It’s Not Nothing

Tuesday December 18, 2012 began like any other day. I woke up at 5:45 am and began getting ready for work. When I was about to leave the house, I started to feel a bit strange. My arm was weak and I had a weird feeling in my stomach. I figured it was nothing and got on the road to work…

Halfway to work on the 101, I started feeling worse. My arm started to ache and I felt lightheaded. Starting to get worried, I called my husband for some advice. As any good husband would do, he insisted I go directly to the hospital instead of to work. I hate hospitals but I reluctantly agreed and I detoured off the 101 to head to Banner Desert. By the time I got there I was actually feeling pressure in my chest, but no actual pain. On a side note, I quickly found out that the ER staff takes chest discomfort seriously as I was in a room within minutes.

To be honest, I thought it was nothing, after all I had experienced the same symptoms three days earlier but the symptoms disappeared within about twenty minutes. I figured I would be wasting time, money and most importantly a day off just for them to tell me it was nothing. To my surprise and dismay, it wasn’t nothing this time…

After a series of tests including an EKG, heart x-rays and an ultrasound, everything appeared to be normal. My doctor, the on call cardiologist, was stumped. According to him, I had none of the “classic” risk factors for heart disease. However he did say that being overweight didn’t help. Since I told him that I had experienced the same symptoms just days before, he decided to run one more test. This time it was a test to see if there were cardiac enzymes in my blood. Unlike the others, this test did not come out normal. There were trace amounts of cardiac enzymes in my blood, which indicated to my doctor that something was going on.

The following morning he performed an angiogram to see what was going on in my heart. If you don’t know what an angiogram is, it is quite scary. A thin wire with a tiny camera on the end is fed up through the femoral artery into the heart. The camera projects images of your heart onto a monitor so the doctor can see any blockages or valve issues that may exist. I wasn’t put under but rather was in a “twilight” state where I could see what was going on but didn’t really care. It was creepy and cool all at the same time. Unfortunately the angiogram revealed that there were two arteries with blockages, so they immediately performed an angioplasty implanting two stents in my heart. After the procedure was over, I asked my doctor if I had had a heart attack and he advised that he considered it a “cardiac event” and not a heart attack because there was no damage done to my heart. I consider myself one of the lucky ones…

According to the CDC and the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer of women and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. One in thirty one women dies from breast cancer, but one in three dies from heart disease. That is approximately one every minute. 90% of women have one or more of the risk factors for developing heart disease and since 1984, more women have died from heart disease than men. There are a number of risk factors for heart disease/heart attack and the risk increases with each one that we have. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and a family history of early heart disease are the common risk factors that most everyone knows about. In addition, eating an unhealthy diet and age are factors to take into consideration. However, there are other lesser known risks that I for one did not realize can contribute to heart disease. These include being a smoker, being overweight or obese and being physically inactive. Even though I have never been a smoker, I am overweight and have been relatively inactive most of my adult life.

When we think of heart attack signs and symptoms we generally think of the obvious one,  sharp shooting pain in the chest. For men, this is often the case but for women the signs are often much more subtle and easily passed off as other things.  Some of the signs of a heart attack for women include chest discomfort, but not necessarily excruciating pain and pain or weakness in the arms, neck, back and shoulders. (As I mentioned before, I had weakness in my arm) They also include pain in the jaw, stomach pain like heart burn or the stomach flu, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and trouble breathing. Women may also experience nervous or cold sweats, or fatigue. Many of these symptoms are easily dismissed by women with comments like, “I must have over eaten.” or “I must be catching the flu.” Fatigue or feeling tired is often explained away as “I’ve been working a lot of hours lately.” Aches and pains in the arms, neck, back and shoulders are often dismissed by saying “I must have pulled something when I was working out, it’s nothing.” How many times have you had an unexplained ache or pain or felt discomfort and then just dismissed it? I had been doing it for years, but this time, with a little encouragement from my husband, I listened to what my body was telling me. It was a good thing that I did…

You may feel silly or that you are overreacting if you go to the doctor or ER for these sort of symptoms, but believe me, your doctor will never tell you that you shouldn’t have come. He or she would say it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Finding my blockages early has allowed me to modify my lifestyle to lessen my risk of any future heart issues. Had I ignored  the symptoms, they may have disappeared as they did the first time, but the next time might have been more severe or worse yet, fatal. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t ignore it. Don’t say you’re too busy or you’ll go next time. For far too many women there isn’t a next time. It’s not nothing, this time it might be something…

 

 

 

 

 

To Do or Not to Do

Benjamin Franklin once said “You may delay, but time will not, and lost time is never found again.” Everyday, people delay. We delay starting a project, telling our story, taking a class or making a change in our lives. How many dreams won’t come true because we are busy doing something else, or nothing at all?

The “delay” I am referring to is known as procrastination, delaying or intentionally putting off something that should be done to do something else more enjoyable or less difficult. We all procrastinate from time to time. We put off doing dishes to watch our favorite TV show, or blow off homework to go out with our friends. For most people, procrastination isn’t chronic or life changing but for others it can prevent them from accomplishing their goals and dreams.

I never really thought of myself as a procrastinator, or someone who chronically procrastinates. I managed to graduate from high school and college and haven’t had any difficulty holding a job, but recently I took a look at my life and discovered I am a procrastinator and writing this post has helped me start to overcome it.

Overcoming procrastination is not an easy process. The first and most important step is to recognize we are a procrastinator. Once we accept this fact we can move toward eliminating this bad habit from our lives.

Second, we need to determine why we are procrastinating. There are a number of reasons why we procrastinate. Sometimes it’s because a task is unpleasant and we can’t see the benefit to completing it. For example, cleaning the house. It’s just going to get dirty again, right? Other times we procrastinate because a task is too difficult or time consuming. It would be much easier to read and answer emails than to start that large work project that is due next week. We may even procrastinate because we have a fear of failing, so we never want to start. This is the main reason that I procrastinate.

For a number of years I have had a dream and desire to write a book. I haven’t decided if it will be fiction or non-fiction or what the topic will be, but I know there is a story in me somewhere. Over the past few years I have made lists, collected supplies, signed up for classes and read a lot of books, but today I am no closer to making my dream come true than I was 10 years ago. I have recognized my reason for procrastinating is my fear of failure, so I never even get started. We may also procrastinate because we are not organized. Many times we have too many tasks to complete but don’t know how to prioritize what to do first. When this happens we get overwhelmed and end up doing nothing at all. When I feel overwhelmed, my “escape” is to grab my tablet and play “Candy Crush” to distract myself from the things I really need to do.

The third step to overcoming procrastination is to develop strategies that will help overcome it. If our problem is being disorganized, a solution might be to keep a to do list and prioritize it. Putting the most important tasks or the ones with the soonest due date at the top of the list. Scheduling difficult or very detailed tasks at times we are most alert will also help us complete the tasks on time. When we are overwhelmed by a very large task breaking it into smaller more manageable tasks can make it easier to accomplish. If we make an action plan and stick to it step by step, we will accomplish our goals. If the task is unpleasant, go ahead and try it anyways. It may not be as bad as you might think. Reward yourself when these unpleasant tasks have been accomplished. For example, promise yourself a Starbucks treat after you finish cleaning the house or give yourself an hour to watch a favorite show once you have written your 500 words for the day. Ask someone you trust to check on your progress. It will keep you accountable and on track. Eliminate distractions and noise. If you know that you are easily enticed by TV or video games, eliminate them from your environment. In addition, seek help if we exhibit signs of self-defeating issues such as fear, anxiety or perfectionism.

Many procrastinators, myself included, have said they perform best under pressure but this is really just a way to justify putting something off. A few weeks ago I set a goal for myself. It’s a lofty and personal one. To avoid becoming overwhelmed, I will break this goal into much smaller tasks and reward myself after each of these tasks are completed. In addition, I plan on enlisting a trusted friend to check on my progress to keep me accountable. Once we can recognize and admit that we are procrastinators, it becomes easier to overcome. Figuring out why we procrastinate will help us find the strategies that work best for our particular situation. Every strategy will not work for every person. Finding a solution that works for us is what is most important. “The best way to get something done is to begin” – Author Unknown.

 

 

Growing Up Normal…

Despite a very abnormal entrance into the world, my life up to this point couldn’t be more normal. I was born with a very serious birth defect. At just minutes old I was producing way more mucus in my nose and mouth than what is normal. I had a deformity where my esophagus was connected to one of my lungs instead of my stomach. It was pretty obvious to the Naval hospital doctors that emergency surgery was needed to save my life. At just three hours old I had the surgery. It was successfully and obviously I survived. My parents were told that the survival rate for girls with this condition was much higher than it was for boys. As a matter of fact, after my surgery was done and they knew I was going to be ok, the doctors told my mom that a male infant had recently died at that same hospital as a result of the same condition. It was unusual that not one but two babies would have the same rare condition at nearly the same time.

Not long after my recovery our family, which included a year old brother, moved back to Chicago as my dad was out of the Navy. My dad worked and went to college at University of Illinois Chicago and three years later my “Normal” life began. A job offer from State Farm Insurance brought us to the small Midwestern town of Normal, IL. As small Midwestern towns go, Normal was, pretty normal. There were a few large employers, State Farm being one of the largest in Normal’s twin city, Bloomington. There was a state college, a few high schools and grade schools and not much of anything else. I spent age three to eighteen in an area of town that was pretty much “white picket fence” without the white picket fences. It was kid friendly and safe. The three homes I lived in while growing up were within a mile radius of one another.

Unlike most people I know, I actually went to kindergarten through high school graduation in the same school district. As mobile as we are as a society these days, that is actually pretty rare. After graduating from Normal Community High School I did the “normal” thing and went on to college. My move to the University of Illinois took me to another Midwestern town quite similar to Normal. Champaign-Urbana was my home for the next four years while I pursued a degree in advertising. I dreamed of an exciting career in the “big city”. Of course I am referring to Chicago. But bad luck and a bad economy resulted in an advertising position with a home improvement chain, in you guessed it, another normal, Midwestern town. This time it was Eau Claire, WI. My stay there wasn’t long, but I met my husband and got married while I was there.

When I needed a change, back to Champaign-Urbana we went. Kids came next and life as a working mom and wife was pretty normal. My days were filled with work and kids activities. By now you must be wondering what brought me to Arizona and a career at Allstate. Well, a failing marriage that needed new life and new beginning resulted in a cross country move with two kids in tow. Unfortunately (or more accurately, fortunately) the marriage needed more than a change in scenery could provide and I soon found myself single again. As strange and as sad as this may sound, I feel like this part of my journey in life was pretty typical and “normal”. Divorce and single parenthood are so common these days, it’s not considered abnormal at all. Single parenthood and the need for a better job and benefits is what eventually led me to Allstate. With a little nudging from my retired “Good Neighbor” parents, I started looking for claims jobs and nearly eleven years later I am still enjoying my insurance career.

The best part of my extremely normal life now is my new husband and our blended family. Nine years ago, we were both looking for love again and we each decided to give online dating a try. We were matched on eHarmony on the first weekend my husband joined and met in person six weeks later. To this day I still tease him about what a bargain he was for me as I only signed up for three months just to see if I liked it. He on the other hand paid a premium for me as he paid for an entire year and found me in just a day or two. Online dating for years was considered sketchy and odd, but nowadays, you guessed it, it is pretty normal.

I’ve been married now for six years and not only did I gain a husband, but I gained two new daughters and a few years later an adorable granddaughter. The only thing not normal for me these days is having a little one calling me “Grammy”!