I used to think I was making the most of life.
I was an athlete and a bodybuilder. Outside of the gym, I was on the up-and-up in my career. I was, by all accounts, successful.
I was content.
Then my heart failed me…literally.
Not many people know this, but I have a degenerative heart condition called hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy. If it sounds scary, that’s because it is. It is a genetic condition in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick and happens to approximately one in 500 people. It’s a rare disease, to be sure, but it’s the second most common heart disease out there.
One day in my early thirties, I discovered I was winded after walking one block. This was weird, considering how active and in shape I was. I had never felt that way before, and I knew this was abnormal for me.
It continued to get worse, and so I finally decided to get it checked out. Spoiler alert: the results weren’t benign.
From that moment, my life changed seemingly overnight.
I was told I could never compete in sports again. Ever. In fact, with weightlifting, I was told I could no longer lift heavy weights. I used to run in plenty of 5 and 10k’s and I haven’t been able to “safely” run competitively again in the years since I was diagnosed.
Since the diagnosis, I have had to adjust my exercise regimen, but mostly because not enough is known about what is safe in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
As the disease has progressed, new problems have arisen from this condition, and I have developed paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (also known as A-fib, an irregular, rapid heart condition that causes poor blood flow). For me, it develops suddenly, and when my heart goes into A-fib, I know it right away because my heart doesn’t feel like it’s working right.
Now, I have to think about everything I do and put into my body for fear of going into A-fib. Caffeine is one of my triggers, so that means I can’t drink coffee anymore, or any other caffeinated drink for that matter. Sugar has been another trigger for me, so now I have to watch drinking or eating anything with a lot of sugar on an empty stomach because that simple thing can set me into A-fib. I won’t even mention how my love for wine has been altered since alcohol is another trigger that puts me into A-fib.
Every day has become a puzzle I have to solve, as I literally have to think about everything I put into my body and when and how to look not only at the little picture but the collective whole. Imagine having to change everything about your lifestyle in order to survive.
I love arming myself with facts about situations, so I immediately did as much research as I could about the disease. Here are the facts about my new reality:
Though facts are facts, the way you think about health, life, and restrictions makes all the difference. I quickly realized that my condition didn’t mean I needed to stop living. It just meant I needed to start living differently. Because of that intentionality, I’ve learned to live life on my terms. I’ve learned to say yes to life instead of being a victim of my diagnosis. With that in mind, I took the seven points above and reframed them.
While both “fact” lists express the same information, for me, the second set allows me to live my life in a more enjoyable way. My challenges are clear. (And we all have challenges.) But we can all live the life we want, at any time we want. Here’s what helps me on a daily basis:
My condition isn’t going anywhere. I have no interest in dwelling on what my life could have been if I hadn’t been born with this condition. Receiving my diagnosis woke me up to how fragile life truly is. So now, I don’t let things bother me — especially the trivial things, because why would I let that energy manifest itself? It’s just not worth it.
When you decide what life you want to live, the rest of your decisions become easy because then you make them fit your reality — whatever that may be. Remember that whatever you are facing, life is always worth living.
While we all have our crosses to bear, mine are not going to hold me back.
Originally published at medium.com