After the Heart Attack: No Place Left to Hide

No Place to Hide
It was the thing I had feared my entire adult life. The thing that kept me up at night.
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It was the thing I had feared my entire adult life. The thing that kept me up at night. And while there had been a couple of scares in previous years, those were only the prelude. A combination of stress and bad decisions letting me know what was coming. But this was it. The real thing.

A heart attack.

I was active in high school and the first few college years, but most of my life I had been only moderately active at best, and my food choices were pretty simple. Fast food, big servings, multiple servings, more cheese please, and dessert with every meal.

They were all my choices, but choices have consequences.

Then, after one scare too many, I decided to start making some changes. I started eating better. I started exercising. I did all the things we know intellectually we should be doing all along, but don’t always make it to the follow through stage.

The doctor said it was the thing that probably saved my life.

I hadn’t managed to reverse years of bad choices, but I had managed to give myself a fighting chance. Physically I was changing. My heart was becoming more efficient (considering what it was working against), and the excess weight that had been a ticking time bomb for so long was slowly coming off. I was changing. I still looked like me … just a slightly smaller, more solid version.

Then came what we have started calling “the little adventure.” And more changes. I started working with a trainer at the gym with exercises designed to give me a good cardio workout and generally tone me up a bit. Then a few visits with a nutritionist gave me new insights into what foods were going to give me the best benefit. Now I have even better information for making even better choices. And while it all sounds like a happy ending, there are some things that doctors, trainers, and nutritionists can’t prepare you for.

The mental changes.

The physical changes are one thing, but after losing 100 lbs. and pushing hard to lose the last 50 (I was a big boy), the mental changes are the ones that caught me by surprise. The literature I brought home from the hospital said depression is common shortly after a person has a heart attack. It didn’t happen. I was too grateful to be alive to be depressed. I had a second chance to live. Some people evidently rebel against having to take medication every day. Not me. The medication and the new changes are what keep me going.

But losing my security blanket – losing that large outer shell I carried for so many years – is something else completely, because change seldom affects just one part of our lives. And dropping over 100 lbs., coupled with the lifestyle changes that made it possible, opened Pandora’s Box.

It’s harder to hide now. The extra layers gave me an excuse not to do some things or experience some things. I never rode roller coasters or snorkeled, never went to certain events or put myself in certain social situations because I didn’t want to make others uncomfortable (or I was just afraid of what they would say about the fat man). I kept to myself because, as I told others, I enjoyed my own company and would be OK if everybody else went out. Soon the fear became comfortable. A convenient excuse.

I was dying in more ways than one, but it was a comfortable death. Like the old story about boiling a frog; if you put him in hot water he’ll hop out, but put him in cool water and gradually turn up the heat, and he’ll boil to death. That was me.

But things change.

And I’m changing. I’m losing my hiding place. Nobody told me about this part. Recently I was walking through the local coffee shop (decaf, sugar-free syrup only) and I felt a hand on my arm. It was an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in 3-4 months. I turned around and he just stared. “Good Lord man, what is that under your sweater? A rock? You must work out all the time.”

I tried to laugh it off and said, “No, just every day.”

I’m not used to that kind of attention.

And I’m running out of excuses not to do things. And most of them I don’t do because the “old me” would have been embarrassed. I didn’t snorkel because I didn’t want to be the beached whale in the crowd. A month ago, I ran out of excuses. And while the old me kept up a steady stream of reasons not to do it, the emerging new me just closed his eyes and dove in (pardon the pun). I'm thinking about getting my own equipment now.

I’ve learned that social occasions and black tie fund raisers are full of nice people making conversation and sharing a common interest.

I’ve also learned that a slight miscalculation in what you eat is not the end of the world. It’s a lifestyle change, not a life sentence.

But then there are the other outside influences. There’s the friend who had a heart attack, lost a lot of weight, then put it all back on. Could that be me a few years from now?

They don’t tell you about that part.

There are the days when, as much as you like the new lifestyle and the new you, it would be so easy to slip back into the old ways and the old routines. It’s more dangerous, but oddly comforting. They don’t tell you about that part.

It’s all about changes. And choices.

I’ve changed.

And I choose to live.

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