My Top 3 Changes in Self-Care After Heart Failure

After is a bit of a misnomer. Heart failure means a lifetime of attending to my health in ways I had not previously considered.

As a relatively young woman, I was not used to thinking about my body as a fragile vessel, likely to break down suddenly and catastrophically. Unfortunately, my COVID-induced cardiac arrest changed everything.

Source: JAMA

Here are the three most important changes I’ve made in how I treat myself and the world around me:

One: Create More Space

Since 2020, I have selected a single word to be my focus for the year. I choose a word of the year because it helps me to set goals and take action in each area of my life, intentionally tying daily practices back to the single word. The goal is to effect positive change through a focused approach, rather than trying to set vague resolutions that only last until February.

For 2022, my motivational word of the year is SPACE. This means carving out time to decompress and do things that are fun with no purpose or benefit other than bringing me joy. It means making space in my schedule so I can spend less time working and more time doing things I actually want to do. And it also means creating space between myself and others — literally and figuratively.

When I initially chose this word, I didn’t have a heart condition to manage. Creating more space with dilated cardiomyopathy looks like:

  • Chatting with my structured cardiac rehab “peers” at the end of our sessions. After a supervised workout, we have our final blood pressure taken before removing the heart monitors and checking out with an exercise physiologist to leave. Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised program at the hospital that includes exercise, support, counseling, and education. 
  • Accepting the fact that the choices I make — that might seem normal for other people, but are not for me — can affect my symptoms and prognosis. 
  • Taking more walks, more slowly. 
  • Meditating twice a day, treating one like a prayer, filling my entire being with a deep sense of gratitude. 
  • Making the most delicious mocktails while pretending that I am having a bomb dot com cocktail. It makes me belly laugh every time. 
  • Acknowledging that while I cannot control the events that led to my health condition, it is my choice to not let it control my life. 
  • Napping, even when I don’t think I’m tired. 
  • Drinking La Croix and Bubbly in wine glasses with garnish, thinking its a different kind of wine.

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Two: Commit to Breath, Over Death

Death is a part of life. 

There isn’t a day that goes by that I do not think about end-of-life planning and how there’s still so much life that I’d like to live. So instead of thinking too much about life after death, I spend more time focusing on my breath. 

I’ve incorporated diaphragmatic breathing into my daily meditations. Diaphragmatic breathing occurs when you take a deep inhale, filling your belly full of air and letting go with a great sigh while breathing through your nose, allowing your belly to concave inward. Do this a few times in a row, and you’ll be able to feel how your body has become more relaxed in response to this simple act. 

By doing this exercise, you’re also activating your parasympathetic nervous system. That’s the part of your body that controls the organs inside your body. The exercise will make you feel more in touch with how they’re functioning. When you do this exercise, you’re also making your body feel calmer and more relaxed. 

I’ve started thinking of breathing as the most rhythmic thing I can do. I inhale for four seconds, then exhale for eight seconds for 20-30 minutes when I’m meditating. This breathing exercise is also called “cardiac coherence.” 

Cardiac coherence breathing is a method that helps you tune into the vagus nerve. It stimulates the vagus nerve, which sends calming signals throughout the body: the heart rate slows, blood pressure decreases, and muscles relax. These physiological changes further lower your stress level, creating a sense of peace. 

I’m honored to be here amongst the living, learning how to use my mind to control my body.

Three: Explore

I had the pleasure of meeting a committed BlackLinkedIn is Thriving community member, Neferteri Strickland, in person for the first time this week. She’s a military service member, professor, mother, podcast host, and cybertechnology strategist. Captain Strickland founded Teachers&, which looks to provide the Pennsylvania industry with world-class educational talent focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math, (STEAM) education and post-secondary career readiness.

I was only able to attend the lunchtime briefing, but I learned so much during my two and a half hours there. All of the speakers had a passion for community building, networking, and prioritizing technology in ways that are aligned with our work in the BlackLinkedIn is Thriving community. At the end of 2020, I co-founded BlackLinkedIn is Thriving, a black digital space with 6,200 members and counting, which has recently been highlighted in Forbes.

After the BIA event, Neferteri and a small contingent of us, left Capitol Hill to seek afternoon treats near Farragut Square, but the rain and establishments closing early landed us at Milk Bar in Logan Circle. We were able to spend some quality time together, connecting in ways that felt much more real and warm than on Zoom.
After leaving them, I had initially planned to take the metro home. Instead, I walked 10 blocks to catch the bus. It was invigorating to walk slowly from Logan Circle to Dupont Circle and catch the bus in front of the beautiful Founding Church of Scientology on 16th Street.

Me Power Book Updates

Starting this Friday, I will resume revisions with my Marketing and Revisions Editor (MRE). For the next eight weeks, I will work with her to improve the initial draft. Before my health episode in January, I decided to restructure the book in its entirety and removed a whole section. I’m excited to get back to work on my book.

What does the revisions process look like?

  1. My MRE reads each chapter and provides written feedback. 
  2. I review the feedback, we discuss the changes, and then I create a new draft. 
  3. I send the next draft to my beta readers, a group of people who will read the book and provide constructive feedback on how effective my message is without needing to worry about grammatical errors or typos. Beta readers are truly the MVPs of the writing process. Early readers have exclusive access and offer critical input that greatly shapes the final version of the book. They also receive cool Me Power merch, like baby Kayla
  4. After receiving feedback from the beta readers, I make changes and submit another draft to my MRE. 
  5. My MRE reads this draft and provides additional feedback. 
  6. I read the feedback, meet with my MRE, and finalize the draft. 
  7. The draft is sent to copyediting, once approved by New Degree Press on July 1st.
If you’d like to sign up as a beta reader and have not told me yet, please hit reply and let me know.

Three ⚡️ in 31 Seconds

⚡️ What future are you committed to creating?

⚡️ Trust in your best self. Imagine you’re describing your best self to a friend. Who are they? What makes them smile? What do they do in ways that you admire?

⚡️ Me power is not about having more power, it’s about tapping into the power you already have.

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