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The heart patient’s not the only one in the room

17 Feb

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters    February 17, 2019

 

Leslie Pitt is a marriage and family therapist whose husband Graham suffered a terrifying sudden cardiac arrest in his sleep while on vacation in Hilton Head Island, North Carolina. In this short and compelling video, she talks about the care they each received from 9-1-1 dispatchers and Fire Rescue personnel – care that not only saved Graham’s life, but significantly reduced her own post-traumatic stress.  Continue reading

Drawing a picture of your diagnosis

27 Jan

 

Part of my latest mandala (a work in progress)

by Carolyn Thomas   @HeartSisters    January 27, 2019

The late Madeleine Shields was a gifted artist and teacher here on the west coast of Canada. But more importantly to me, she was MY teacher. Her artistic expression of choice was the mandala, a Sanskrit word for “circle”. The mandala practice of Madeleine Shields was not what you might see in adult colouring books or on painted rocks at craft fairs. Hers was based on an ancient spiritual and meditative practice that she compared to “painting a mirror”. I can sometimes still hear her distinctive voice in my ear asking pointedly, “Did you do it well, or did you do it fast?”

A recent study supports what Madeleine had already figured out 20 years before her death, that art can intuitively reflect our deepest emotions in a surprisingly accurate fashion – and that’s especially true when we become patients. Continue reading

Hypervigilance: waiting for that second heart attack

9 Sep

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters    September 9, 2018

511724-0211-23Until I had a heart attack, I didn’t know that one of the biggest risk factors for having a cardiac event like mine is having already had one. Heart disease, a chronic and progressive diagnosis, is the gift that keeps on giving. And as I wrote here, one of the Big Lessons for me has been that, although my doctors can “squish blockages, burn rogue electrical circuits, and implant lifesaving devices”, their heroic efforts do not address what originally caused this damage to my coronary arteries in the first place – likely decades before my heart attack struck.  See also: The Cure Myth

In fact, women are twice as likely to have a second heart attack in the six years following the first compared to our male counterparts.(1)  No wonder sobering stats like this can drive the freshly-diagnosed heart patient to an exhausting and fearful state of acute hypervigilance. Continue reading

How heart patients can untwist that twisted thinking

10 Dec

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

The freshly-diagnosed heart patient has plenty of opportunity to start thinking thoughts that are new, bizarre and sometimes even frightening. Any life-altering diagnosis can throw us off-balance emotionally, but with heart disease, even the tiniest twinge of new chest pain can paralyze us. Is this something? Is it nothing? Should I call 911 again? As Australian cardiac psychologist (and more importantly, a heart patient) Len Gould likes to say: “Before a heart attack, every twinge is just indigestion. After a heart attack, every twinge is another heart attack!”

And our worried thoughts can stick around far longer than they should, as we play them over and over and over like our first Beatles album. Mental health professionals call this kind of twisted thinking cognitive distortion. Continue reading

When are cardiologists going to start talking about depression?

26 Nov

by Carolyn Thomas    ♥   @HeartSisters

I can vividly remember those early days and weeks at home after surviving a heart attack, especially that cold creeping anxiety around how I “should” be feeling. I had just survived what many do not: what doctors still call the “widow maker” heart attack. (By the way, note the gender semantics there, please: doctors are not, after all, calling this the widower maker”).

I was now resting comfortably, both of my darling kidlets had flown back home to be with their Mum, our home was filled with flowers, get-well cards and casseroles delivered by the daily line-up of concerned friends, family, neighbours and co-workers.

So why was I feeling so bleak inside, and even worse, now feeling guilty for all that bleakness?  Continue reading