Pain pressed in my chest, radiated down my arms; my breathing was shallow and rapid along with my pulse rate.
I knew I was having a heart attack. Except that I wasn’t.
In the summer of 1976 and age 27, I had a series of “heart attacks” that I really never had.
Oh, I had the symptoms, classic symptoms.
But when they hooked up the EKG monitor, all the peaks and valleys were right where they were supposed to be. On another occasion of chest pain, one of several, the doctor put me on a treadmill stress test. My heart was strong.
So why was I disappointed? Naturally, I didn’t want to have heart disease but if I didn’t, that meant that there was something wrong upstairs. This was 1976 and the concepts of panic or anxiety attacks weren’t talked about much. The closest we got to that was when some famous person checked into a hospital for what was termed “exhaustion.”
Yeah, let’s see some regular citizen try that: Walk into a hospital and say “I’m exhausted. Check me in.” Hah! They’d throw you out and charge you for changing the sheets on your gurney.
But I digress.
Figuring It Out
I found a great doctor. “Great” is hereby defined as “looking at the whole patient, not just symptoms.” After checking me out thoroughly, he helped me understand that my emotions were in distress and since the emotions don’t have nerve endings, they send the message to the body and symptoms begin.
It’s like that scene from The Godfather, Part III when Michael Corleone is confessing to the Cardinal in the Vatican garden. As Michael collapses with emotion, the Cardinal nods knowingly and says: “The mind suffers; the body cries out.”
The underlying cause of all the symptoms turned out to be stress, caused by a year of massive change for my wife and me. We had both:
- Changed jobs
- Changed cities
- Bought our first house (with our first mortgage)
- Found out we were expecting our first child.
Finally, like a moron, I also took on one of the lead roles in play at the community theatre.
So, with my physician’s help and my wife’s insistence—no pregnant woman wants a husband who’s acting nuttier than normal—I embarked on studying my situation.
- I read Type A Behavior and Your Heart (scary)
- I read The Relaxation Response (reassuring)
- I took a course on guided relaxation (more reassuring)
I also did a few sessions with a psychologist who specialized in stress sufferers. He hooked me up to a biofeedback machine which gradually helped me gauge and improve my ability to calm myself. Soon, I was moving from crazy to calm in a matter of minutes.
According to Web M.D., 75% to 90% of medical visits are related to stress. I developed a new respect for the mind/body connection. It’s amazing how an effect on one produces a symptom in the other. This means that our capacity to pack activities and stress into our lives has a limit and we hit that limit sooner than you expect. The research and the learning techniques have served me many times since then. That’s good, considering I’m a classic Type A personality.
And I’ve still got a good heart. I mean a strong heart. I mean…oh, you know what I mean.