Hope for the aching heart

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

This article, written by Dr. Lisa Hollandappeared in the Columbia Notebook, Spring/Summer, 2007

“Jen, who lives with her husband and two children, recently underwent an unexpected double bypass surgery. At 50, her course of healing should have been uncomplicated. But six days after surgery, she developed a fear of being alone and would stay up extremely late because she was afraid to fall asleep.

“Over a period of several months, her once-savored walks with Toby, the family dog, dwindled down to once a week until finally she stopped walking him at all. When Doug, her husband, told her that he was worried about her, she cried.

“Through her tears she replied:

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, all I know is that I’m scared I’ll have another heart attack.” 

“Jen knew that heart disease is the number one killer of women, but she didn’t know about the relationship between heart disease and depression.

“The emotional risk factors of chronic stress and anxiety, social isolation, depression and lack of coping strategies can increase the risk of heart disease or worsen a pre-existing condition. In many cases, people who are depressed either don’t acknowledge their symptoms, or convince themselves that they will be okay, especially if they were not diagnosed with depression before the cardiac event.

“The complexity of emotions that accompany a life-changing illness can be overwhelming. A psychological consult and depression screening could point Jen to counselling, appropriate anti-depressant medicine, or both that could offer her some relief.

“If you have experienced a cardiac event and feel that you have symptoms of depression that have lasted more than six months, it’s time to get the help you need. You do not need to suffer through these emotions.

Do You Experience Any of the Following Symptoms of Depression?

  • feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • difficulty focusing and remembering scheduled appointments
  • anxiety about having another cardiac event
  • fear of isolation or desire to isolate yourself
  • inability to talk about your feelings with those close to you

“Depression is surprisingly common in heart patients. Some people begin to feel better shortly after cardiac treatment, while others experience complicated emotions for a long time.

“Most often, depression related to life-changing illness is treated with success.”

© 2007 Lisa Holland, PhD, LMFT

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3 thoughts on “Hope for the aching heart

  1. Dr. Holland suggests getting help if the depressive symptoms after a cardiac event last more than six months. I would note that the average”major depressive episode” lasts about six months, so if you wait that long, it is already too late.

    I would suggest
    (1) that you would have to be crazy not to be depressed after a major cardiac event and
    (2) expect that you are going to be depressed and manage your life accordingly — as if you are badly wounded..

    Depression is a natural response to a wounding event; animals head for caves after being wounded.

    I would suggest that having a heart attack would be, say, similar to having both one’s arms and legs broken — in fact, I think that would have been far preferable.

    Recovery from such wounds, from a broken heart, takes a long time. Take it easy and appreciate the necessary depression.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Steve – I think “wounded” is such a perfect description. After my own heart attack, I was too overwhelmed by what had just hit me to anticipate that depression might follow too. I was desperate to feel normal again. To me, “normal” meant going back to work at my demanding, high-stress PR job – and the sooner the better. When I finally did manage to drag myself back to work, I didn’t even recognize my debilitating symptoms as depression. I just knew something was terribly wrong with me, and I felt dismayed and embarrassed that I couldn’t seem to snap out of it. Shouldn’t I be feeling happy and grateful that I had just survived what many do not? Instead I became terrified that a second heart attack was imminent.

      But if I had two broken arms and two broken legs as you point out – would I have been in such a big frantic hurry to get back to work, or would I have been more willing to truly “take it easy”?


  2. I know the feeling. I spent ten hours on the couch today feeling completely out of it. Some days this really sucks


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