As National Go Red for Women Month (a zippier name for Heart Disease Awareness Month) comes to a close, I thought I would pump out a few words on the subject.
I’ve noticed that the conversation has slowed considerably since the first enthusiastic posts hit my newsfeed earlier this month. The importance of raising awareness around women’s heart health and the prevalence of heart disease among women cannot be overstated.
Here’s what we know:
I even got into the game early on, posting my first official Selfie for the #goredselfie cause. I was wearing a bright red vest after a heart-pumping walk with a good friend. Okay, so the picture was from the neck down. Does that still count?
It wasn’t long after, that we all went back to life as usual; same old, same old, no longer phased by the magnitude of this issue. No more perky pictures of ourselves all decked out in red getting in our 10,000 steps a day, or sitting quietly on saffron colored meditation cushions breathing our way toward wellness.
I’m not judging. These things come and go. They’re fun, even inspiring. They make wonderful news for short periods of time. They go viral, and then just like a good antibiotic, the busyness of real life swoops in and snuffs them out in a day or two.
But like I said, this conversation is too important to simply move on to National Caffeine Awareness Month without another mention. And since we already know the facts, I want to talk about the part that no one really talks about—the elephant in the room–not just the one on our chests.
My dad had a heart attack in 2008. He woke up one morning feeling unwell. Within minutes he alerted my mom. He said, “I don’t feel well. I need help.” Luckily she’s a nurse. She took his pulse, assessed his complexion, which was pale and gray, and then immediately loaded him into the car for a lifesaving trip to the emergency room. Okay, next time she should call 911, but I’m not going to make her feel bad at this point. The patient lived.
Contrast that to Rosie O’Donnell’s story. She became the celebrity face of heart disease for women after suffering a heart attack in 2012. She walked around for HOURS–almost a FULL DAY–with strange and serious symptoms before finally calling a doctor. When she felt unwell, she didn’t say, “I need help,” like my father did. She took an aspirin and went to bed like any exhausted, overworked mom would. She even minimized her discomfort and attributed her symptoms to indigestion and being miserably out of shape.
It’s true that the symptoms of a heart attack are different and more confusing for women than they are for men. But we can easily memorize them or carry a list around in our Prada for quick reference if needed.
When we make this the headliner for the Go Red for Women discussion, we fail to address the deeper underlying issue behind this serious epidemic. The one that holds the most promise for prevention.
At the very heart of the matter is that women struggle to make themselves a priority in their lives. We habitually put the needs of others ahead of our own until the s*** hits the fan in the form of a health crisis. I often say in my workshops that some of the healthiest women I know have life threatening illnesses. Sad, but true. We need to be grabbed by the lapels and shaken into awareness by chest pain, clammy skin, and vomiting–like Rosie was–before we will admit, “I don’t feel well. I need help.” And only then, in the aftermath, do we give ourselves permission to devote time, energy, and financial resources to the journey back to wellness.
This makes the prevention piece problematic.
Taking care of ourselves with heart-healthy nutrition, regular exercise, and skillful stress management techniques–even being able to recognize that we are experiencing the symptoms of a coronary event–won’t happen until we step forward and claim our wellness as our birthright.
My health matters.
Come to think of it . . . my pursuit of happiness and fulfillment in my life matters.
A bold step for sure. Some might argue, selfish. But think about it. If we do that, the rest falls into perfect place like the final piece of a complicated puzzle. Snap!
Suddenly, we give ourselves bits of permission to carve out more time for ourselves.
Maybe we take a walk one day and feel our pulse quicken. Oh, that’s what my body feels like.
Maybe we find a mediation class one evening a week, and gift it to ourselves. Ahh! That’s what it feels like to breath in and out and stay . . . just stay with what comes up.
Maybe we even play with saying “No” to the things that don’t serve us anymore, and learn, with practice . . . Yes, I can do this! That’s the sound of my heart speaking to me. I think I’ll listen.
Over time, our confidence grows and we begin to feel just better enough that we want more. Little by little we take bolder more purposeful steps in the direction of wellness until we don’t just feel okay when we wake up in the morning, we feel GOOD!
Now that’s what I call a healthy heart.
Rosie said it herself, “There are no accidents in this world.” She did not sign on voluntarily to lead the charge for the Go Red for Women Movement. Who would? Especially when the prerequisite is a near death experience. Perhaps she was hand picked by a higher power because we need her loud and boisterous voice until ours becomes strong enough to be heard on its own.
I’m encouraged. In spite of the fact that these celebratory months come and go before we turn our heads, I see women everyday beginning to listen and take inspired action. The women’s wellness movement is growing and the conversation is bold, positive, and more empowering that ever.
So, what does your heart say? Are you ready to step up and CLAIM YOUR SPOT? It’s my wellness challenge for the month.
Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear your voice.
Feel Good. Be Well. Meg
Wellness Prompt: Take a minute or two before your write this time. Close you eyes and get quiet. Connect with your breath. See what comes up. Is there an area of your life that’s trying to tell you something? What feelings or sensations take hold of your attention? What do you think they are trying to say? What holds you back from listening? 10 minute write . . . Go!