10 Things My Second Heart Attack Taught Me - #2

10 Things My Second Heart Attack Taught Me - #2
Stress accumulates in your body and stress kills. 

When the docs told me my first heart attack was 100% stress related, I thought "Ok, I need to reduce the stress in my life and learn to recognize it earlier" What I didn't realize is that while I was deflecting current stress from my life, I still had 20+ years of stress stored up. 

According to Kerstin L. McSteen, (BSN, MSN, ACHPN, CNS-BC) at the Oncology Nurse Advisor blog stress accumulation goes through three phases (and is SUPER common amongst professions in healthcare) . There are early warning, mild and ingrained symptoms that we can look to no matter what phase we are in.  (https://www.oncologynurseadvisor.com/home/the-total-nurse/cumulative-stress/)

Early warning signs include: apathy, depression, emotional fatigue and vague anxiety. When I look back on my experience emotional fatigue often came in the form of random crying, mostly frustrated crying (not sad), and very often at the end of the day. 

Mild symptoms can include frequent headaches, colds, and stomach problems, Intensified physical and emotional fatigue, intensifying depression, irritability, more frequent loss of emotional control, Muscle aches, Sleep disturbances, withdrawal from contact with others. 

I call this phase my "peopled out" phase. I could hardly bear to be around anyone outside of work and would retreat to our farm to sit in the yard in total quiet. I couldn't listen to the radio, to music or podcasts. They all seemed so intrusive and I had no mental bandwidth to support listening. I found that repeated watching of movies however was more of a relaxant. I didn't have to think about the plot or the characters, I could just float along inside the story. 

The ingrained symptoms start to become ominous and I am lucky that I didn't have all of them. While elevated blood pressure was an issue, it had been an issue for me for decades and I was well managed pharmaceutically.  

General physical and emotional fatigue had been a way of life in healthcare work due to the relentless demands but Increased smoking (I have never smoked). Intense depression, intense irritability, loss of sexual desire, migraine headaches, poor appetite, relationship problems, skin rashes, ulcers, use of nonprescription drugs or increased alcohol use were never issues in my experience. They can be significant for others. Well maybe I was more irritable, if I am being honest, and my irritability took the form of becoming the "protector" of my team and was quite confrontational with people outside our particular work site. I took on too many small battles became more and more exhausted by them.

Cardiac problems was where my ingrained symptoms showed up big time. And this accumulated stress, this ingrained aspect of stress is something I had never realized. All the years of poor sleep, of worry, of trying to live up to the modern ideal of a "good leader" built up like sludge in my body. 

When the second heart attack came 18 months after the first, after a solid effort to reduce the stress in my life, I was actually devastated. More so than the first one, this heart attack surprised me. I had done everything I was told would help me. I lost 40 lbs. I ate better. I exercised. I meditated daily. I focused on breathing. 

And yet that was not enough to counter the years of neglect that I had inflicted on my body. And what this second heart attack was mostly about was my mindset. I could no longer blame an oppressively stressful work environment. I had to come to terms with my choices, my beliefs, and my behaviours going forward. I remember being driven home from the cardiac unit and thinking "what's the point, if I am just going to have another one...."

While the Cardiologist told me the true cause of the second heart attack was just "shit house bad luck", I knew that like all luck, I had created the perfect environment for that luck to happen....it just took 20 years.

This blog is a way of decluttering my stress accumulation. I am working through it room by room, investigating beliefs and behaviours and getting rid of the ones that no longer bring me joy (sorry Marie Kondo) or at least no longer bring me some warped kind of leadership dopamine fix. I now realize that I took on that stress willingly, thinking I could withstand it and that somehow it just miraculously dissipated once you took a vacation or retired. 

Now I see that it takes as long to clean those rooms as it did to fill them -- at least if you want it to stay that way. 

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10 Things My Second Heart Attack Taught Me #1

 10 Things My Second Heart Attack Taught Me #1
This is the first of ten posts discussing the lessons my second heart attack taught me. 

Now you may or may not know that in July 2020, as the first wave of the pandemic flattened out a bit. I had a heart attack at work. 

It was a typical woman's heart attack -- it was silent and had only one undefined symptom: I felt like I had a pinched nerve in my neck. I had this feeling for four days before I decided to go to the ER and get a shot for pain. 

Turns out, I was having a heart attack. I never considered that it could be a heart attack because I have no family history of cardiovascular disease, I had well managed blood pressure and my cholesterol levels were never of concern. I had been well managed my whole life because I had rheumatic fever as a child so I was no stranger to echocardiograms and stress tests.

I needed two stents and then had 18 months off work to remove stress from my life,  I followed the rehab plan, the medication plan, the lifestyle plan. And yet in November 2021, I had a second, much worse, heart attack. 

These lessons are what I learned in coming to terms with the fact that you can do everything you are supposed to do and, as my Cardiologist said, still have "shit house bad luck" 

Lesson 1: It is great to be alive no matter what you experience in your day. 

It is hard to state this strongly enough but the majority of things we allow ourselves to get upset over mean nothing over time and we get wrapped up in them with no results possible. We are in them because we want to be right.  And we want the other person or organization or system or whatever to see our rightness and adapt their ways to ours.

This kind of self-inflicted stress wastes our energy and has us living in a negative head space. 

Now I work every day on letting go of the stuff I have zero control over and have learned to walk away from conversations that are simply argumentative and focused on getting the other person to think the way I think. 

Being alive is the greatest gift you will get in your day. Remind yourself often of that. Feel that in every cell of your body. Honour your body's continued functioning -- even it if it diminished -- and give it what it needs. 

Hear me when I say this -- No work, no task, no other people, no system, no belief, no thing is more important than being alive. And if you continue to sacrifice your body's wellbeing for any of those things, you won't be around to experience them.

Your body has a limit. 

Join me next post for Thing #2 - Stress Accumulates.

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Stop Using Quiet Quitting to talk about doing your job

Stop Using Quiet Quitting to talk about doing your job
The current obsession with "quiet quitting", a term apparently created on TikTok to mean people who go to work and do their jobs without taking on extra, has really steamed me. 

How did we get to a place when merely doing your job, the tasks you were hired and paid to do, was in some way slacking, implying dereliction of duty?

The consistent creep of job duties over the past couple of decades  has normalized overworking to such an extent that many employers now view overworking as the baseline required - not the exception to the rule but the norm. In many salaried employee contracts, overworking is even written into the contract!

So where does that leave employees who are doing more than ever for the same pay -- in effect experiencing a reduction in their wages per hour or salary because the obligations have increased.  It leaves them with a organizational expectation to spend their own time to complete work that the employer has assigned without remuneration. It leaves them working longer hours for the same pay. And EVEN IF there is overtime pay involved, the expectation to complete more work cuts into an employees personal time, reduces the recovery time off needed to be a great employee, and introduces shame/guilt as a tactic to "motivate" more work out of them.

I haven't seen a conversation anywhere about how this defacto reduction in wages is being addressed or even acknowledged --NOPE what we see is a label being applied to it that implies employees are in some way slacking from their duties. 

I call Bullshit to using the term "Quiet Quitting" to define "Doing your Job" -- Let's start naming the expectation of overwork for the abuse of the employer/employee relationship that it is. 

Terms like "Expected Extras", "Task Creep", "Freebie Assumptions" are all much more honest depictions of what the culture of the workplace is. "Quiet Quitting" doesn't even come close to naming the revolution in the workplace that is happening. 

I, for one, applaud those workers who have looked at what their work lives have become, how they have taken over much of their private life and their own brainspace, and said enough. I will do my job to the best of my ability and no more. 

If employers cannot get the work of their organization done in the time of the work week with the employees they have, it is time to rethink the business model, hire more people, and honour the efforts of those already working for you. 

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The 4 Horsemen of Type A

The 4 Horsemen of Type A
i have been working for over 2 years now to vanquish my Type A tendencies. Type A personality traits are typically associated with motivation for high achievement, impatience, overworking and competitiveness. I call these the 4 Horsemen of Type A. And their uncontrolled impact on your life can be deadly.

Don't be fooled that these only show up in work life. They infiltrate your private life and family. Hobbies are competitions and mine was gardening. I maxxed out at 175 tomato plants one year and didn't even think it was a problem. Two years later we are still living off of the canned tomato products that I made from that harvest.

You also tend to project these behaviours onto your kids -- why have fun playing hockey when you could try to be an NHLer? Or your happy journaling girl is suddenly heading for a Nobel Prize in literature. Or making your track loving boy watch hours of the Olympic to "motivate" them. So much for hobbies for fun.  

This is where the problem lies. Us Type A riders take normal, fun activities, and make them all competition for success and acknowledgement. And our achievement seeking leads us to be really great at our jobs.

These traits are not, in and of themselves, harmful, except that our culture HIGHLY prizes the results these traits bring. When you ride with the Horsemen, the exhilaration, the public succes, and the financial rewards make it nearly impossible to get off the horse. 

We have been taught since grade school to seek out external validation - from winning reading awards, to science fair competitions, to striving for grades significant enough to get us scholarship -- all this validation sets us up to continually be striving and putting off things that are more esoteric, calm or quiet. We are bombarded with effort/reward scenarios from the time we are born and our parents start us off on the journey often living out some of their unfulfilled history and we, in turn, pass it along to our children. 

Our desire for this external validation becomes the source of some of our biggest burnout activities in adulthood.

Much like grade school, our work lives have report cards. Evaluations, performance reviews, 360s, even Accreditation, all fall into the work/validation vortex. And here is where Overwork becomes the Horseman you can't escape. 

Organizations are under massive pressure these days -- more than ever there aren't enough people to do the work, so the work gets piled onto those who are already engaged. 

Why don't we notice and respond? Because  it happens in increments. You start out working 45 hours in your 40 hour week then suddenly and surprisingly you are at 60 -- not counting the hours you work at home. 

Non-work activities get cancelled, rebooked, ignored, and forgotten. Your kids look at you and learn. Jim Croce called in in Cat's Cradle as a kind of Cassandra doomed to foretell the future and have no one believe her. 

So we find ourselves working more, living for the adrenaline of the top marks in performance review, the possible wage increase for excellent performance, and continue to get pulled back into the negative vortex until we can no longer see the problem.  "Somebody has to do the work".....

But let's really think about what our riding the Overworking horse means -- fundamentally it means we are enabling the system to continue on without having to change. 

Yes, we are the reason that the system hasn't changed!!! It relies on both our tendency to value overwork as a signal of success AND our refusal to allow our colleagues to work short. 

This is the sword that kills us. That we must stop doing the overwork in order to force change. 

It won't happen fast. All the data the system uses to function is based on decades of overworking employees and it is scary to step into the unknown where people ONLY work their designated hours.....time has come to get off this horse.

Sitting with My Demons

Sitting with My Demons
I spent my entire Sunday sitting with my Demons. And it made me a better person today. 

My demons worked hard to tell me that taking downtime meant that I was lazy. I could feel the disdain of my maternal grandparents as I argued with my demons that my body and mind were tired and needing rest. A day without work. Without tasks. Without expectations. 

Those demons were loud. "How can you be successful if you sit there doing nothing?". 

"You are never going to achieve your goals being lazy"

"Who do you think you are just leaving your house in this state -- what will people think if they see it?"

"Just get up and do a couple things -- you will feel better and won't have wasted the entire day"

"There are a LOT of tasks on that to-do list and they won't get themselves done!"

All these demons, picking away at my brain -- telling it that my body was lying to me and was really just a layabout. That my body is lazy, in need of strong action to get it moving. 

But my body whispered, "I just want to be." 

So I put my coaching hat on and asked my demons where did they feel the feelings they were shouting at me? Where in life did they learn the lesson that rest was lazy and that doing something, anything, would make an exhausted body feel better.

They didn't like the questions and the messages just got louder, as if maybe I wasn't hearing them enough to take action. My demons demanded action to feel fulfilled and no amount of meditation, of oneness, of being, suited their agenda. 

My body just smiled and said I will be stronger if you let me rest. 

My demons howled with laughter. HOW can you be stronger if you sit around doing nothing. 

Then my body said "But I am not doing nothing. I am being. And being is my most profound answer to your loud, abrasive action. Being is what makes me strong. Being is like plugging me in to the universal energy charger. "

And now, exhausted by their endless fidgeting, their yelling, their aggression towards my being body, they slumped down frustrated and finally fell asleep. My body just smiled and said to them all "being is what you all need to do as well. it is truly the only way to change the world."

It was interesting watching my demons get more and more riled up bymy body's revolutionary act of being. The quieter she got, the louder their messages of societal disdain became. Lazy. Failure. Wicked. Slothful. Unsuccessful. Pathetic.  All these weapons of busyness were thrown at my body. 

But she quietly remained being in her space and I with her. The laundry remained undone. The dishes are dirty in the sink. The dusting was left for another day. The garden remained unweeded. We practiced being in a fundamental space of no expectations. Of quiet. Of pondering. Of stillness.

Now this morning, my body smiled at me and said "Thank you - let's go out and conquer the world. I am ready" 

What do your demons say to you when you honour your body and rest?

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