When Health Changes Your Life Plans, Make New Ones - by Cheryl Conlee

Strong, magnanimous, fun, capable, and leader are all words I would use, and I believe anyone who knows her would, to describe Cheryl. This woman is a force. When I last talked to her she had some news. Cheryl was retiring early due to health issues and fearful about what the rest of her life would hold. "What do you do when you can't do the things you love anymore?" She asked me.

"Write about it," I said. In true Cheryl fashion, a week later, she sent me her story:

I am starting a new journey.  A physical condition is causing me to have to walk away from my career.  While that is scary in its own rite, it’s what follows that concerns me more.  My passion is gardening - being outside, dirt on my hands, landscaping, growing my own food – but, unfortunately, my physical condition may prevent me from being able to do that as well. 

When I was younger, I looked forward to “retiring” and doing the things I love to do.  Now that the time is here, sooner than I thought, I’m afraid I won’t be able to do the things I love.  Even though I was born with a congenital heart defect and health care professionals have ALWAYS been a part of my life, I never once considered that I might have to stop working because of my health – not once.  Until now.

And now it scares me.  It angers me.  It saddens me.  But mostly, it scares me.  It’s not that I mind leaving my job.  It’s not that; I don’t.  I’ve already been offered another should I “get bored”.  What scares me is that those years may have been the “best” of my life, and while I enjoyed my job for years, I always thought the “best” years would be spent doing something for ME!

As I start my new journey, I do have goals, but they seem SO far away, and I’m already starting out tired.  So, I know that my first goal is to start feeling better, but that is where the fear comes in.  I am afraid that I will never feel any better than this, and that the rest of my goals will turn into lifelong frustration and disappointment.  I do not want to feel like I failed myself and gave the best years of my life to someone else.

Modern medicine is the only reason I can sit here and type this now.  Without it, I would not have survived childhood.  I probably would not have survived my 30’s.  The 30’s were the hardest.  That’s when the fear set in.  That’s when the reality set in.  Until then, I was invincible.  If you had seen all the stupid stuff I did in college and survived, you would agree.  But then I passed out at work a few weeks short of my 32nd birthday, and I could no longer pretend.  Anti-arrhythmia drugs, eventually a defibrillator, and lots and lots of tests and doctor’s appointments.  Still, I did not feel better.  That’s when I turned to an herbalist for the first time and started on some non-traditional supplements for my health. 

I am a project manager by profession.  So I approached this situation like a project.  I went after the “root cause”.  I requested all my hospital records, doctor records, test result, etc.  And I made a startling discovery.  EVERY TIME I ended up in the ER due to arrhythmia, my magnesium was low.  This was way before one could find whole books on the benefits of magnesium and the problems caused by mag deficiency.  My well-paid, well-educated electrophysiologist had never mentioned it.  He even dismissed it when I brought it up to him.  He advised me to take more of the anti-arrhythmia that he had me on – the one that already made me lethargic!  I took mag instead, and I started feeling better.  With my new found knowledge and bolstered courage, I did what seemed like the next logical step.  I FIRED him!  Then I set up an appointment with every EP doc in Memphis and interviewed them.  I found a guy I really liked – one who listened, one who was challenged by my myriad of heart issues, one who was supportive of me finding my own way.  I’m still with him.  I have his cell phone number.  I know his kids’ names.  He texts me Christmas, New Year and birthday wishes.  He respects the complexity of my condition and respects my desire to understand every little thing that is going on with me, even if it means drawing pictures or talking to me like I’m 10 years old.  He has tried as hard as I have to right my cardiac ship, but Mother Nature continues to keep both of us on our toes.

So, I read and I talk to people and I research drugs, natural remedies, supplements, studies….anything I can find.  There are good days and there are bad days.  On the good days, I’m at about 70% of what I used to be.  The bad days are scary.  There are certain things I can do where I can get in “my zone” and forget about health issues for a while. Sports, movies, books.  I can get lost in them and it all goes away until the final buzzer, credits, or chapter.  And then I start over.

I have a very supportive partner that keeps me uplifted and grounded at the same time.  She makes me laugh and always encourages me.  I couldn’t do this alone, even though I sometimes wish I wasn’t dragging someone else through it with me.  In reality, I couldn’t chase her away even if I tried!  We have a good diet, and not working will free me up with time for more exercise and less stress.  I will live on my own timetable and not that of corporate America.  I said as a kid that this “heart-thing” would never beat me.  I guess this is where the proverbial rubber meets the road.  Wish me luck!

Wish Cheryl luck by commenting on her post and sharing her strength with others. We choose a winner each month from our commenters. You can also find Cheryl on Facebook.