The 3 Best Things About Living with Heart Disease (and some other fun benefits)

In honor of American Heart Month, I thought that I would focus on the positives that have come into my life since being diagnosed with heart disease. All too often, we find ourselves grasping at the negative. Don’t get me wrong, if given the choice I would prefer to have not been diagnosed with heart disease when I was 33 years old (I would strongly encourage everyone to educate themselves through the American Heart Association or other resources on how to prevent heart disease before you have a problem…remember, 1 in 5 Americans will die from Heart Failure).  But, such is life. I was dealt up a couple of lemons, so I’m going to squeeze the hell out of them and make the best damn lemonade that I can!

So here goes my list of The 3 Best Things About Living with Hearth Disease:

#1 – I’M ALIVE!!!  It almost seems silly to have anything after this, because this far outweighs any other item I could write about. As I said, I was dealt a couple of lemons (ie heart disease). But the way that I look at it is at least I have the opportunity to go forward and make some of the best lemonade you have ever tasted. Living with heart disease has made me so much more self aware of how I conduct myself as a father, husband, friend, co-worker, neighbor, etc. I may not be the most excitable person you have ever met, but inside I am exploding with joy and life because I was given a second chance at the greatest gift of all…Life! I think it was in a blog that my heart disease bloggin buddy Jeff Breece wrote, when he was talking about running and said that he doesn’t need any reason to do it other than “because he can.” I think that I look at every aspect of my life in that way now. Whether it’s running, playing with my kids, going to dinner with my wife, talking to my parents, snowboarding with my brothers, grabbing a drink with my buddies or sitting quietly on my deck on a spring day and listening to the birds sing, I try to remember to keep that thought in mind: Just enjoy it Mark, because you’re ALIVE and because you CAN.

#2 – I’m healthier than I’ve been in many many years. I’ve wrote whole other blogs on how I have become an avid runner and gym-rat since my diagnosis, so I won’t go into too much detail there. Simply put, I would have never imagined that I would run races in one of the healthiest counties in the nation/world (shout out to Boulder, CO), and actually win them! Well, or at least win for my age group. Living with heart disease has opened my eyes to a much healthier and better way of living. I’ve talked about exercise, but diet and mental health are just as important to our overall health as humans. If I hadn’t been diagnosed, I would still be eating way too much sugar, sodium, saturated fats and processed foods. Instead, I try to eliminate all of those things as much as possible, and it has resulted in me losing more than 30 pounds and looking & feeling better than I have since high school. And mentally, I am in a much better place because I no longer stress over the small stuff, and when I do I now know how to utilize meditation and other techniques that I have learned since my diagnosis. The last thing I’ll say about the health benefits of living with heart disease (oh the irony in that sentence) is that in the 14 months since my diagnosis, the worst that I have had in terms of being sick is a simple runny nose. I attribute that to leading a healthy diet, mental and exercise lifestyle.

#3 – The chance to help others. I may not have millions of dollars to donate to heart research and I may not be a doctor or scientist that can create a new way to save lives for heart patients. However, I do believe that I can make a difference in other people’s lives by telling my story and raising awareness about heart disease and heart health. I think that most of us want to have purpose to our lives. Without heart disease, I had plenty of purpose. My beautiful wife and two amazing kids gave me plenty of purpose in life to be sure. But, there is something important, something exciting, something cool about the ability to positively impact the lives of others through my story. That is exactly why I started this blog, and why I continue to work with the American Heart Association on ways to further volunteer. I have been contacted by other survivors who have told me that I have made a difference. I have had friends and family become more aware of diet and exercise because of my story. And likewise, I have learned so much from other survivors and their stories of strength and resiliency. I have always said that if I affect just one person, and help them avoid heart disease or help another as they recover from a heart event, that I would feel fulfilled. I believe that I have helped a few so far, but my hope is to help many more for many healthy years to come. There is just something special about that that I can’t fully put into words, but it’s definitely worthy of a top 3 spot :).

A few other fun “benefits”

  • My buddies can’t make fun of me for drinking wine
  • A trip to the dentist seems like a walk in the park now
  • Stress about work??? Nah, it’s really not that important, but I may be better at what I do now than ever before. Stress gets in the way of success.
  • My wife has a little more sympathy for me (sometimes)
  • I bought a cool new smart watch (because it tracks exercise and heart rate)
  • I have met some amazing other “survivors” through my blog and the AHA support community
  • I lost so much weight I had to buy a whole new wardrobe…this was fun, expensive and mildly annoying all at the same time
  • I have reconnected with some old friends…it shouldn’t take a heart event but oh well
  • I don’t get anywhere near as mad when my Detroit Lions or Red Wings lose (but I still get a little mad)
  • I’m not embarrassed to dance or sing like a fool…Because I’m ALIVE and I CAN!

As Always,

Dream As if You’ll Live Forever, Live as if You Only Have Today!