Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Heart and Soul


jordan mcqueen under CC0 1.0
Last Friday was a milestone in the ongoing story of my coronary bypass recovery, as it was exactly three months since my surgery - three months of steady, if slow, progress, rebuilding my strength and stamina. My scars are healing nicely, my walking distance is increasing and I am now starting to look towards returning to work. 

And I am also beginning to properly reflect on what the impacts have been and will be - on my family, on my friends and colleagues and on my future self. My own sense of self has been fundamentally challenged. I am not immortal! Despite years of good health and fitness, I have been ambushed by my own body and by the rapidity with which I was overtaken by angina symptoms, investigation, surgery and recovery.  In many respects, I feel as though I have been a passenger in all this, with the only 'control' or decision-making I had being no control at all - why would I say 'no' to surgery when it was made evident to me by the experts that I had serious, life-threatening heart disease and multiple coronary artery failures?

So now I find myself pondering such issues as Who am I? Where do I fit? What is my 'new normal' going to be? What's my role, function and purpose now and for the next 25 years, in relation to myself, my family, friends, acquaintances and colleagues? How do I go on from here - living and operating in my family, social, work and virtual lives? What does work look like now? What do I want? How selfish can/should I be? I'm now in the process of finding a talking therapy counsellor so I can start to explore some of this stuff - and whatever else may come up - with someone who is not involved in any of the above.

Coincidentally, all of this has got me pondering on the language we use - and mis-use - in thinking and talking about this sort of thing. I now firmly believe that my body, and more specifically, my heart, was talking to me long before I began to experience angina symptoms in April. I just wasn't actively listening to it. At various times in the last year, I knew that 'my heart wasn't in it', that I was 'heartily sick' of things (like moving house and commuting), that my 'heart's desire' was for some change to the routine and that it was becoming increasingly stressful to be at 'the heart of the action' at work, at home and in the virtual, social and professional arenas within which I was active. And my conclusion is that, in not paying proper attention to those emotional and physical voices, in continuing to push through ('cos that's what I do), I literally 'broke my heart'.

But now I'm fixed, now I've dodged the bullet, I shan't be so deaf to what my body, my gut, my heart's telling me. I shall wear my heart on my sleeve and look after myself better. I owe it to myself and to those who love and who have supported me through the last four months. Obviously, there are more conversations to be had, but there will be no more lip service to 'work/life balance'.  Onwards...!

PS: Are you listening to your body? Is your heart still in what you're doing and how you're doing it? Or does your heart ache? My advice would be to tune in before you tune out!

8 comments:

  1. Great post Niall! Having been very ill myself with Breast Cancer, albeit a long time ago now, I totally understand your first paragraph. I too felt like an outside observer whose body had been ambushed - and even worse it had ambushed me! I went from being one of the most self-assured confident people I knew to living in total flux.

    I remember thinking it was far worse for those around me who cared. My prognosis at the time was not great but at least I knew how I was feeling, they didn't. It was a very strange time. Some asked, others didn't. Not because they didn't care, but because they were worried about me, what my response would be and if it was bad, how they would react to that.

    I was one of the lucky ones, took a while and the bugger came back five years later, but I came out the other side. Although it might sound crazy, having that life threatening illness was one of the best things that ever happened to me. The experience gave me a different outlook on life, made me really appreciate what I had and it still does...it has made me the person I am today.

    I reassessed what I really valued, made career choices based on that over the years and I guess that is one of the reasons I ultimately chose to take early semi-retirement. In the words of the Charles Dumont song....Non, je ne regrette rien!

    So yes Onwards!!! :-)

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    1. What a story Lesley! My difference was I had no time to consider or reflect - it all happened so quickly and I'm only now beginning to reflect and realise what a big deal it all was/is. It's only now that the physical recovery is so much easier that my mental & emotional recovery is properly starting to kick in. Thanks for sharing your story. N.

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  2. Niall, first hurrah you are on the mend! Second, thanks for reflecting on what you have been through. Very honest, very moving and very brave. Hope to see you soon.

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    1. Thanks Martin. I've deliberately stepped back from everything including work-related social media and #pln whilst I've been recovering, apart from the occasional health update, to 'rest my mind' at the same time as my body. I've been keeping an eye on things tho' (lurking) and hope to be back on some kind of form soon. Cheers. N.

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  3. Fantastic post Niall and as Martin said, very brave to share too. Your reflections are so insightful on the way we use language and just the need to sometimes stop, think and consider what we are doing and why. I have some big changes coming up myself (more to follow!) after a period of reflection so whilst I have been spared your physical travails, I can really identify with this post.

    Thrilled to hear you are making so much progress and thanks again for sharing your story. Your #PLN is still here for you when you ready to start dipping your toe in again :)

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    1. Thank you Kate. As someone said on Twitter (where else?), "everyone you meet is fighting their own battle that you know nothing about; be kind". We need to start by recognising our own battles and being kind to ourselves. Before they overtakes us. Look forward to seeing you soon and hope your changes are for the best.

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  4. Niall, insightful, soul bearing and honest - it's great to see that spark back in you and with greater depth and reflection. As I read it, and you know where I am going with this, the neuroscience awareness for me kicked in, those things we need to have in place to be centred and in control - a sense of self and status (who am I, where am I going?), an ability to predict and be certain of the future, the autonomy we have and feeling in control, the absolute need for relationships and to depend on others and a deep seated desire for fairness (why me?). All of these have been challenged as you have gone through, and continue to recover from, your surgery and recovery. The fact that you are very aware of how you feel is a plus and that you feel it surfacing is good. I take my hat off to you, quite inspirational....

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    1. Thank you James. As ever, you have contextualised my thinking and made me seem more clever than I am! I write 'from the heart' more than I write from my head but it's good to know that it resonates at both levels. Looking forward to catching up in person soon!

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