In 2012, I experienced an event that literally jolted me entirely out of a way of being and living that had become normal and habitual for me. It was what I call a “thunderbolt” experience; something that strikes suddenly and unexpectedly, shakes you to the core, and serves as a catalyst for transformational change.
I was with my husband and stepdaughter attending a church service (which actually adds some dramatic irony to the event) when it happened. Out of the blue, I felt my heart start to beat really fast. In a matter of seconds, I could feel the beat get so fast that I could actually hear it pounding like a drum. I bent over and instinctively whispered to my husband, “I need to go to the emergency room—NOW.” As one who is not prone to want to see a doctor, he knew something was wrong and we raced to the hospital that was about 10 minutes away. As soon as we arrived, I was whisked away and hooked up to an array of machines to measure my heartrate. I could see the concerned look on the faces of those attending to me when the number “240” appeared on the screen. My heart rate was consistent at 240—well over my normal resting rate of about 70 or 72.
A doctor rushed in the room and I could tell whatever was happening seemed serious. I began to panic—and all I could think in that moment was that this was it. I was going into cardiac arrest and it was over. Just like that.
“We need to slow down your heart rate immediately, so I’ll be giving you an injection to attempt to do that,” the doctor said calmly yet seriously.
The rest of the episode is a blur, but the injection did indeed bring my heart rate back to normal in a matter of minutes. After several more hours in the emergency room and weeks of tests thereafter, I was told that my “tachycardia” (or rapid heart rate) was an electrical issue that can be triggered by stress, not sleeping or eating well, and even caffeine.
“Self-care is extremely important for heart sensitivities,” the cardiologist said to me while going over my test results. “Sleeping well, eating right, exercising, and of course—minimizing stress, are all important to avoid triggers. People don’t realize how dangerous stress is to our bodies.”
While a sense of intense relief flooded my whole being, there was something else inside of me that was struck to the core. While I was definitely someone who prided myself for my commitment to health and fitness, I also came face to face with how much I sweated the small stuff, tried hard to be all things to all people, expected myself to be perfect, and sought external validation from others. My priorities were not really clear, and often competed with each other for my attention and focus. I felt guilty if I didn’t do everything perfectly, and neglected my own self-care when things became overwhelming.
My thunderbolt experience caused me to do some serious soul-searching, and think deeply about the answers to these questions:
· What was truly important to me?
· What was true success for me, as defined on my terms?
· What and whose stories and rules was I living by?
· What impact did I want to have in this one precious life that I had been given?
· What were my “non-negotiables”, or things that I needed to prioritize and protect as sacred, and what boundaries did I need to set to do that?
· What was I willing to say “no” to and reap the consequences in order to be able to live more in alignment with what I said was most important?
The very next week, I began to make dramatic changes. I changed course at work and started my own coaching business. I committed to a program of what I call “radical self-care”, which included 7-8 hours of sleep and an exercise and healthy eating way of life. I created a “life manifesto” that outlines and reminds me of what is most important to me, what my guiding principles are, what impact I want to have in the world and what that looks like, and how I want to spend my time to align with all of that. It serves to guide my actions, decisions, and keeps me grounded.
While I have occasional slip-ups, this “manifesto” serves as a stark reminder of the moments I spent in that emergency room with panicked thoughts of regret. I made a commitment to myself that moment. If I survived that episode, I would make drastic changes. I did, and I did.
As a result, I am launching an online coaching program called “Soul Search Sessions” this October, to walk others through the process I went through to create this “life manifesto”. I don’t think we need to wait for a “thunderbolt”—a health scare, an illness, a divorce, the loss of a job, or other dramatic life events, to do the deep soul searching we all need to do to live in alignment with the deepest, wisest part of ourselves.
We can’t control the outcome, duration, or even the plays of our lives. But we can stop going through the motions and create the rules we live by.