Six years ago today in August of 2012, I did Tough Mudder for the first time. It’s a pretty wicked 18 km obstacle course designed by British Special Forces meant to “test the limits of endurance, strength and heart.” You literally heave your up way up and down a massive ski hill ten times. It’s pretty much the worst (or the best, depending on how you look at these things) obstacle course you can imagine. There’s mud, ice, barbed wire and paramedics with stretchers at the ready.
Spoiler alert: Turns out I needed one of those stretchers. I completed the entire barf-inducing course, including the grand finale obstacle called the Electric Eel. It features hanging 10,000-volt live wires that you must run through in order to cross the finish line. There was a sign saying “not recommended if you have a heart condition” or something like that. Whatever. No biggie.
Of course, in my infinite 30-year old wisdom – despite having a heart condition – I ignored it.
Thirty minutes later, I found myself barely conscious lying in some ski hut with an IV in my muddy arm, surrounded by shouting paramedics. I was in SVT or supraventricular tachycardia. I’d had these episodes of severely fast heart beat of 200 beats per minute since I was 14, but I’d always been able to make them go away on their own. Not this time. This time I needed a drug called adenosine to essentially restart my heart to reset the normal electrical rhythm.
Back in the ski hut I heard “you’ll feel some pressure!” and it felt like an elephant was crushing my chest. I lurched, Pulp Fiction style. My friend Kyra was with me. I remember her bawling hysterically watching me. Adenosine sucks. It feels like you’re about to die for about 10 seconds – like the grim reaper is hovering. Drama drama drama.
Then it’s all over and your heart beats normal. Relief floods you.
Needless to say, I was pretty freaked out by it all. I saw a cardiologist. My options were 1) Do nothing 2) Take beta blocker drugs everyday and feel like garbage 3) Have an ablation surgery to burn out the extra electrical pathway I have in my heart.
I chose the first option. Do nothing and hope for the best. I started living my life trying to avoid having another SVT episode. This is hard when you make a living as a Pilates instructor. I stopped running, I stopped pushing myself in class and cut out caffeine, but every few months I’d experience that horrifying rapid heart rate. Sometimes I’d end up in the ER in an ambulance, sometimes it would pass.
To date, I’ve needed adenosine 5 times. It’s gotten worse, which happens as your heart ages. But I still did nothing. Beta blockers would rob me of my energy, and ablation surgery was petrifying.
Then I got pregnant. Shit got even crazier. I could barely walk up the stairs at home without feeling like my heart was going to pop out of my chest. Pregnancy makes this condition worse because your heart has to work harder from the extra blood volume.
I reached a breaking point when I needed adenosine in my 3rd trimester of pregnancy. All of a sudden it was no longer about me anymore. I wrote about that pregnancy experience here.
I gave birth to a healthy baby girl this past April 2018. I’m beyond grateful that my hospital labour and delivery went smoothly. 12 hours of labour, no epidural, not even an IV – despite what I was told by doctors that I’d “likely need”. Funny how motivation works. I was bound and determined to experience something natural after using IVF to conceive and all the heart issues in pregnancy. Kind of felt like I had something to prove. My body is not a lemon.
I freaking did it. It was a combination of luck (baby’s head was down, my heart stayed in normal rhythm, no other surprise medical issues), an amazing doula, the hospital bathtub, prenatal pilates (shameless plug, but it’s true!) and fierce fierce stubbornness.
My birth experience is what finally gave me the courage to do the heart ablation surgery. It’s now August 2018, and it’s been a week since the surgery. Waiting in anticipation for this heart surgery – a procedure where I’d have to be awake, and one that could leave me with a pacemaker at 36 years old – was the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced.
But I did the surgery despite the raging fear. And it’s over. And I’m ok. Here’s what I learned.
Becoming a mother has taught me to make space for fear to exist in my life. Every time I feel it, it reminds me that I am alive. I have been blessed with so much to lose. With that comes fear, but also so much love. Feeling fear is the epitome of being human – of being a mother. Surrendering to that fear and acknowledging its importance means I am no longer controlled by it. I am stronger than my fear.
And my body is not a lemon. Neither is yours. Fear is normal. We are all stronger than we think.