Posted in Mental Health, Psychology, Self Help

The Existential Teeter-Totter

Welcome to my Heart 2 Heart Series featuring existential reflections of the narratives of my heart stories and those of my children and how these stories impact me, my wife, family & friends. Glad you have joined me on this introspective journey.

Follow the Blog for Updated Posts to This Series.

At a Cracker Barrel in Kentucky Eating my Zac Brown Happy Meal

So I am having existential crises and dreams that oscillate like they are riding on a teeter-totter.

This of course is NORMAL and EXPECTED when one faces a life or death situation or avoids thinking of a life or death situation or is somewhere in the middle and occasionally ventures to both ends of the teeter-totter to peer over the edge into the future.

I am in the middle most of the time. And I do venture to both ends and look over ever now and then.

I don’t want to think of my pending open heart surgery as life or death yet it is. Simple fact. I also don’t want to be “that patient” who is overly dramatic that when they discuss their “surgery” the subtitle of “morose dramatic music builds” appear as I contemplate and discuss the road ahead.

I was speaking with my wife about our plans for Christmas. We are traveling to Denver to see her old man, who is in great shape and sharp as hell. She said she needs to be with her father on Christmas since we “don’t know if this will be his last Christmas.” I laughed and said, “THIS could be mine as well“.

I guess that was not funny – based on the look I got from my wife. And I get that. Yet it is “true” and “plausible” that THIS will be my last Christmas or my father-in-laws. A bit dramatic though, so you hear the music building?

And definitely not funny.

But, what if it is my last Christmas, and I truly believe that it is not, do I want to be in Denver visiting and celebrating with my wife’s family or in Orlando celebrating and fighting with mine? Decisions. Decisions.

Hmmm.

And my birthday is on January 1. My mother told me that the football games and parades were all in honor or me and my special day. Any wonder why it is that I am so cocky and arrogant?

Do I do something extra special on my possible last birthday? No! Of course not. Because, again, I don’t believe that it will be my final and last birthday. I believe that, post surgery, I will have many more birthdays and that is extra special. That I will come out of this adventure with renewed energy, optimism, and a zest for a life well led.

I consider all of the possible endings. Did you know that they filmed four endings for the famed Casablanca. The producers selected the ending that we all know and love; yet other endings existed. For me, I pick the ending that I believe will occur and should occur. I do have a vested interest in the ending scene of this adventure.

I pick the scene I expected to “make the final cut” of the movie and then I focus on that. I do allow my mind and soul to teeter-totter between “possible” scenes, that is human and only natural. Yet I corral my mind and move it back to the scene I fully expect and want to play out.

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My Open Heart Surgery

Posted in Mental Health, Psychology, Self Help

1 for 1 in Open Heart Surgeries

Welcome to my Heart 2 Heart Series featuring existential reflections of the narratives of my heart stories and those of my children and how these stories impact me, my wife, family & friends. Glad you have joined me on this introspective journey.

Follow the Blog for Updated Posts to This Series.

Me and My Daughter, Dakota, in the NICU Post Her Birth and Before Her Surgery.

I am no stranger to open heart surgery.

I had one in 1971 to correct two defects: a pulmonary stenosis and a ventricular septal defect.

My daughter had one in 2002 to correct Truncus Arteriosus.

I survived and she did not.

Now, as a prepare for another open heart surgery, I am hoping that my batting average INCREASES.

The doctors will replace my pulmonary valve which was repaired in 1971 and also address an opening in the ventricular septum, which was also repaired in 1971 yet needs additional adjustments. In addition, they will perform a MAZE procedure for the purpose of preventing my heart from going into atrial fibrillation.

Afib sucks. Was in Afib for about five months this year and needed a cardioversion procedure to ‘shock’ my heart back into a normal sinus rhythms. During my Afib days my heart rate escalated, so did my systolic blood pressure and I had a host of unpleasant and comfortable symptoms that dramatically impacted the quality of my life.

It’s hard for me to think about my pending surgery without thinking about my previous surgery and my daughter’s which of course ushers in a host of horrible emotions and thoughts, questions and existential crises such as why was my childhood surgery successful and my daughter’s not? Why was I lucky when I was the patient and horribly unlucky when I was the father.

And what is the outcome of yet another open heart surgery.

For me the worse case scenario is but a deep slumber and a pain my wife and children will have to bear and learn to grieve. So many questions and deep twisting thoughts.

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My Open Heart Surgery

Posted in Mental Health, Psychology, Self Help

Changes on the Horizon

Welcome to my Heart 2 Heart Series featuring existential reflections of the narratives of my heart stories and those of my children and how these stories impact me, my wife, family & friends. Glad you have joined me on this introspective journey.

Follow the Blog for Updated Posts to This Series.

Me at My Doc’s Office and They Have Hockey Stuff So I am a Happy Camper.

All the way back in 1965, when I was born on the first day of the new year, a life time of heart related medical dramas were sprinkled into my life script, unbeknownst to me. Those dramas and traumas would become the journeys and adventures I would and WILL face and offer me the chance to suck it up and live life or dig a hole and drawl in.

In March 1971 at the ripe old age of six (6), I underwent open heart surgery to correct two congenital defects: (1) a pulmonary stenosis and (2) a ventricular septal defect. The docs waited until 1971 because the procedures to correct these congenital defects was not developed until 1970.

I remember the surgery, hospital stay and some of the procedures that I endured as a kid. I remember my parents visiting me in the hospital. I remember my post surgical recovery. Half daized and overlooking the City of Chicago all aglow as it was night and I clung to “Prince Froggy”, a homemade stuffed animal I was given by the nursing staff.

For years, I lived a ‘normal‘ life. Don’t like that word ‘normal.’ All I know is that ‘normal‘ is the setting on a dryer. Yet, I played football, ran track, participated in school plays, flirted with girls and rejected and built a group of friends as I made my way through the mayhem of Catholic school (grammar and high school) and college. Albeit in college I pretty much forgot about my heart history and challenges and I lived life hard both in the US and overseas in Italy at the Loyola University Rome Center.

When I was 25 and decided that it was time to once again pay attention to my heart history and narrative, a cardiologist casually informed me that when I was “in my fifties” I would need to have the defects once again ‘looked at‘ and maybe even replaced. When I digested that piece of info, I was a bit taken aback yet thought, “my fifties? Shit! That’s double my current life span.” So I filed it and didn’t give it a hole hell of a lot of thought.

Well, I am almost 58 and the clock is striking twelve.

After a series of quality of life downturns and a rigorously lived life that has been slowed due to ‘symptoms‘ of right-side heart failure, it is time to open the hood and make some corrections and repairs to my ticker.

On January 31, 2023 I will undergo my second open heart surgery. Oh, boy.

I plan on blogging my thoughts between now and then and during my recovery via my blog. May even do podcasts and some videos. We will see.

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Posted in Mental Health, Psychology, Self Help

Best, Worst, and Most Likely 

One of the reasons many of us experience anxiety is because our imagination create worst-case scenarios. When our brain creates a movie that contains scenes featuring our life AND those scenes HAVE NOT happened and MAY NEVER happen, our imagination is playing with us. When our imagination is allowed to run rampant, our stress response can be triggered. The “soul” purpose of the brain is to predict and anticipate any possible stressor, any possible threat to our physical and emotional safety, and prevent that from happening by preparing us, making us alert to the situation. So, when we allow our imagination to run wild, creating fantasies about the future that lead to a potential threat for our physical and emotional safety, we feel it. And it’s mighty unpleasant.

When you find yourself in this trap, use this psychological fitness skill to reduce your overall anxiety and improve your general mental wellness. Using this psychological fitness skill takes planning and practice. You must be determined to plan and practice this technique. Good mental wellness takes effort.  

When you find yourself focused on and fixated upon the worst-case scenario, stop yourself.

Say to yourself, “Time to look at other possible outcomes”.

Then, deliberately and intentionally, consider the best-case scenario and outcome of the situational stressor that currently has your attention.

For a lot of us this is difficult. For several reasons. First, the natural reaction of the brain is to prepare for the worst. So, when you are faced with a situation where there are multiple outcomes your brain will automatically fixate and focus on the worst-case scenario in an effort to prepare you for that undesired outcome. This of course creates stress and anxiety and loads of unpleasant and unwanted physical and emotional reactions and even some behavioral choices we’d prefer not to make.

The second reason it’s difficult to think of the best-case scenario is that most of us have had setbacks and disappointments in our life. These setbacks and disappointments become “material” for our brain. Our brain uses this “material” and historical information from our past to influence the “creation of that imagination “worst-case scenario” that plagues our existence.

So, thinking of a best-case scenario, which by the way will change your emotional experience, takes work and effort. It doesn’t come easy. But it can be done. So, when you’re thinking about how your world will fall apart, collapse, that the sky will fall, and so on, stop yourself. Start to imagine yourself in the best-case scenario, the most ideal and wonderful outcome of the situational stressor that you currently face. 

After considering the best-case scenario for a while (give it 5 minutes) and resetting your stress response, balance the best- and worst-case scenarios. Think of a most likely scenario.

What is the most likely outcome of the situational stressor that you currently face?

Nearly all of the time the worst- and best-case scenarios don’t play out yet we give the worst-case scenario far more screen time than it deserves.

Focusing on the most likely scenario allows you to predict and anticipate the outcome of the situational stressor you face for the purpose of improving your coping, problem solving, and communication skill sets.