I feel like I’ve been run through the wringer over the last few months. Struggling with a series of medical episodes. I’ve had these episodes for most of my life; they’re just much worse now. My heart starts racing, I panic, and off to the ER I go. I went in the first time it happened – they told me it was a panic attack. Since then, I haven’t gone in – I sit there in the parking lot, waiting for my heart rate to come back down. I joke to the girls that I have a broken heart.
I’ve seen a slew of doctors, psychiatrists, and therapists over the years. They diagnosed me with everything but the kitchen sink. They had me convinced the episodes were all in my head. That is until I started waking up out of a dead sleep with my heart pounding and chest pains.
So off I went to the cardiologist to undergo testing. The tests revealed that I have supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). I, honestly, had no idea what that meant. I thought it was just a fancy way of saying heart palpitations. My cardiologist didn’t explain much – instead, he sent me off to Duke.
At Duke, I finally figured out these episodes aren’t all in my head. I really do have a broken heart. My new doctor explained my condition as an electrical dysfunction.
The electricity in a normal heart runs in a shape that looks kind of like a wishbone – down and then into a horseshoe shape. In mine, instead of running down, it runs in a loop. One side of that loop operates faster than the other, causing an abnormally high heart rate to come on suddenly.
SVT often mimics panic attacks. The heart rate goes up, the heart pumps too fast to deliver adequate oxygen, causing the brain to send out the stress hormone. Boom! Panic.
Living with a Broken Heart
When I left Duke, I sat in the parking lot and cried until I ran out of tears. I never imagined that I actually had a broken heart. I promised myself it would be the only pity party I threw for myself. Life’s just too short to feel sorry for yourself.
Honestly, I’ve felt more mentally healthy in the last few days than ever before. I find myself plunged into the position to center my life around meaningful self-care. I stop to notice the sunset, hug my loved ones a bit tighter, and don’t worry about the small stuff as much. I’m feeling kinder and less angry. I’ve also found that it’s much easier to set limits and boundaries now that I know it’s necessary.
Outside of that, I’ve taken to wearing Brandon’s Apple Watch. When my heart rate gets above a hundred, I pull bottled water out of the refrigerator to splash my face and neck. Cold water on the head produces the “diving reflex” and reduces heart rate. So far, it’s working better than any breathing exercise I used back when I thought it was anxiety.
Now that I know there’s a medical issue, I’m focused on healing my broken heart. Sometimes I get SVT attacks multiple times a week, lasting hours at a time. Other times, I don’t notice the arrhythmia at all. I was prescribed beta-blockers, but they came with nasty side effects. The doctor gave me permission to stop taking them.
I have an appointment with a Cardiac Electrophysiologist on the 16th. He will determine if I need surgery on my broken heart. In the meantime, I’m following all of the doctor’s orders: no caffeine, quit smoking, and avoid stress.
I’m doing all that I can to take care of myself. Everything else is out of my control, so I’m trying not to worry about it. As Mamaw always said, “it’ll all come out in the wash.” She was right. No matter what, this will be okay.