Turn off the lights, tuck yourself into bed, and wait for the weightlessness of sleep. The only problem, is that it doesn’t come. Lying there, not afraid, but still wondering why sleep hasn’t happened. Suddenly, it happens… my nightmare; my arrhythmia.
Most people portray and see me as strong, relentless, athletic and unyielding to any force, however powerful it may be. I climb rocks, hike mountains, but there is still that hidden side which peaks out a few days per year. I never know when it’s coming, how bad it will be, and how I will survive it.
Years ago, I was awakened out of a dead sleep to my first arrhythmia. I was hurried to the hospital, had medication injected into me to stop my heart, and eventually defibrillated. I remember the fear of not knowing if I would make it, and the sadness in thinking that if I passed away, my son would have been too little to even remember me. That night so many years ago allowed the rise of my PTSD, which took over 5 years to beat. As I said before, a few nights per year, my arrhythmia strikes, resurrecting my nightmare.
Last night, I was forced to relive my fear, wondering if it would stop, and lamenting on what would happen if it didn’t. Lub Dub… Lub Dub… LubDubLubDubLubDub. It continued speeding up, racing faster, as my breath was being taken away. I broke out into a sweat, my stomach began to ache, and my body temperature has risen. My breathing became faster and more labored, I check my pulse, and it’s beating even faster; almost 200 beats per minute.
My mind races as I try to decide my next move; call 911 or see if I can slow it on my own. I look over, and my husband is sleeping. If I don’t wake him up, I could pass away and he wouldn’t know. If I wake him, he might be able to help. At the same time, my mind is in denial, and hoping that if I ignore it, it will just go away; I know from experience this is not the way it works. Arrhythmias do not go away.
I wake up my husband, tell him that my heart is racing, and that I’m scared. He sits with me in bed, searches the house for my emergency heart medication, and sits in bed with me while I sip on water. 30 minutes later, just as quickly as it begins, I start to shake; this is when I know that it is over. The shakiness means that the adrenaline is wearing off, and my body is slowly reversing itself back to a normal rhythm. It’s at this moment I take the medication to keep my heart rate down, and stare blankly at the floor across the room. I’m still alive.
I’m always afraid in these moments, whether it be during the arrhythmia or after. It’s a fear that the life as I know it will be taken away by a heart that is struggling to be normal; a heart that wants to be normal. I break down and cry over what I could have lost, and shake and shiver uncontrollably as I wait for my body to reach homeostasis and regulate itself back to normalcy. In these moments after awaking from this real nightmare, I’m broken. I’m just shattered pieces of myself, in fear, and without even an ounce of strength. I’m not the girl climbing rocks, fearlessly pushing herself. I’m the girl in fear of her life, numb, and hopeless. When it’s over, I still feel as though I’m in shackles, having somehow escaped death. For a few moments, I’m living in fear, wondering if it will strike again, but this time, take my life away.
When I was surround by PTSD years ago, I wouldn’t sleep for days after this encounter with my nightmare. I wouldn’t leave the house, talk about my fears, or even recount what had happened. I buried it deep inside, pretended like it wasn’t there, and allowed it to destroy who I was as a person; It became my disease, worse than my congenital heart defects.
Last night, this wasn’t the case. I hugged and kissed my husband, thanked him for being there. We both said “I love you”, followed by our nightly ritual that we have had since day one.. “Goodnight, Beautiful” he says… “Goodnight, Love”, I respond.
Peace flows over me, I relax into my pillow, and the night calmly takes me into a deep sleep. When I wake up, it’s a new day, with more purpose, and more of a drive to fight this disease. I’m not fearful, hopeless, and overcome with sadness. My heart continues to beat, which shows that I am still here for a reason.
My nightmare is just that… a nightmare. I may not know when it will strike next, how much worse it will be, or what will happen. Instead of worrying, I focus on today. I focus on loving my family, spending each moment with them in a quality way, and excited about what my future holds.
“There was never a night or problem that could defeat sunrise or hope”. – Bernard Williams
If you live in fear of your disease, please do not stay silent. We are all broken at some point, and cannot be strong all the time. I am just as weak as you are, and you can be just as strong as I am.