A heart patient’s positive attitude: a “crazy, crazy idea”?

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

I blame genetics – and three decades spent working in public relations – for generally making me one of those smiley, glass-half-full, annoyingly über-positive personalities much of the time. Not even horrific symptoms during my heart attack could alter the weak happy face that seemed freakishly pasted on throughout that ordeal.

It’s as if I were channeling Elizabeth Banks classic character in her short yet brilliant film Just A Little Heart Attack – in which she attempts to smile brightly despite textbook cardiac symptoms, and even good-naturedly taunts her concerned family:

“Do I look like the kind of person who’s having a HEART ATTACK?”

Don’t make a fuss. Chin up. Don’t worry, be happy. Just get on with it. I’m fine, just fine.

Trouble is: people like me who sport a perma-smiley face may not be “fine”. Not at all. And I now believe that feeling obliged to pretend we are what we’re not can be both physically and psychologically damaging.   Continue reading “A heart patient’s positive attitude: a “crazy, crazy idea”?”

Is it post-heart attack depression – or just feeling sad?

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

One of the small joys of having launched this site is discovering by happy accident the wisdom of other writers – even when they’re writing on unrelated topics not remotely connected to my favourite subject which is, of course, women and our heart health. For example, I happened upon a link to Sandra Pawula‘s lovely blog called Always Well Within. Sandra teaches mindfulness meditation, and she lives in Hawai’i (note her correct spelling).

She also has a hubby and three cats. I don’t even know this woman, but I like her already.  And while scanning through her beautiful site, I was stopped cold by an article she called: Why Sadness is the Key to True Happiness“.   Continue reading “Is it post-heart attack depression – or just feeling sad?”

‘Heart Attack & Soul’: the perfect gift for the heart attack survivor

“A heart attack is a deeply wounding event.” So starts Dr. Stephen Parker‘s new book called Heart Attack & Soul: In the Labyrinth of Healing.

The Alaskan cardiac psychologisthas a unique perspective: he is also a heart attack survivor himself. His words will ring true for both heart patients and their families. It’s the story – both in images and words – about the journey of healing after his own 2005 heart attack. He describes how, “in desperation from depression”, he began drawing and painting as he wrestled with how to express how the heart attack had affected him.

Although, amazingly, he had no previous experience making art, his impressive drawings morphed into a blog in which he spent 40 days reviewing the paintings and writing a daily observation. The blog paintings and comments became a well-praised public art exhibit, and that has now at last become a book.  Continue reading “‘Heart Attack & Soul’: the perfect gift for the heart attack survivor”

A foreshortened future

heart cloud

by Carolyn Thomas   @HeartSisters

Cardiac psychologist and heart attack survivor Dr. Stephen Parker recently described a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that rang a bell for him after his own cardiac event. The PTSD symptom is called “a sense of a foreshortened future“. In other words, after a traumatic event – in this case, a heart attack – the patient “does not expect to have a career, marriage, children, or a normal life span.”  As Dr. Steve tells his own story of this symptom:

“Three months after the heart attack, I went to Home Depot to buy something for the house. I walked inside, saw the plethora of nice things to make a nice house, and started feeling extremely depressed.

“What was the point? I knew I was going to die within a short time.   Continue reading “A foreshortened future”

“I’m not depressed!” – and other ways we deny the stigma of mental illness after a heart attack

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

“This is the most thorough review article I have seen on psychological interventions after heart events,” writes cardiac psychologist Dr. Stephen Parker* about a U.K. study on heart patients. And he should know. Dr. Steve is also a heart attack survivor himself who has explored his own profound experiences with the depression and anxiety that commonly accompany any cardiac event.

The study, reported in the British Journal of Cardiology in July 2010, followed over 400 London heart patients for two years – of whom at least half showed symptoms of anxiety or depression when first interviewed.  But the study authors described their participants in this way:

“Many of these heart patients were reluctant to accept a diagnosis of anxiety or depression and expressed reservations to the clinical psychologist by rejecting the term ‘depression’ for describing their problems, or by expressing negative views about attending a mental health service for treatment.”

In fact, these ‘negative views’ associated with the stigma of having mental health problems were so strong that all psychological interventions studied were provided to heart patients as part of a scheduled Cardiac Rehabilitation program at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London – instead of at a mental health facility.   Continue reading ““I’m not depressed!” – and other ways we deny the stigma of mental illness after a heart attack”