AN ELITE TEAM OF MAVERICKS
By: Lauren Anderson
I think it’s hard to ask for help.
Especially when it’s something I don’t want to do. And something I’m not good at. And ESPECIALLY when it’s a weak spot in my personal bravery threshold. In fact, by a cruel twist of irony, I think the hardest time to ask for help just might be the time we need it most. Ain’t that the shit?
So allow me to backtrack a little.
About a month and a half ago, I woke up in the middle of the night BECAUSE OF MY HEART.
It was racing and I felt a weird pressure on my chest. Like nothing I’ve ever felt before. I was sweating a little and my skin was tingling. I thought, “Oh shit. This is it. I’m having a heart attack.”
I lay there paralyzed in fear.
Instead of springing out of bed and calling 911 or a friend or driving my own damn self to the ER, I just laid there. It’s like I wasn’t thinking. Or I was thinking too much? The crushing pressure on my chest was almost too much to bear.
I didn’t move for the longest time. Then my brain clicked in. I know I have wild dreams… so maybe I was having an intense dream that I somehow can’t remember and my body is in the middle of a natural fear response? Yeah! Like I was running from a wild animal or something? Yeah… maybe that’s it.
I sit up in bed. My breathing is all wonky, so I take my inhaler. Two puffs, nice and easy. Then I start to do a yoga breathing technique where you breathe in and out through one nostril and then switch. Several minutes go by. My heart still racing, my chest still aching. But I was feeling calmer.
So what do I do? I GO TO THE INTERNET.
Turns out, everything I was experiencing could be a symptom of a heart attack. Emphasis on “Could be”, because no site would want to be liable for mis-information. Regardless, it was enough of a red flag, that any rational person would’ve gone to the doc, but not me. I stayed right where I was and hoped for the best.
HOPED FOR THE BEST?! What are you insane Anderson? WHY DID YOU DO THAT?! It’s like I suddenly belonged to some faction of a religion that believes prayer alone would heal me.
(Which, for the record, I don’t.)
Am I proud of this reaction? Well, no. I’m not sure why I did that either. I know I have a general aversion to the doctor, and I never like going… but with something like this? What gives?! How come I was so content to just “wait it out”?
And here’s the strangest part. I laid back down, and I went back to bed. I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know how I was feeling when it happened… but sleep occurred, then it was morning.
I put my hand to my chest. It felt a dull ache. Like someone had been standing on it, and decided to step off. But otherwise fine. My heart rate seemed normal. I was breathing okay. My arms and skin had no tingles or pain. Survey says? DING DING DING! I’m cleared.
Crisis averted…. for now.
But then it happened the next night. And the next. During the day, I would feel the remnants of the night before, but nothing so vexing I couldn’t distract myself away from it.
To mitigate fear, I kept looking for more and more list articles on the internet. “Symptoms of a heart attack”, “5 things to look out for”– that kind of stuff.
And I would justify. Like, maybe I’d have one or two symptoms, but not all 5. Or maybe only one would occur? Like the breathing thing. Shortness of breath COULD be a sign of a heart attack. But I’ve also been asthmatic since I was in kindergarten. Shortness of breath for me is like, kinda a way of life.
Or my left arm tingling! I’ve been having re-occurring pain in my arm for a couple months now, which I had chalked up to “tennis elbow” or something like that. Only I haven’t been playing tennis. BUT! I do “repetitive stupid comedic gesturing” for a living, so I didn’t think much of it. Until I noticed the pain was in my LEFT arm. And it would occasionally tingle, and travel up and away from my elbow.
Comedy elbow or symptom of a heart attack? YOU DECIDE.
And on and on. I wasn’t telling anyone about it either. Not my friends, or my dad, or anyone. I was keeping it to myself, which is odd for me. I am, as they say, an open book.
So about a month goes by and I finally, and a little nonchalantly, open up to a couple of friends about it.
I casually bring it up, and then I immediately regret it. They spent the next 30 minutes or so telling me “how easy it is” to just “go to the doctor” and get that piece of mind.
I know they’re right of course. But I couldn’t hear it. It just started to scare me waaaaaay too much. I wanted them to stop talking about it, and to stop looking at me with concern in their eyes. I know this was out of love, but it was just scaring me even more.
And I know for a fact, the best way to get me to NOT do something is to try and scare me into it.
I know that’s not what they were doing either. At least not on purpose. They loved me and wanted me to be okay. I know that. Everything they said was because they were concerned. I mean, you shouldn’t mess around with heart stuff. Everyone knows that! You gotta take that stuff seriously.
So why was I so content to keep sleeping on it?
Oh… oh right. Duh. BECAUSE I WAS SCARED OUT OF MY MIND.
Scared to go to the doctor in general. Scared to be a person that might have a heart problem. Scared of “Getting in trouble”. Scared of the money it might cost. Scared that I would be judged, that my body and my lifestyle somehow caused this. Scared that they would blame my weight. Scared that it was super duper serious and I might never recover. Scared I would have to take heart meds for the rest of my life. Scared scared scared….
It was overwhelming. So I shut down. I did breathing exercises and avoided it. I didn’t talk to anyone about it, and when I finally did, I couldn’t hear them cause it just made me MORE scared.
Clearly I needed some help, but I was too afraid to ask for it.
And then, by the grace of God or circumstance or the universe aligning– I found myself at a friend’s house helping them convalesce after an unexpected surgery.
Thankfully, they were on the up and up, and so we started talking about their experience with the doctors. We have talked about this a lot in our friendship. And I’ve always admired how pro-active they were about their healthcare… but it’s only because they’ve had to be.
My buddy openly identifies as trans and fat, so they’ve been forced to be a warrior when others can take their medical care for granted. Sometimes going so far as to educate the doctors about their body!
Out of necessity, my friend has become an elite Maverick, navigating the complicated medical system with the finesse and tenacity of a fighter pilot. I was, and am, in awe.
After talking awhile, I feel comfortable, and I share that I have been having some weird chest stuff. And that I’m afraid, and that I don’t know where to start because I feel overwhelmed.
My newly post-op friend then took it upon themselves to help me set up an account, educate me on my health coverage, and then recommended a doctor they also use, within my plan. They even went so far as to write down what I should say when I make the appointment, so I knew I would be getting the right stuff out of my visit.
I knew the doc would be good too, because I know the rigorous amounts of research my friend does!
They held my hand and baby-stepped me through it. I was so grateful. They somehow managed to help me and quell my fear all at the same time. The weird part is, I knew I needed help. I just didn’t know I needed this MUCH help ya know?
I didn’t realize I was THAT scared. So scared that I was afraid to make a simple phone call.
I would be lying if I said I went home and called right away. It took a few more nights of chest pain, and terror, before it finally got so bad, I started experiencing it during the day. I was having chest pains at rehearsal, and on the way out the door– I shared with some of my co-workers what was going on.
They said basically the same stuff my friends initially said at the dinner weeks before, except now, I was more able to hear it, because I had a PLAN. The next day, I got out my clipboard and called for an appointment, saying just what was written on the sheet.
The next day I go in. The doctor is awesome and she puts me to ease. I disclose that I am doctor averse, and that I am afraid. I offer, “Sometimes I’m afraid to go to the doctor, because I don’t want them to dismiss my health concerns because of my weight.”
And she says very matter-of-fact, “Well, I’m a doctor and I’m fat. So that’s not gonna happen here.”
I smile. For like, the first time ever at the doctor.
Finally I’m with someone that understands. She’s a Maverick that understands health and weight while correlated, are not causal! I relax, and proceed to go over my list that my friend made for me. She talks me down, and explains EVERYTHING in a way I can understand it. I finally open up about my heart.
I share that I’ve been doing pretty heavy therapy and we are working on some of the hardest trauma right now. We piece together that the chest pains started around the same time as the therapy, and she says that the feelings I’m having are most likely a panic attack.
A PANIC ATTACK? I am shocked.
I have had panic attacks before, but they have never manifested this way. Usually in the past they were super acute 4-hour sweaty, pacing bouts. Or the one I had last year, which was a week-long low-level breathing uneasiness. But this?! This was new.
I opt to get an EKG and do a stress test just to put my mind at total ease. But by the time I left that room, I was feeling better health-wise than I had in months.
I immediately report back to all of my friends that helped me get here.
The dinner party crew, that helped me identify my SUPER FEAR. My co-workers that walked me through a game plan, and ultimately convinced me to call. My therapist for making herself available to talk me down and help get these panic attacks under control. The doctor that cheerfully self-identified as fat, and set a lot of my fears at ease.
And my buddy who, two days out of their own surgery, held my proverbial hand and walked me through the health care maze. It was the help I desperately needed, but didn’t even know how to ask for. Just like a Maverick, they showed me a new way.
And it reminded me of the coaches I have at Solcana. Mavericks all. Constantly seeking new ways to show and provide “healthcare” to all sorts of bodies with all sorts of needs.
I am happy to report that for the first time in months, I am feeling better. I am treating myself with extreme tenderness as I walk through this time in therapy, and while I await my final heart results.
It helps to know I have a system of elite Mavericks and friends vying for my health and looking out for me. Reminding me that I do NOT have to settle for pain. That I don’t have to accept criticism or half-ass care from my doctors.
These Mavericks teach me every day that it’s okay to seek the best for your body, because that’s what I deserves. That’s what we all deserve. And I salute them.
*Cue TOP GUN theme song