A heart attack was the kind of life changing experience that happened to other people, not to someone who exercised regularly, ate sensibly, took appropriate vitamins, and wasn’t overweight. I was wrong. One very hot July morning I found myself in the emergency room, and my life-or at least my view of it-is forever altered.
At first, it seemed that my life had changed for the worse. While still in the hospital, I developed an unfriendly relationship with my body, which had clearly betrayed me. I no longer trusted it to behave in a reliable manner. I felt that I had to be watching it all the time.
The hostility and suspicion diminished a few weeks after the heart attack, but a new feeling of vulnerability replaced them. Maybe it wasn’t my body’s fault that it was fragile, but it was-and I couldn’t do anything about it.
In my third stage of change, I decided that I no longer wanted to continue feeling helpless and diminished by this life experience. I hadn’t been singled out for a heart attack. It occurred to many people and for many reasons. I decided that I needed to more fully understand the emotional underpinnings of this experience and decided to adopt the belief that you are as helpless as you choose to be. I chose to be empowered.
My fourth step was to read selfhelp books, especially those related to recovering from severe physical traumas such as heart attacks and strokes. I also sought out selfhelp forums relating to these subjects on the Internet. I found much to encourage me, including many first-person accounts by people who stated, in calm and reassuring language, that their heart attacks had ultimately changed their lives for the better.
And that proved to be the fifth (though probably not final) change in my own life. When you face the reality that you could have died and certainly will at some point, you can either cave in and be fearful or appreciate that you are alive and that life is an experience to be savored with gratitude and even joy.
These may sound like the unrealistic words of someone who is ignoring reality. Not so. I am very familiar with reality in some of its most threatening forms. I had a heart attack, I could have died, and I didn’t. I have been blessed with a reprieve, and I choose to make the most of it by appreciating life.