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.


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.


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.


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.



“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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


“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)

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.


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


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.