My memory of that day was this: the room felt so cold, the kind of cold that makes your skin hurt. They stretched and strapped my right arm to the table so I couldn’t move it. A small camera was about to be shoved up my arm and into my heart to see if there was an embolism. My father had gone through a similar process, multiple times, and his father before him died because of a heart attack – again one of many. So here I was, lying on the table, a Bergman rite of passage . . .
How did I get there? Stress.
About five years ago, I sat in the Emerson Lobby during a study hall and couldn’t breathe. Air would not fill my lungs and my heart raced. I asked Dr. Callahan what he thought I should do and he said get to the hospital as soon as possible. I called my wife and told her what was happening, told her I loved her, and for her to please make sure that the kids got picked up from school and that I was heading to Mercy down the street.
In the emergency room, I waited, but not for long. They rushed me into an examination room and began a series of tests and monitoring to see if I had a heart attack. I wore a De Smet shirt that day and many people had connections to our school, even the stress test nurse. She and I talked as I walked faster and faster on the treadmill about her brother, who I had taught a few years before and how he was doing well in his chosen field. He was a good kid and now was a good man.
My heart doctor came in and told me it was stress but he still wanted to do a cardiac catheter to see if I had any blockages in my arteries. We set up the test and that’s where we started…
Anxiety and stress can kill us.
Our students and children are more stressed now than they ever were before, but so are we. How can we deal with this modern phenomena? Well it isn’t that modern is it? Americans have been stressed for the better part of our existence. We don’t know how to take it easy.
In 2014 there was a Cadillac Commercial that went like this:
Why do we work so hard?
For this? (man raises hands to back yard pool and groomed yard)
Other countries, they work, the stroll home, stop by the café, they take August off.
Why aren’t you like that? Why aren’t we like that?
Because we are crazy driven, hard-working believers. That’s why.
Those other countries think we’re nuts.
Were the Wright Brother’s insane?
Were we nuts when we pointed at the moon?
That’s right, we went up there and you know what we got?
So we left. We left a car up there with the keys in it, you know why?
Because we are the only ones going back, that’s why.
But I digress.
It’s pretty simply, you work hard, you create your own luck, you gotta believe anything is possible.
As for all the stuff, that’s the upside of only taking two weeks off in August.
When I saw this commercial and heard the minute-long message, I felt depressed. This commercial came out about the time of my heart issue. I felt this profusely. Why can’t I relax? Why can’t I just live a quiet life? Does it make me a bad American to not feel this drive to own a luxury car and modern home with a highly stylized and manicured lawn?
I’ve lived in Europe and felt that the lifestyle of working hard and taking it easy the best way to live.
I’m lucky that my career allows me much down time in the summer months to spend time with family and take it easy but I rarely do that. I spend a large part of the summer reviewing my classes and attempting to improve them for the following year. I read books and research best practices and create new ways to engage the students; yes, every summer. Most teachers take this time to improve their craft and prepare for the upcoming year.
August feels like a month of Sundays. I spent two months preparing and now I have to wait to see the fruit of my labor, and that creates anxiety.
As the doctor pulled the camera out of my arm, he smiled. He turned the video towards my face and showed me that there wasn’t a blockage at all. In fact, he said, “Looks like you didn’t get that genetic flaw of your father and grandfather. You have the heart of an eighteen-year-old, not a single blockage.” Then he told me I needed to change or I would have a heart attack, one from stress.
My heart hurt and I needed to do something about it.
So, how do I help myself?
I exercise, not as much as I should, but a little every day.
I get away from social media. I am surprised at how this seemingly innocent app causes me such stress and how devious the designers have made them to keep me hooked. They literally studied the brain and how it functions and designed the apps to keep us hooked through our own psychological nature. Next time you are about to log off of your favorite social media app, notice how you almost immediately get a “like” or update and how it makes you feel.
I changed my eating habits; more fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. I also chew my food more.
I journal. Through this reflective technique, I review my day and learn to manage it better by getting my thoughts and feelings out of my mind so they don’t grow toxic.
Sleep. Oh beautiful, beautiful sleep; getting enough and the right amount is key to keeping anxiety at bay.
And of course, there is prayer. A nice and simple conversation in my mind with the Lord to help me get a good night’s rest and hopefully a renewed sense of purpose in the morning.
Until I was older, I never really understood the Embolism after the Lord’s Prayer during Mass but now I completely understand the need for this additional prayer:
Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.