Sometimes in life, I get this feeling like I get it--I mean, I really get it--I'm happy and solid and have learned all I really need to learn in life. I know what I'm doing, and I'm in control.
And then a two-by-four smacks me over the head and forces me to learn much more than I ever thought I needed to know.
That two-by-four was my husband's sudden unexpected heart surgery on Christmas Eve. It was almost two months ago now, and sometimes it seems unreal that it ever even happened. I mean, my 36-year-old husband, who takes three or four hour walks with me every weekend day--him? He had to have open heart surgery? Unbelievable!
And yet it happened, and certainly every day I'm ever so grateful that he's doing so well. During this time, I've definitely learned the importance of family and good friends...but I feel like I've learned so much more...some little things and some bigger things. But most of all, I've realized that I probably won't ever have it all figured out--and I suppose most of us won't. I believe that a big part of our purpose as human beings is to learn, and unfortunately, sometimes the learning comes from a really crappy situation.
So without further adieu, here are some things I've learned (some of them a little silly, but I've learned them all the same!) over the past two months:
1. The American media/culture is very concerned about making sure we lose weight and look skinny, but they couldn't give a crap about how healthy are bodies are. I mean, for evidence, look at all the diet pills that are out there--and how many of them turn out to be bad for your heart--or at the very least, give you very explosive diarrhea. But that doesn't matter to those who are manufacturing those pills. It's only important that we be skinny--even if you're skinny and your hair is falling out. That's okay--just as long as you can fit into your size 2 jeans.
2. The number of fat grams in food doesn't matter as much as the kind of fat in the food. I used to just look at how much total fat a food had...but saturated fat is absolutely the worst kind of fat. Some kinds of fats are actually good for you. Saturated fat is absolutely not. And I never used to look at the cholesterol content in foods, either. Now I've learned that saturated fat and cholesterol directly contribute to heart disease--both in men and in women. Oh yeah, and just in case you're wondering, heart disease is the number one killer among WOMEN. Yeah, I had never even considered that; I always thought that it was more of a man's disease. I was certainly more concerned about breast cancer or something like that. Heart disease? But I ate healthy! (Or so I thought.)
3. I've learned how to spell cholesterol. (I don't know why, I've always struggled with the spelling of that word.)
4. Most of the food that is sold in restaurants--both fast food and sit-down restaurants--is really bad for you. I know, this is probably a duh! thing for many of you...but for me, I really sincerely thought that if I was eating a simple Chicken Caesar salad for many of my non-homecooked meals, then I was eating really healthy.
But surprise! Most Chicken Caesar salads are just loaded with fat and cholesterol. And you know why? Well, of course chicken has some fat and cholesterol...but the dressing is usually really really full of that nasty stuff...and the cheese! My God, the cheese! Cheese is the absolute worst culprit when it comes to saturated fat and cholesterol content. And I grew up in Wisconsin--I grew up on cheese! When I was younger, I never gave it a second thought. But Lord above, now I avoid cheese as much as possible. And don't get me wrong--I love the stuff. But I love the idea of having a long life even more.
5. It's very, very important to give yourself time to process and grieve over a scary or sad event in your life--even if everything turned out okay and you think you're fine and you think you can handle everything with no problem at all.
I was learning to cook, I was helping take care of Iwanski, I was doing a lot of the housework, and I was working full-time. No problem, I could handle this! In fact, I even mentioned to a good friend of mine that I was really proud of myself for how I was handling this whole thing. (Note to self: Pride cometh before the fall.)
And then I started getting chest pains. And then back pains. And then both.
And I was scared. So I went to see two different doctors, and the diagnosis came back the same from both of them: It wasn't my heart, it was just stress. I had an EKG. It was normal. I had my cholesterol checked. Perfectly normal.
Just stress?! But I was getting chest pains like 4 or 5 times a day, and they certainly didn't feel like just stress! I was feeling panicky, and silently thanking my previous doctor for giving me 10 extra Xanax pills last time I saw her.
And then one day, as I sat in a nearby train station, eating my lunch, I suddenly felt like I just couldn't take it any more. I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders, and I just broke down and cried. Right there in front of men in business suits and the tourists with their children, who were scarfing down their Panda Express and Taco Bell...I just started sobbing.
And the worst part was, I kept thinking, "Why can't I handle this? What's wrong with me? I'm stronger than this. I'm usually a positive person. Why am I feeling so damn negative?"
So I did what many girls would do in my situation. I called up my best girlfriend--and even though I was pretty sure she'd be at work, she actually answered. And for the next half hour, as I cried and cried and just let everything out--all my fears, all my stress, all my sadness, she just listened. I will be forever grateful to her for that.
And later that night, I cried even more still, this time to my beloved Iwanski. And he sat and listened and then cried a little himself.
We both needed to grieve a little. This was quite a traumatic event in our lives, and we had to grieve the fact that we weren't going to be going to the Chinese buffet every weekend any more, or drinking beer as often...and we now have to be more vigilent about our health (especially him)...it was a big lifestyle change for both of us, and it certainly didn't come without some stress. But at least we're in it together, and changes are much easier to handle when you're going through them with the one you love.
That night, as Iwanski and I grieved together, we grew even closer, and he assured me that I didn't have to do everything on my own. He was getting better every day, and I needed to stop trying to do it all and let him help me, too.
And the next day, I had no more chest pain. And none the next day. Or the day after that.
As my best girlfriend said, "You just needed a release." Indeed, I did.
6. When you're tired, it's important to rest. Even if--and I would say ESPECIALLY if--you feel like you shouldn't be tired.
One day a few weeks ago, after a workout on our exercise bike, a three-mile walk with Iwanski, a trip to the grocery store, and doing the laundry, I put a low-fat, homemade pizza in the oven, and then bent down to put some dishes in the dishwasher.
And suddenly, a wave of tiredness washed over me...and then came the chest pain.
"Push through it!" I thought to myself, as I continued to put spoons and knives and plates into the dishwasher.
But suddenly, the chest pain got worse, and I knew I couldn't push through it. I walked over to the living room and laid right down on the carpet and stretched out my arms and legs, taking some deep breaths.
At first, I admonished myself for not being able to keep cleaning. But then I finally gave up and gave myself a break, and just rested. By the time the pizza was done, I was feeling much better and had no more chest pain.
So I've learned: When you're tired, don't have a debate with yourself--just rest.
7. I've also learned that I enjoy some foods that I never thought I would--like baked kale chips (they're light and crispy and similar to potato chips--yummy!) and this awesome black bean soup that's incredibly easy to make. Quick, healthy, and yummy--whoo hoo!
But most of all, I've learned that I still have much more to learn. No, I don't have it all figured out, and I'm not perfect. And I know that some days I will struggle, but at least I now know that with each struggle, I will learn something new and valuable...and then happiness will follow again soon after.