Exercise: My Physical, Mental & Emotional Therapy

12k – 7.5 Miles – 52:45 – 7:05 Minutes per Mile – 2nd place in my age division – 3rd place male overall

If someone had told me a few months ago that almost exactly 6 months to the day after having a stent put into one of my main heart arteries that I would have run the Taste of Louisville 12k and come in 3rd place overall, I would have been mad at that person for even suggesting something so crazy. Well, a few days ago, that is exactly what I accomplished. 

As  I was recovering from my procedure in the hospital, all of the doctors and nurses stressed the importance of two things to prevent future issues: Diet and Exercise. How many times have we heard those words preached throughout our life?? While it is so obvious that eating healthy and exercising is critical to our long term health, so many of us find ourselves ignoring these simple truths. For me, unfortunately it took me coming close to death to truly put Diet and Exercise at the front of the line when it comes to priorities and how I live my life. If you had asked me prior to learning that I had a heart issue, I would have said that I felt that I ate fairly healthy and exercised quite regularly. Looking back, I was feeding my body a lot of toxins and processed foods, and only exercising about 50% of what I should have been. I don’t ever intend to preach to anyone in this blog, but if you’re reading this, I would strongly urge you to consider taking the words Diet and Exercise very seriously. I will focus on Diet in another blog, but today I want to talk about how exercise has so positively effected me mentally, physically and emotionally.

My primary care doctor (who is also a health coach) has told my wife and I for years that weight control is 80% diet and 20% exercise, but that both are equally as important to leading a healthy & happy life (Again, some advice that I wished I had heeded the first time I heard her say this to me years ago). As I have noted in previous posts, the days immediately following my procedure were filled with dark, scary, uncertain and unsettling thoughts. I wasn’t sure how (or if) I was going to get back to the normal life that I was previously living. Simply put, I felt fragile. Thank goodness that I live in what is often considered the most healthy city in America, and my doctors were insistent that I should begin cardiac rehab immediately after being discharged. Cardiac rehab is about getting you back to feeling comfortable with the idea of exercising again. It is where you go to regain your confidence in your ability to walk/run/lift weights/etc as you recover from a heart incident or procedure. You are in the presence of cardiac nurses, with heart and oxygen monitors attached to your body to track your every step. I can honestly say that without cardiac rehab, I may be sitting here 6 months after my procedure still feeling scared to get up and walk. But instead, I am sitting here writing about how I am in the best shape of my life. I read stories about heart patients all the time that are afraid or embarrassed to go to their cardiac rehab appointments. If you’re reading this and in that situation, please go. Cardiac rehab got me back to running confidently at the pace and distance that I was previous to my procedure. As much, if not more importantly, getting back to exercising allowed me to get back to life mentally and emotionally.

Physically, I’m doing great! I am in the best shape of my adult life right now, and I will continue to get even better, faster, stronger. I find at least one hour every day to dedicate to exercise. In my opinion, there is no more important investment that a person can make in themselves than investing in your health. As grave as it is to say, without it, there is nothing. The best part about the physical fitness (aside from looking in the mirror and seeing the results), is the direct correlation and effect it has had on my emotional and mental well being. I am now a profound believer that physical, mental and emotional health are 100% connected. From a mental perspective, exercise has meant everything to my physical recovery and state of mind. I think that the best example that I can give is that after my procedure, any tiny feeling/pain I would have in my body led me to believe that something may be wrong. It could have been something as simple as my foot falling asleep, or a muscle twitching in my arm or leg, or a minor headache. The power of exercise on shifting that mental concern is that if I go for a 4 or 5 mile run and feel great, than when I have a minor feeling in my body I don’t have any reason to believe that it is a cause for concern. As my cardiologist puts it, by me exercising at a high level every day, I am putting my body through the equivalent of a stress test every day. Finally, from an emotional standpoint, exercise has really helped me contain and maintain my emotions. Prior to my increase in exercise, I would often let my emotions get the best of me. Whether it was getting overly stressed about something at work, or getting upset with my kids over something silly, I did not have a good handle on my emotions. Now, I am able to keep calm much better and maintain a more level emotional state (not that I’m perfect with this, but it is much better).

Finally, the last thing that I will say about exercise is that you don’t have to be in it alone. For me, there have been many friends, neighbors and family that I have reached out to when I want to go for a walk, run, bike ride, golfing, etc etc. I am very fortunate to have had many many very good friends and family help me through my journey to this point. When it comes to exercise there are two special people that have been there for and/or with me every step of the way. First is my wife. I’ve ranted and raved in other posts about how incredible she has been, and exercise is no exception to that. Whether it is encouraging me to go for a run, running together (on those rare occassions that we are together without the kids), playing with the kids more outside as a family, buying me new athletic gear, telling me how great I’m doing, and on and on, she has been nothing but encouraging and supportive of my exercising needs and desires. Second, is my friend Wes. Everyone knows that saying that you will find out who your true friends are when adversity strikes. Well, I have had a lot of friends live up to this saying throughout my little journey these past 6 months for which I’m extremely grateful, but when it comes to exercise my man Wes has been the best friend I could ask for. From going for walks with me shortly after the procedure, to running 8 miles together at 5am on many occassions, to sending me encouraging text messages after a good workout, Wes has truly been there for me. If you find yourself in a position where you can be someone’s Wes or what my wife been for me, do your best to encourage that person. I may never be able to fully and accurately express it in words, but that support has meant absolutely everything to me and being where I am today.

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

Taste of Louis

 

 

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The Aftermath

First, my apologies for the length between my last blog and this one…I’ve been busy enjoying life! Since my last posting, my son turned 4, I turned 34, my wife and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary and we went to Siesta Key with the kids for a week.

What I’m going to write about in this blog is the immediate aftermath of my procedure. This may be boring to some, but I hope that others who are currently going through something similar now or in the future will find it helpful.

If you have ever had any type of surgery where they sedated you, you know how it feels to “wake up” but still being in a daze. I don’t know exactly what anesthetics they gave me for my procedure, but whatever it was made my mind fuzzy for a while. I know this, because as I think back and try to recall some of the moments immediately after, I have a hard time putting the pieces of the puzzle in the correct order. To help with that, my wife proofreads these posts to keep me honest. Anyway, the first thing that I remember feeling as I came out of the fog was a bit of disbelief. If you recall from previous posts, before going into the catheter procedure, the Drs told me that they didn’t believe that they were going to find anything major. So, to be told as I’m coming out of the fog that I had a stent put in my heart to fix a 99% blockage in one of my main arteries was a bit of a shock, to say the least. The disbelief quickly merged into a complicated mix of fear, uncertainty, anger and gratitude.

Once the fog had lifted, and I was laying in the hospital bed recovering, I began to think about what this all meant. The realization that I had heart disease began to kick in, and that was a very scary realization at first. All of the fear and emotions that I felt were centered around my wife and kids. All of the thoughts and questions that you think would go through your mind in a moment like that, did for me. I laid there wondering if I was going to be able to see my kids grow up. See my son play sports, graduate from high school, go to college, have a family. See my daughter continue to beat boys in sports, protect her from bad boys, high school, college, and finally walk her down the aisle (this still gets me to this day every time I think about it). And my wife, my amazing wife Abbie, I just kept thinking about how much we still have to conquer together. And was I going to be leaving my wife with this incredibly difficult task of raising our kids on her own and explaining to them some day what happened to Daddy. My wife lost her mother at an early age, and I just kept feeling angry at myself, because I felt like I was about to put my wife through the same thing all over again, only this time as a parent. So many scary thoughts went through my mind, and it was very difficult to avoid them.

On the flip side, doctors and nurses would come in to check on me constantly, and they would all be in great spirits and talk about how well the procedure went. Nobody could explain why I had the blockage, but they all told me that it was fixed. I asked a number of doctors what this meant for me going forward, and they all told me that my heart is likely healthier than its been in a long time (or maybe ever) and that I should expect to lead a long, happy and healthy life. When I would think about my procedure from this perspective, I would be overwhelmed with gratitude. Grateful that I had such a great team of doctors. Grateful that I listened to my body and went to the doctor when I had chest pains, which likely avoided me from having a massive heart attack running on a trail in the middle of nowhere someday. Grateful that my wife was sitting next to me as I recovered instead of saying goodbye to me. Grateful that my heart was fixed! I was grateful for many things, but in the moment it was hard to latch on to the positive. I found myself focused on the negative and uncertainty.

I think that one of my doctors said it best when she said, “Mark, you just stared your own mortality square in the eyes at the age of 33, it’s normal to feel scared.”

If I could give advice to anyone going through a similar situation, I would simply tell them to do whatever they can to latch on to the positive. Don’t hide from the fear and uncertainty, those emotions are important and very real. But, its the positive thoughts that will carry you through the difficult times. I believe that feelings and emotions feed off of themselves, and it is much better to have a snowball of positive energy than negative when faced with adversity.

Looking back, it feels like I was in the hospital recovering for a week. In reality, my procedure was done on December 1st at 3:30pm, and I was discharged on the afternoon of December 2nd. For those who have kids, the feeling that I had when leaving the hospital was a bit like taking your first child home from the hospital. It’s that, “Oh Shit, what do I do now that I’m not surrounded by doctors” feeling. While I was emotionally all over the place while I was in the hospital, the one thing that I didn’t worry too much about was if something went wrong medically, because I was surrounded by an amazing team of cardiologists, nurses and other doctors. When I went home and was no longer on a heart monitor 24/7, surrounded by those doctors, everything changed for me. I was no longer just scared, I was damn near paralyzed by my mind.

The first few days at home were very difficult for me. All of those thoughts that were going through my mind while in the hospital continued, but were magnified by a thousand times as I lie in bed alone. On top of the emotional thoughts, I was now starting to worry about every tiny movement I made and every physical feeling that I had. I guess the easiest way to explain it was that I felt very fragile. I drank a ton of water, but wasn’t very interested in eating. I felt ok laying still in bed, but felt like I was going to pass out when I would try to get out of bed. I could temporarily keep my mind at ease watching tv, but when there was silence I would be overcome with anxiety and fear. These were constant themes for me for about the first week at home. It not only effected me, but began to effect my wife and children. When I realized that it began effecting my kids, that was when I finally made the conscious decision to snap out of it and try to get my life back to normal.

Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself that Mark is a total wuss. It wasn’t that big of a deal, he just had a stent put in. A lot of people have that done every day. In a lot of respects, you may be right. But in this case, I believe that I was mostly scared due to my lack of knowledge and all of the uncertainty that came with just not knowing what this all meant. This is exactly why I’m writing this blog. Because I hope that the next 33 year old Daddy (or Mommy) and Husband (or Wife) that finds themselves in this situation will know that it isn’t all doom and gloom. I’ll write about this more in a future post, but I am less than 6 months removed from the procedure and I am doing amazing! I am working out and/or running 6+ days per week, I’m in the best shape I’ve been since college, and as a bonus my wife says I’m “hunky” now.

I won’t pretend that I don’t ever have negative thoughts or concerns still, but I have found ways to focus on the positives and feed off of that energy rather than the negative. More to come on this in future posts as well.

Until next time, “Dream as if You’ll Live Forever, Live as if You Only Have Today!”

family siesta key