Living Differently

I used to think I was making the most of life. I was an athlete and a bodybuilder. Outside of the gym, I was on the up-and-up in my career. By all accounts, I was successful.

Then my heart failed me … literally. One day in my early 30s, I felt winded after walking a block. That was weird, considering how active and in shape I was. When I started to feel that way more and more often, I finally got it checked out.

I was diagnosed with hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy (HCM), a condition in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick. From that moment, my life changed. I was told I could no longer safely lift weights or compete in 5Ks. Both activities were huge parts of my identity.

I had to think more carefully about everything I put into my body for fear of going into paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (AFib), which developed as a result of my HCM. AFib triggers range from caffeine to sugar to alcohol, so I could no longer enjoy a coffee, dessert or a glass of wine the way I used to.

Though facts are facts, the way you think about health, life and restrictions makes all the difference. I quickly realized that my condition didn’t mean I needed to stop living. It just meant I needed to start living differently. Because of that intentionality, I’ve learned to live life on my terms: to say yes to life instead of being a victim of my diagnosis. So, I created guidelines for adjusting to my new life.

• Shift your purpose. When you face a challenge, focus on what’s important. Why do you get out of bed in the morning? My children are the most important things in the world to me. I work, live and breathe for them. They are my purpose. Everything I do comes back to them.

• Don’t give yourself a choice. There are people with lung cancer who still smoke cigarettes. There are people with HCM who don’t work out because it’s difficult. I don’t make decisions based on what I want to do in the moment. I’ve already decided I want an active life, which means I go to the gym six or all seven days a week. I don’t give myself an option to do anything else. I may technically have a choice, but I don’t choose to see it as one.

• Remain tunnel-visioned (sometimes). I’m a very positive person, but I have other emotions, just like anyone else. When I find myself in AFib (again), I do feel disappointed and frustrated. But I know what I have to do. I contact my doctors right away, find the solution and solve it. There’s no use dwelling on this small part of my life. In these moments, hyper focusing on a solution helps me work through my negative emotions.

• Educate yourself. Ignorance is only temporary bliss. Just as refusing to look at your bank statement doesn’t make you any richer, you won’t get any happier by refusing to face your unique reality. When you educate yourself about whatever challenge you’re facing, you can make excellent decisions within that new framework.

When you decide what life you want to live, the rest of your decisions become easy because then you make them fit your reality — whatever that may be. Remember that whatever you’re facing, life is always worth living.

While we all have our crosses to bear, mine are not going to hold me back.

This information is provided as a resource to our readers. The tips, products or resources listed or linked to have not been reviewed or endorsed by the American Heart Association.

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