There are times in our lives in which we find ourselves being literally or figuratively cracked open, or what Omega Institute Co-founder Elizabeth Lesser refers to as being “broken open” to more life and love.
A few years ago, I attended a workshop she offered by that name, and her book was a guide to delving into the experience of deep emotional cave exploration. It set me on a path that felt both liberating and frightening.
All of these years later, I seem to be back in that place. The experience of having a cardiac event on June 12, 2014 contributed to the feeling of having symbolic open heart surgery. Fortunately, I am not part of the “zipper club,” and no instruments were used to cut into me. A stent was inserted via a catheter in my wrist to prop open a fully occluded artery. My heart was about to shut down for business.
It wasn’t until I came out of surgery that I learned that I was a positive statistic. One in three women die from cardiac disease.
I had many risk factors, including family history, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, extreme stress, poor sleep and long work hours. I had also experienced multiple losses, which had included the deaths of both my parents a few years earlier.
As has long been the case, I repressed my feelings so I could remain high functioning at work and home. Visualize a beach ball held under water. You can only keep it secured under the surface for so long before your arms get tired and it pops back up. Imagine maintaining sadness and a sense of lingering loss buried for so long. Eventually, it too will break through.
I followed the doctor’s instructions, took medications, changed my diet, went to cardiac rehab, left a highly demanding job, took naps, learned boundaries, asked for help and support and now, nearly a year and a half later, I was told by my cardiologist to keep up the good work and he would see me in March. All good stuff.
What I didn’t take into consideration was that I would have residual emotional fall-out.
Even though I was warned by a friend, whose own cardiac condition made her a patient expert/educator/advocate, that I had experienced trauma, I cast the idea off like an old pair of shoes, believing as I always had that I was resilient enough to bounce back in all areas.
As I am someone who tends to minimize her emotions as a way of getting things done and not wanting to appear needy or dependent, this state that I find myself in more recently is disturbing. It looks like this:
Crying at the drop of a hat.
Feeling a need for physical and verbal comfort and reassurance.
Lack of excitement about even the most compelling events. I am planning two trips in the next two weeks to Las Vegas and Phoenix and I am not jumping for joy as I would have previously.
Anxiety which to which I have never been prone.
Questioning my own (relative) sanity.
Intensified thoughts about my own mortality.
There are times when I feel like I am awash in the feels—as if I am drowning in them. I am generally an upbeat person, looking for the bright side of every situation.
I haven’t lost it, just fleetingly misplaced it.
As a result, I have upped the amps on my self care as I spend more time in nature, at the gym, drumming, meditating, listening to music, napping, receiving massage and energy work and journaling. These are meant to be insurance against getting sucked into a state of confusion
Walking today in Peace Valley Park with Cindy, my friend of more than 30 years, I came to realize just how unfamiliar I am with myself and my own needs. I have been so much in my head, and not truly in my heart, that it’s as if I were a stranger to the woman in the mirror.
I walked on crunchy-leafed paths, tripped over tree roots, hugged trees, sky gazed and let the path take me where it wanted me to go, rather than doggedly determine which way to head. In the past dozen or so years, I have blazed a trail and traversed it, carrying a huge pack of stuff I didn’t need. If you saw the movie called Wild, you may remember the name Cheryl Strayed gave to her backpack: Monster. It was weighted down with extraneous items that made trekking more difficult. I have packed mine with self-doubt and self-deprecation, with worry and fear and thoughts that threaten to drag me under the waves, with suffering and struggle and angst.
I have hidden behind a sparkly mask, smiles and laughter. Not that they weren’t genuine expressions at times. They are parts of me. But so too, are sensitivity, sadness, vulnerability and longing for connection.
My heart was hiding. Still peeking out a bit, but it needs to be safe to come out completely.
Feeling quite raw as I imagine the ebb and flow of the blood that pumps through my cardiac muscle and the love-energy that sustains the rest of me.
Author: Edie Weinstein
Editor: Toby Israel