The 15th of August marked three months since I went under the knife, had my sternum broken and had some of my aorta saved from dissecting. Since then it has been a bit of an up and down journey with moments of feeling like a completely new person and times of desperately struggling to do normal things or be okay with what I see in the mirror.
Waking up each day and staring in the mirror is something that has daunted me for years, due to a lack of self-confidence, but doing so with a scar that runs directly down the centre of your chest from the bottom of your boobs, just where your bra join sits, to just underneath your collarbones is a whole different level of confidence knocking. Some people view scars as their battle wounds from life and are able to use them in a way that reminds them they are stronger than they sometimes believe but for me it just makes me feel weak. Weak that my body doesn’t function well and weak that people can see my scar and view me as an easy target. Luckily, I have received a lot of support regarding this post-surgery and will soon be undertaking CBT to help specifically with my health anxiety and the worries that enhances when I am around people. Having the surgery really helped me to focus on my mental well-being and tackle various outstanding issues so whilst it has enhanced certain things it has finally prompted me to find a way forward through everything to make a more positive future.
Not only has the surgery given me that little kick to tackle my mental health, get rid of the negative people and places that existed in my life and embrace the more positive places and people radiating smiles, but it has also encouraged me to care more about what I am putting in and on my body. Since the surgery I’ve started to drink a lot more water, make sure I am properly cleansing my face more, applying body creams more regularly and trying a lot harder to consume fruit/vegetables and a general more balanced and simple lifestyle. My skin is generally thanking me for it and it helps me to look at my mildly glowing face and feel a little more alive instead of a dull bloated sad sack but other than my body looking a little more with it I didn’t think that anything had really changed. Stepping on the scales three months later though and it turns out I have lost a stone in weight and, on reflection, my clothes have become a little more comfortable to wear; it isn’t anything super dramatic but it is a step in the right direction and should hopefully make it a more sustainable and long lasting lifestyle change.
This change to how I viewed my mental and physical health resulted in me making one of the biggest changes in my life to date. I quit my job. After discussions pre-surgery of me being able to build my days back up slowly and to find a sustainable point for me regularly being in work and sticking to the schedule I was asked to do a full week eight weeks post-surgery. That full week would have been pretty much solo and during one of the more stressful parts of the year. I didn’t want to risk stressing my heart out too much, as it would still have been another four weeks until being back to pre-surgery strength, and I didn’t want to ruin the positive aura my mental health had started to give out by immediately burning out on my return. The day I quit my job I applied for a job, that job was the first interview I got invited to and they offered me a job (I’ll discuss this more in a later blog post but I now work as part of the admin team for the local NHS hospital, something I hope to excel at based on my personal experiences).
I wish that the entire journey had been such a smooth process of it helping me to make positive changes in my life but sadly that isn’t the case. Not only were there days of extreme exhaustion and feeling too weak to do anything there were days of pain as the sternum still healed and I started to get back into using arm and shoulder muscles that had sat dormant for a number of weeks. Cardiac rehab sessions have really helped me to loosen up the muscles again, regain my confidence with what is safe for me to put my body through post surgery and to focus on my general fitness a little bit more. The rehab has reminded me it isn’t about going hard all the time to make progress or do something good for my body but instead knowing where my personal healthy limits and aims are.
It was during one of these cardiac rehab sessions though where things took a turn for the worse. On 9th August I finished the session, had completed the cool down and was sitting down getting into the relaxation session when I came over incredibly dizzy and nauseous. After much pondering a couple of the nurses there whisked me over to A&E just to get me checked out on the safe side. There was nothing wrong detected with my heart or anything to do with the surgery, which was a massive relief, but the feelings of extreme dizziness did not ease off and after a number of tests and my birthday coming and going I wasn’t released until 22nd August. This event terrified me more than having the open heart surgery did. Was it something I did wrong? Is my body just not as strong as I thought? Is this what the rest of my life holds in store? What is wrong with me? Why did this have to happen to me? There were points where I just laid down in the hospital bed, pulled the cover over my head and wept because I thought that after my heart surgery that was it for choosing food from an NHS menu for decades to come. In three months I spent nearly three weeks in a hospital bed. It certainly wasn’t how I expected to spend my 24th birthday.
There will probably be more ups and downs in the road but hopefully the lowest points are done with now and I’ll be able to carry on personally developing and becoming mentally and physically stronger as well as more positive about how I view myself, others and the future. Sorry for the unexpected silence but health always comes first.