This particular article is going to be pretty different from many of my previous ones. Of course, I’m a little different — both professionally and personally. I like to think that’s usually in a good way — and that mindset is at the heart of this article, no pun intended.
And I suppose I should warn you… This article is going to start off pretty damn personal, but it’s going end with some important lessons that can extend from our personal lives into every part of lives — including our entrepreneurial endeavors.
I know I’m already sounding cryptic — so let’s start at the beginning.
My heart hurts!
Since I was a child, I’ve had heart palpitations. They wouldn’t occur often — maybe once a month, if even. However, they became much more regular and frequent within the last five years, and some would hit me with a literal, hard THUMP in my chest — like someone was punching my chest from the inside. On more than one occasion, I debated in my head whether or not to dial 911, as the episodes felt so extreme. But they passed… and I didn’t… and I didn’t make the call.
Also, for most of my adult life, I have had what I’ve called “night panic attacks.” When they occur, I wake up, usually from a sound sleep, convinced that I’m dying. It’s a terrifying experience. Yet again, over the last several years — probably for more than a decade — they were becoming more frequent. What used to happen once in a proverbial blue moon was now happening many times a month… and then nightly, and then, several times a night. Once, I had three episodes in one night alone. Each time, I woke up feeling like I was about to die, gasping for air, and lately, even letting out a little scream in horror from the sensation. To me, it felt like my heart had stopped.
It got to the point that I was afraid of going to sleep. I had to convince myself nightly that I really wasn’t going to die… no matter what happened. Doing so gave me the courage to go to bed. Of course, that didn’t mean they stopped.
To make matters even worse, during this same time, I was starting to feel a lot of light pain in my chest. I thought it could be anxiety and that it might be related to the nighttime panic attacks, but despite the normal stresses we all have from being an adult (in my case, being a single mom, a widow, and a business owner), I still didn’t feel like I was anxious at all. There was a huge disconnect regarding the pain and that theory.
The pain was very difficult to describe with words — the only phrase I could come up with was “my heart hurts.”
And now, knowing what I now know… I think maybe it was.
A difficult answer to accept
Somewhat afraid and without answers, I decided to see a cardiologist about all of the above. Among other tests, I wore a heart monitor for a month. In the end, the palpitations were determined to be “benign.” The doctor wasn’t sure why they had ramped up. I suggested menopause — he didn’t seem to buy it, but he had no other answers. Nor did he have an answer for me regarding the panic attacks or supposed “heart pain.” But he did have a suspicion — sleep apnea.
I was incredibly closed minded about that answer. Yes, I did snore. But to me, this didn’t sound like a lung issue. My heart hurt! It was skipping, and dancing, and pounding several times a day. My blood pressure — all my life on the lower side — had become high. To me, this sounds like it’s about my circulatory system… right?
There was probably another reason why I didn’t like that answer. My late mother had COPD… and sleep apnea. She spent the last 12 years of her life sleeping on a CPAP machine, which is designed to force air into the lungs at night while one sleeps. None of it was pleasant. The machine was clunky and loud. There was the long hose reminiscent of the intubation machines that I had to see both her and my late husband hooked up to, several times. The mask covered her entire face. And, back in those days, the machine had a loud alarm that would go off if it suddenly shut down — the reason being that the mask was so snug and tight, she could end up suffocating if the machine suddenly stopped.
But for once in my life, I decided not to be a know-it-all, and I took the cardiologist’s advice to do a sleep study. The results were astonishing, and not in a good way: More than 30 times an hour, on average, I would stop breathing. The worst was during REM sleep, when the number of times was more than twice that. And my blood oxygen while I slept, which for a normal, healthy person should have been around 90 percent, was only at 73 percent.
Sure enough — I did have sleep apnea, and it was pretty severe. I still didn’t understand the connection to any of the perceived heart issues I was having. But I was going to have to see a pulmonologist, and I knew the dreaded CPAP machine might very well be in my future. Wow, I thought, here I am at 54, with — God willing — more than 12 years left. And I’m going to spend those years on a machine, for every night for the rest of my life.
Always the glass half full
But it’s never been like me to dwell long on the negative side of life. In fact, I did an article about this years ago as well — the two ways to view my life, and how I chose to see it — and you can read the updated 2018 version by clicking HERE.
So I decided to think about this challenge in different way. I wasn’t going to view the CPAP machine as a “bad” thing, set up to ruin the rest of my life. Instead, I was going to view it as a blessing. In fact, I decided right then and there that this CPAP machine was going to be one of the best things that ever happened to me — even if on the surface of reality, it wasn’t.
My moments leading up to the CPAP fitting appointment were void of any feelings anxiety or angst. Instead, I gave it very little thought, and when I did, those thoughts were ones of confident hopes that many of my symptoms would be relieved. As I was being fit for the CPAP machine, I was telling the woman who was helping me about my panic attacks. She had already explained that my lack of oxygen most likely was making my heart pump much harder than normal every night, and that all that stress was probably taking a toll on it. She explained that sudden death during sleep was often a cardiac arrest due to sleep apnea. And if death didn’t come from one’s heart stopping, it came instead in the form of a stroke. There’s no doubt about it. Sleep apnea KILLS.
I explained to her how I would suddenly wake up during those panic attacks, gasping desperately for air. “When it happens, I feel like I’m dying!” I told her. She answered, “That’s probably because, you…” and as she stopped herself, I finished her sentence in my head head: “…were.” When I would stop breathing, my brain was interpreting that fact as me dying. Thanks to my sleep apnea, I actually now know what dying feels like. I literally felt like I was slipping away.
I brought home the machine. It was so much smaller than my mother’s. It sits on the corner of my nightstand. The mask as I knew it — a tight, full-face contraption that threatened to suffocate my mother if the machine had failed — has now been replaced in my case with a small little “pillow” that covers only my nose. It took a little while, but not long, to get used to the air being forced into my nostrils. While I know of course that I am wearing the nose pillow, I’m typically tired enough when I go to bed to get comfortable and fall asleep quickly.
On the very first morning, I already noticed a positive difference. I woke up — after sleeping 6 hours straight, which was unheard of for me — feeling refreshed and full of energy. As time went on, all my symptoms related to my poor heart — the pain, the palpitations, the panic attacks — started to go away. The daily palpitations were reduced to a couple in a week’s time, instead of several during the course of a day. The panic attacks are now a thing of the past — Thank God! And I have no chest pain at all. My heart no longer hurts!
That CPAP machine definitely changed my life for the better— and it may have even saved my life. But I never would have pursued it if all I had dwelled on was my limiting beliefs my condition, about the CPAP, and about what my life would be like if I had to endure sleeping with one. I’d still be suffering with my symptoms… and maybe, at some point, those symptoms would have lead to my death.
Choosing a positive perspective
When I was growing up, my father always talked about the importance of adopting a positive attitude. He used to say that we chose how to view life, and that choosing to look at things positively made all the difference in having a good life. He knew what he was talking about. I’ve always believed that myself, but it’s one thing to believe it and another to do it. I’ve found lately that an “active” application of positive attitude — especially when it would be so, so easy to adapt a negative mindset — is energy much better spent. It can change your life, and when applied to your business, it can change that as well, all for the better.
My late husband, Steve, was also a big on believing that thinking positive could turn your life around. Not long after a traumatic and unexpected divorce from his first wife, he wrote this poem. It may be a tad corny, but it’s sentiment is real and true. After his death, I would read it often, to remember that I had a choice about how I was going to view life, even in the midst of all my grief. I’d like to end by sharing it with you:
Healing the Injured Soul
If you smile, your day will be cheery,
If you smile, your day will be bright,
If you think good thoughts, you will be happy,
And everything will work out just right.
So, don’t let a frown turn you sour,
Don’t let bad thoughts turn you blue.
Just remember to always think positive,
For how you feel is up to you.
~ S.R. LaCroix