A Heart Diagnosis and Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness month so I wanted to take a moment and dive deeper into what I went through, mentally, with my heart diagnosis. I know talking about mental health is still kind of taboo, but let me tell you something, there is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to panic. It’s okay to feel depressed. These are real emotions. We go through hard times and feel real emotions. We are not robots.

I didn’t know that after I received my diagnosis of WPW that I was going to almost have a mental breakdown over it. I literally didn’t understand what was going on with my body. I couldn’t breathe. I was gasping for air. I couldn’t sleep. When I did start to fall asleep, I would have recurring dreams of what I was going through that would wake me up. I starting becoming reclusive. It was better to stay in my apartment in case I had an episode of whatever it was going on with me.

When I would go out I had a routine of things I would bring with me. When I would arrive back to my apartment, I would stand at the bottom of stairs staring up at my second floor door. All I could hear in the back of my mind was the doctor telling me if I walked up a flight of stairs I could die. My heart was unpredictable.

I became a shell of the Megan that I had been. I started wearing all black. I felt very alone and like nobody understood me or the ugly experience I was going through. I literally felt like I was going to die.

I’m very thankful that I had such an amazing friend who recognized the signs that something was wrong with me. She was so brave in confronting me. I knew something was wrong too but but I didn’t know what it was. My friend took me to my first appointment with a psychologist and was such a great support to me.

In the end, I was diagnosed with PTSD, depression and anxiety. The instances where I couldn’t breathe were panic attacks. The recurring scenes that I experienced were from the PTSD. Then there were various examples of the depression and anxiety that had creeped into my life. I didn’t want to live my life like that and actively started trying to implement suggestions different doctors made.

I had met with a chapter of the American Heart Association here in Florida and we opening discussed what it means to be diagnosed with a heart problem; What it really does to you. One thing we focused on is that there’s not a lot of details out there on mental health for people who go through a heart diagnosis. There’s a lot of information available for what it means for your heart and your wellbeing but nothing that focuses on what you go through mentally. We all came to the conclusion that me exposing this hard truth is something that can be beneficial for the entire heart community because people shouldn’t feel like they are alone. I know what I went through was the most difficult thing that I have faced in my life. It tore me down, but I got to build myself back up much stronger than I had ever been. I know that it is terrifying to have something wrong with your heart, and that it is okay to be scared. It is okay to have panic attacks. But there is also a wonderful opportunity to start speaking with a professional about what you are going through once you realize that something isn’t right. Do not be afraid to admit that you may need someone to talk to. Truthfully, unless someone has gone through something traumatizing, they may not understand how you are feeling–which is okay! That is why talking to a professional can be so beneficial. I talked to about 3 or 4 different doctors before I found one that made me feel better. She gave me exercises to do for when I would feel panic attacks coming on and sent me an entire packet of papers to read through, for example.

I cannot stress it enough, you are not crazy. Seeking help does not make you weak. The cold reality is, we have one heart and if it stops then we die. To hear you have something wrong with the very thing that is keeping you alive is beyond terrifying. It’s understandable that someone may be fearful. It took me a long time to get through what I was going through and that’s okay. There’s not a magic timeline you need to measure yourself against. You will be okay.

I want to share the warning signs that indicate someone may need your assistance. Please keep in mind that these vary by condition. The most important thing you can do for a friend or a loved one is support them and not judge them for what they are going through.

• Excessive worrying or fear
• Feeling excessively sad or low
• Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
• Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
• Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
• Avoiding friends and social activities
• Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
• Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
• Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
• Changes in sex drive
• Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don’t exist in objective reality)
• Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (”lack of insight” or anosognosia)
• Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
• Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)
• Thinking about suicide
• Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress
• An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance

People are always there to help. If you have any questions for me about what I went through, please do not hesitate to ask. I am here to support all of you!

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