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Matters of the Heart

April 14, 2016

I recently found out that I was born with a teeny tiny heart defect. Now, before I go any further, let me just assure all of you out there that I am fine.  Really really fine. In fact, we only discovered this heart condition because I was undergoing tests for something else that turned out to be benign. The condition that I have is potentially dangerous in other people, but I have such a mild form of it  that  my cardiologist is confident that I do not need any kind of treatment. I have no symptoms, and I am at a very low risk of any kind of issues.   There are a couple of medications that we now know that I can’t take, and if I ever feel faint or like my heart is racing I need to go to the emergency room, but honestly  everything is absolutely fine.

The condition is called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW). The simplest way to explain it is that when the upper chamber of the heart sends a signal    to the lower chamber telling it that it’s time to beat, the signal passes through one electrical pathway. People with WPW were born with two electrical pathways. Anyone who’s interested in what  this means, or wants to know more specifics about it is welcome to look it up – there are plenty of articles online, but the basic idea is that I have extra heart beats.  The only danger comes in the event of tachycardia, but again I am at a very low risk.

The only inconvenience of this whole thing, is that I now wear a medicalert bracelet.  I mean, I like jewellery and all, but this isn’t exactly  at the top of my list of stylish accessories.  Before I received the bracelet, I hadn’t really thought about the diagnosis at all.  Physically, there’s nothing to think about,  and yet now, multiple times a day…pretty much anytime I use my right hand… there is a reminder that there’s something not-quite-right with my heart. I’m not scared, I’m not worried, I’m just aware.

This constant awareness has me thinking a little bit more about my heart.  Not the physical one that has a few too many beats, but the metaphorical  heart inside my chest…the supposed centre and source of love within me.  The place where we claim that our feelings come from, the place that holds our joy and our pain.  I’m not one that really thinks about my heart that much. I prefer to live in my head, and I tend to separate myself  from what’s going on in my heart… At least I try to, with varying levels of success.  Heart stuff, emotional stuff, scares me. It  seems irrational and impossible to control, which makes me very uncomfortable.  I’ve always tried to ignore what was going on in my heart, which, as I’m sure you can all guess,  usually ends up backfiring. Instead of feeling things in the moment, I ignore my feelings  for as long as I can, until they eventually build up so big that they blowup and I fall apart.  Not the healthiest  practice, I know.   The problem is that no matter how many times I go through the cycle of pushing my feelings away until they explode all over the place, I never seem to learn. I still feel safer  ignoring my feelings in the moment, and I seem to forget that they’re just going to come back some other time.

until now.

Now I have a silver chain on my wrist. Now I have a reminder that I will never take off.  It’s been so bizarre to be diagnosed with something that hasn’t caused any symptoms at all. It’s been incredibly strange knowing that I’ve had this thing my whole life  and we never knew about it, and that had I not gone in for something completely unrelated we may have never known about it. It’s been terribly odd to have  an official “syndrome” that has virtually no impact on my physical health. I’ve been wondering why  it even matters that we found out about it – nothing about me or my regular medical care has changed.  Why did I need to know about this at all?  Yes, I’m sure that you can all see where I’m going with this.  Maybe, just maybe, having this bracelet on my wrist will be the thing that finally reminds me to take care of my heart.  Maybe the fact that I can’t stop fiddling with it, or that it never feels like it fits quite as well as it should, is so that I won’t forget that it’s there. Maybe the little metal disc proclaiming to the world that I am a person who could potentially need emergency medical care is actually softly reminding me that the real care I need can only come from myself. Maybe my “new bling” (as I’ve been enjoying calling it)  will finally teach me to be gentle with my own heart.  I’d like to think that there was a point to getting this diagnosis at all, and maybe that point is to teach me to stop fearing my feelings and to embrace them as an unavoidable and integral part of the human experience.

I’ve always been afraid that I’m too sensitive. I have always worried that being too sensitive makes me unlikable. But maybe a heart that beats more often than everyone else’s is a heart that requires more care.  I don’t think that it’s going to be easy…I KNOW that it’s not going to be easy, but it’s time.  My jewelry says so.

Wishing you all light and love

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