How heart patients can untwist that twisted thinking

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 “How heart patients can untwist that twisted thinking”

How these unique classes help to improve your Cardiac IQ

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by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

When I’m not noodling away here on Heart Sisters articles, or writing about living with heart disease, or doing presentations on women’s heart health, or playing with the world’s sweetest, funniest and smartest grandbaby, one of the activities close to my heart involves a local non-profit agency called Island Heart To Heart.  Learn more here about this wonderful program for newly-diagnosed heart patients and their family members who live in or near Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

In 2008, as a freshly-diagnosed heart attack survivor – overwhelmed and frightened – I learned so much from the assorted guest speakers at these weekly classes. Eventually, I became further involved with this unique organization – first volunteering with patients and family members on the cardiac ward, then as a member of their steering committee, and most recently as one of the facilitators who help to run these ongoing cardiac education classes throughout the year.

With her kind permission, I’m running this guest post by Thelma Fayle (a recent Heart To Heart “graduate”) which sums up beautifully three compelling stories:

  • the awful night her partner Daryl suffered a heart attack
  • what she and Daryl experienced week by week at their seven Heart To Heart classes
  • a moving tribute to the visionary young nurse who started Heart To Heart as a pilot project 29 years ago to help newly-diagnosed heart patients like her own Dad

Thank you so much for this, Thelma!

Continue reading “How these unique classes help to improve your Cardiac IQ”

Survivorship bias: when we focus only on success

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

We were sitting around with friends and family recently over some very nice red wine when our friend Noel asked a question about my weekly Toastmasters meetings, and specifically about whether I thought there are some people who simply never learn to feel comfortable speaking in public even after Toastmasters training. After a moment’s contemplation, I replied to Noel:

“I can’t really say – because those who actually feel too uncomfortable probably just stop attending after a while. But the ones who stay seem pretty happy!”

It turns out that what I was describing is essentially what’s known as survivorship bias.*  

Continue reading “Survivorship bias: when we focus only on success”

Do you think you’re a “somebody”?

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

I'm the little blonde standing up...
I’m the little blonde with the funny haircut

When I was a little girl in the 1950s, my parents were stingy with praise and magnanimous with criticism. To be otherwise would result in a child developing a “swelled head”, which, as all parents knew back then, would be the worst possible thing that could ever happen to any child.

“She really thinks she’s SOMEBODY!” was a phrase delivered with withering contempt by my mother in describing any person whose sense of self-esteem seemed even remotely healthy.

Continue reading “Do you think you’re a “somebody”?”

A letter to my pre-heart attack self

Dear Carolyn,

Duly inspired by CBC Wiretap’s How To Age Gracefully(a delightful farewell video letter to their radio fans, e.g. an 8-year old’s wise advice to a 7-year old), I’m sending this letter to my pre-2008 self.  Since my “widowmaker” heart attack that year, and subsequent ongoing cardiac issues, I’ve learned a thing or two about living with a chronic and progressive illness that I wish I’d known BHA (before heart attack).  I think I would have been a nicer and smarter and healthier person had I known these things long ago. So in no particular order, here’s my best advice to a long-ago me:
Continue reading “A letter to my pre-heart attack self”

Living with heart disease – and your whole family

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

For more than 30 years, Dr. Wayne Sotile was the director of psychological services for Wake Forest University’s Cardiac Rehabilitation program. Which is to say that he’s spent a lot of time with heart patients and their families. In 2008, while recuperating from my own heart attack, I discovered his must-read book called Thriving With Heart Disease. That title, by the way, has always bugged my Alaskan friend Dr. Stephen Parker (a cardiac psychologist and himself a heart attack survivor) who once made this comment about the book’s title:

“Just as soon as I can gather myself together, I am planning on writing a book called ‘Thriving After I Lost All My Body Parts’…”

Despite that small quibble about the title, Dr. Sotile is a terrific writer who nails it when it comes to guiding those who are freshly-diagnosed with a chronic and progressive condition like heart disease. Continue reading “Living with heart disease – and your whole family”