, beating slow and out of rhythm, and mentally I feel myself slip into a rut. I have expelled so much energy that I lack the cognizant stamina to stand up to my own mental pace while I’m alone. Solitude, with the prospects of my condition, is extremely depressing and causes a great deal of anxiety in my life. Drained of energy I’m left with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to maintain my social needs.

” If human interaction is heroin, then being alone is withdrawals, and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are little doses of methadone to carry me through to the next day.”

The Heart Of It All

In the world of heart disease limitations I have had to find ways to release myself from the issues I deal with on a daily basis. People have become my coping mechanism. Each person I talk to is an escape. I need them to see outside of my own mental walls and feel connected and supported by another person. I’m torn by this struggle though, because on one hand I need to feel this connection and I get lost in the experience of it, but it wears me down to a dangerously low point. I have to monitor how I am doing throughout the evening and exercise a bit of restraint. Just like drinking or doing drugs, it’s a fine balance of getting that enjoyment and fun without going over the top and burning myself out.

Monday, September 23rd/2013

I have had a pretty gnarly week… But I’ll just tell you how it started.

Exactly one week ago I was shocked by my defibrillator while on a run… A not exactly therapeutic dose of electricity was applied directly to my heart and body in response to my arrhythmic heart beating at an incoherent, 286 beats per minute.

I go for a run, winter has hit Vancouver (you know… because it’s almost october?) and I feel off. I remember my breath, heavy like a weight was sitting on my chest, wheezing. I remember thinking that any minute there would be that great inhale to clear up the dense, constricted space within me and I would be on my way. My awareness made it’s way through my body, my attention was taken from my chest to my hands. They were cold and numb feeling but I associated it with cold the first cold snap of winter. Then my feet, much the same, like running of stubs of pins and needles. I start thinking of the chest pains I had been having recently and the question they always ask at the hospital “Are you having any chest pains? Shortness of breath?”.

Finally I took all these clear signs as what they truly were. I raised my hand to my heart, and the blood, already struggling to make it’s way about my body flushed out of my face. “No, no no no no please don’t! Look I’m ok! I am slowing down ok!?” I slow to a walk, holding my chest, talking to an irrational vital organ in my chest. As I bend over the world slows, I look up to see this old asian man looking at me.

I avert my gaze and receive my first shock.

Weightless and paralyzed, the power of modern technology blasts through every pore of my body in less than half a second. I lose consciousness and regain dropping to my knees. I yelp… On one knee I turn to look at the asian man who I had seen before and words come out of my mouth without my willing “please help! I have a heart condition and my defibrillator has just shocked me!”… In hindsight this was probably a little too much information to start him off with. Based on his startled, frozen stature I yell “CALL 911!!!”

The second shock.

Now that I think about it I know the feeling I had before it happened… like a churning in my stomach. A sickening feeling like walking home late at night by yourself. Before I can form the thought it hits me. It drops me. Almost to assert it’s dominance over me. YOU are NOT in CONTROL! I scream this time, because this isn’t supposed to happen. I’m scared. I scream for help.

This is a moment I will never forget in my life. Seeing their faces, seeing them change. Screaming at someone when your life depends on it redefines human communication. If you make that sound, you could be screaming bingo numbers, the immediate world of human beings will understand what you need. Hearing that sound escape my mouth scares the shit out of me.

I lay on the ground, in the rain, clutching my chest, energy and electricity ringing in my ears. Faces over top of me asking questions I already know they are going to ask… with the mother fucking Science World IMax dome in the background… I realize… I’m ok.

I cry… I’m embarrassed and frustrated because this isn’t the first time, and I know what happens when this happens. Like a kid getting caught stealing there is an impending consequence. Something is about to be taken from me. My ability to run? My freedom to exercise? My chemically free mind? This story does not end with the same 20 year old who entered it. I am doomed to change, handcuffed by it. So I laugh, that uncomfortable laugh that makes people cringe when they hear it… because it’s filled with sadness. I begin making jokes “gosh this an awfully morbid place for me to lay down eh?” and talking about the situation at hand as though it happened to a friend I once knew. Denial phase engaged. The ambulance attendants arrive to the best patient they’ve had all year. Conscious, educated about his situation, and fully mobile. Frame it, hang it on the wall.

I went back the next day… I took these photo’s laying in the spot where it happened and sipped a pumpkin spice latte.

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I know that this post is not my usual positive Levi material that I put out. But this is the other side. Thanks for listening.