February is heart health month. Personally, I think we should have heart health year in our country. Perhaps we should set aside a day as “Heart Health Day” so banks, and the government can have another day to shut down and still get paid! I am often reminded I am in the wrong business. But all kidding aside, did you know that heart disease is the number one killer in America? It is also the number one killer of women, and far surpasses any other disease, including breast cancer. At some point we need to realize we are in charge of our destiny, and how we treat our bodies has a direct affect on the length of our lives.
I had a stroke at 21. Most people are stunned and gasp when I share that with them. No one knows why I had a stroke, even the doctors couldn’t answer my questions or really even give me advice. But in all honesty, I am not such a small percentage of Americans. It is not common, but it is also not uncommon. My uncle had a heart attack and crashed through his windshield (he was sitting on his car) when he was 17. I guess when it comes to heart health, I have bad genetics.
When I was in the fourth grade in art class, I got my first migraine headache. I lost total vision in my left eye, but as a child I was terrified to actually tell anyone. I thought I was going blind, but I didn’t want to go to the doctor (I still feel this way about the doctor). It was such a major incident that I even remember that we were drawing our houses that day, and I, the artist, was unable to even finish my picture. The memory and even the smells of the room are seared into my brain. I started getting regular migraines again just after I got married at 18. I went to the eye doctor to make sure it was nothing visual that was causing my loss of vision and ended up at my general practitioner. Sometimes I think doctors don’t think before they open their mouths, and they become numb to people’s feelings. I sat in the doctor’s office to hear him say my symptoms were characteristic of a brain tumor----but they couldn’t get me in for an MRI for at least 2 weeks. I wouldn’t wish that terror on anyone. Those were the most miserable 2 weeks of my life. Everything that happened I wondered if it was a direct result of a growing brain tumor. When I went in for my MRI, I was strong although petrified and after we left I got a call, it was an emergency they had “found something” and I had to come back in and be injected with dye so that they could better assess what was found. Again panic struck, they gave me a CD player this time to ease the shaking and the fear I felt. They had Garth Brooks “No Fences” and still to this day the sound of “The Thunder Rolls” makes me want to vomit because it takes me back to that coffin that they call an MRI. Do you know you can lay flat on your back with your hands on your chest and if you lift your fingers up, you can feel the top of the machine? It is a horrifying feeling, and you can barely move or you will have to endure the process again. My general practitioner then reviewed my scans and lied to me, and denied they had seen anything.
I wouldn’t find out until 3 years later at a neurologist post stroke that I did indeed have a brain tumor. Don’t panic, it appears to be benign, but I could have used some honesty about that “found something” MRI years before. The stroke was a small one, thank goodness, but when faced with the words “brain tumor” I think that was all I heard that day. I wanted to curl up and cry, but that wouldn’t do any good. It actually took me three weeks to go to the doctor (because I hate doctors..no offense to anyone..I have just had bad experiences) after I had my stroke, I tried to deny what I knew in my heart had happened. I felt myself go numb, but it was a small stroke so I didn’t have the muscle impairment that most people suffer. However, I lost my ability to read and sometimes to speak coherently. I tried to tell myself that I was over worked and under paid and I just needed to rest, but I was scared. Even the day that I found out I had, had a stroke and a brain tumor, I went to work. In my mind, there was no time to mourn, because if I took that time, I might not stop mourning.
So life goes on. I am suppose to have an MRI every few years to make sure my tumor doesn’t grow. The only way to “prove” it is benign is to have brain surgery and I opted not to be that radical. Right after I had the stroke for several months maybe a year, I recognized how short life was and learned to enjoy each day. But, like all cynics I sometimes let the bad parts of life take over and forgot that each day is a celebration. After all, I COULD HAVE DIED that day or worse I could be in a nursing home brain dead or trapped in a body that is unable to move on its own but not really brain dead.
For a while during my miserable marriage, I got to the point I didn’t care. Live or die, I was despondent anyway. Don’t get me wrong, most of the time I wasn’t suicidal, although I did have some dark thoughts at some moments, I am not selfish enough to ever take my own life. I have seen what suicide does to family and friends. But, I didn’t really care about my existence, I tried to wrap myself up in my work so I didn’t have to face reality most of the time, but that is no way to live.
So I began working out and changing my life to beat stress at first. Working out gives you confidence, you just can’t deny the benefits of a good work out. Even though I am genetically programmed toward depression, I swear to you, you cannot be getting your body ripped and be gloomy.
I now have found true love. He loves me the way I am, I don’t think it matters to him if I have six pack abs or I am storing a bagel around my midsection. He loves me for me, so don’t get me wrong, he is not cracking some kind of whip my way. But, because I am so truly and deeply in love, I actually want to live as long as possible. I am genetically programmed toward heart disease, the number one killer of Americans and women it must be like the fear of breast cancer running in your family. I am also sadly prone to Alzheimer’s disease. But, I am realizing I have some control of my destiny. I am here learning how to extend my own life and hopefully the lives of those I love too, by cooking right, eating right and exercise.
Enter Tony Horton and P90X. I do hate him, he makes every muscle in my body ache. Last week I ran 6 miles, biked 5 miles and then did P90X. I was so sore the next day I thought I was going to have to scoot across the carpet using only my lips (the only muscles that weren’t sore) to the bathroom. Then I considered the throbbing pain of just buckling down and running into the kitchen to grab some kind of bed pan for the day and probably the next. Okay, I admit it THAT WAS CRAZY, lesson learned! I am finding some kind of middle ground now.
Tony has taken the “low impact” out of exercise routines. I am not your average girl, the wimpy gyms like “curves” and the like don’t ring my bell. I enjoy the kind of exercise that builds muscle and brings tears to my eyes, and Tony does that for me for sure. Unlike “Pink” who admitted on Oprah last week to having to mute him while she works out, I love Tony. With phrases like “Bring It” and “Do your best, and forget the rest” I feel motivated. He is silly, yes, dorky…yes, but so am I! The point is, I like the high impact, it is good for not only my muscles, but my most important muscle, my heart. So yes, I will become ripped, like he says but most of all each time I meet him in my living room and I give him all I’ve got, I lower my chances of dying of another stroke or heart attack, or even Alzheimer’s. I am determined to change my destiny and live in bliss with the man I love (not Tony Horton)!
So thank you Tony and P90X for giving me the motivation I need to stay alive and beat the odds that are against me every day. You lower my stress, my blood pressure, your dorky-ness makes me giggle, and I know this exercise is also lowering my cholesterol, and lowering the age my body thinks it is.
To those of you who are also human, get serious, find your workout groove. Do it for yourself, do it for your lover, do it for your children. Get yourself healthy. Heart health month is the perfect time to go out and pick up those Shape Up shoes (yes they do work!) and hit the pavement, shut off your TV and get on out there! Do what you can to lower your risks of heart disease, your body and your mind will thank you!! And, if you have it in you, get P90X, it is the funnest most serious work out I have ever experienced it will work all of your muscles and I guarantee if you do it for 90 day, you too will be RIPPED!!
Tony, I hate you, but I love you!