My First Birthday After Heart Surgery

My First Birthday After Open Heart Surgery

All birthdays are special but the first birthday after my second open heart surgery felt extra special. Why was it so special might you ask? Well, I was just so thankful to be alive after a very challenging last few years. Not only was I celebrating turning 35 years old but I was also celebrating the fact that I survived some life altering obstacles and I was still able to smile and feel pure joy. Sometimes we hold on to the image of what our lives should be and what happiness should look like and then we are jolted by the reality of sickness, a loss, rejection, and pain, which forces us to find true meaning when the dust settles.

This birthday did just that. I have been shaken by so many things in the last 6 years and it is only now that I have gotten to a place where I feel comfortable exploring the meaning and purpose of my human experience. It is only now that I am beginning to feel ok with not knowing, being vulnerable, asking for help, being real whether it’s good or bad. I am the first to admit that it is a journey and I am not sure how I will evolve but I have taken the first step by giving myself permission try.

These are the things I have learned this birthday:

1. Being Alive is Enough

Oh God! was the last thing I remember saying as the anesthesia mask was coming towards my nose before my last open heart surgery. Within seconds the gasses hit me and I was out cold. In that desperate moment, the only thing I wanted was to be alive. I wasn’t thinking about all the other superficial or material things that often times occupied my thoughts. In that moment all I wanted was life! Although I am not deeply religious I had made so many promises to myself and to god that if I were to survive my surgery I would start appreciating the everyday little things a lot more. It sounds simple but this was a well-needed reminder for me because

I was always looking for something more (the next phase, job, opportunity, etc) to make me feel accomplished or fulfilled. There is nothing like facing a life-altering surgery and not knowing if you are going to survive to make you realize that all you ever need is “life” and that being alive is enough. So as I celebrated my 35th birthday and for all the other birthdays to come I will always remind myself that being alive is enough no matter what.

2. Have Fun

Sounds simple but it may be harder than you think for some people. Don’t get me wrong. I have always been a fun “haver” but I have been cautious and usually weigh the risks and benefits of the fun I am about to have. I always planned and calculated my movements and activities rather than going with it and doing what feels good to my soul. Now I really don’t sweat the small stuff and I am more aggressive and open about the things that bring me joy.

If there is a place I want to visit, rather than make excuses about all the reasons why it’s not the right time to take a trip, I just figure out a way to make it work and do it. If there is something I have always wanted to do but was afraid of what others might this I just say screw them and do it anyways. Now I realize that you can’t postpone having fun and being joyous because you never know if you will be here tomorrow.

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3. Let go of the things/people holding you back

I know this sounds simple but sometimes it’s the hardest thing to do. Sometimes we get stuck in the fantasy of what should or could be or even what was instead of accepting what is. I have been guilty of that for so many years and it took battling heart disease to make me realize that it is not worth it to hang on desperately to people or things that hold me back.

I’ll health will undoubtedly help you put things into perspective and looking at your life through the lens may help you realize that in order to be happy and healthy you must say goodbye (temporarily or permanently) to some people or some things.

4. Be grateful

This goes without saying. Having gone through two open heart surgeries I have since come to the conclusion that being grateful for being alive, being able to breathe, to smile, to love, to share with others is all that I need. I am learning to be present in every moment, to be intentional with my words and my actions, to be more mindful and thankful for everything I have.

This birthday I pledge to recognize my small blessings and everyday accomplishments. I am grateful because I am alive. I am grateful because I am loved by many. I am grateful because I get a second change every single day.

5. Love, Love, and Love!

Being vulnerable scares me. As a result, I am sometimes closed emotionally and miss out on opening myself up to others. To receive love you must be open. Battling heart disease has taught me to open up more than I ever did. I am sharing my story with others and I am learning to let love in. I encourage you to let your guards down and love, love, love.

Please share your first birthday experience after heart surgery or a major illness.

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