I was 8 years old when I first had chest pain. It was my brother’s and grandmother’s birthday, and we were all sitting around the table having cake. I clutched my chest, and started crying. My parents whisked me off to the hospital where – much to everybody’s dismay – we didn’t get any answers.
After lots of tests, hospital visits, and doctor’s appointments, I was officially diagnosed with Supraventricular Tachycardia. Supraventricular Tachycardia (or SVTs as it’s most commonly known) is an abnormal rhythm that starts in the upper chambers of the heart. SVTs causes chest pain, shortness of breath, fainting, fatigue, and palpitations.
For years that was my official diagnosis, and I had to adjust life accordingly. I couldn’t go to gym class. I couldn’t run. I had trouble walking up stairs. I couldn’t lift or carry things. I felt like an invalid, but that’s a feeling you quickly get used to when you don’t have a choice.
When I was 18 my health suddenly went from bad to worse. I ended up hospitalised for SVTs and Atrial Fibrillation. The solution? Surgery. An exploratory procedure called Radio Frequency Catheter Ablation to be exact.
The doctors used a fabulous drug called Versed to keep me awake during the procedure. They were trying to recreate my SVTs and A-Fib; I needed to be awake so I could tell them when I was in pain. I remember lying on a Tempurmedic surgical bed staring up at a lovely mural of hot air balloons that some talented artist painted on the ceiling. I remember thinking about how nice it would be to just float away, and this would all be over with.
And then something weird happened; the electrophysiologist said a phrase you never want to hear during a procedure like that: “Hm…that’s unexpected.”
Just like that the procedure was finished, and I was whisked off to recovery, where I don’t really remember much of anything. When I followed up with my cardiologist the following week I finally learned what the “Hm…” was all about. Turns out, my heart is fine. Not only is my heart fine, it’s the picture of cardiac health. This caused a new problem. Why am I having cardiac symptoms if my heart is the picture of health?
Several months of tests go by and I was officially diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome caused by dysautonomia – a dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating your heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and gastrointestinal system. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for making sure our involuntary bodily functions continue to function properly. When you have dysautonomia, things get a little whacky and they do so at whacky times.
According to Dysautonomia International, POTS impacts an estimated 1,000,000 – 3,000,000 Americans, with 80% of patients being women. The severity of POTS varies from patient to patient, as does the number of – and intensity of – symptoms each patient exhibits. Because of how POTS presents in each patient, there is no cure. Treatments focus on treating each symptom as it arises.
Life with dysautonomia is a constant battle with wanting to be healthy, happy, and productive, and not being able to get out of bed. The quality of life for POTS patients has been compared to that of a patient with kidney failure who is on dialysis. A couple months ago a young woman with POTS named Christina Tournant committed suicide because she couldn’t deal with it anymore. That struck a chord with me. If only she knew it can get better. If only she had hope…
For a long time I was unable to work; I was barely able to stand. Over time I got to a point where I was able to work, but working was so hard on my body I had to sleep for 14 hours a day. Then one day about two years, being the defiant woman that I am, I decided I am sick of tired of being sick and tired, and damnit, I’m going to do something about it. POTS be damned.
I started doing research and I learned yoga helps calm the parasympathetic nervous system. So I went to Walmart, I got myself a cheap yoga mat, and I started following Erin Motz’s 30 Day Yoga Challenge videos on YouTube. It took me more like 60-90 days, but the results were astounding. I started sleeping like a normal person. My migraines went away. My chest pain become less and less frequent. I had more energy. I could breathe! I could walk up stairs! I could carry stuff! I felt like a new woman. Hell, I WAS a new woman. Yoga helped me so much I started 42Yogis as a way to spread the awesomeness of yoga.
I am now running up stairs, hiking, walking 3 miles a day, taking tennis lessons, and learning how to jog (I want to be able to run a 5K by next summer). Never would I have thought I could be this healthy. There was a time I was depressed, much like Christina. I had no hope; I saw no light at the end of the tunnel. It makes my heart ache to think about the pain and despair Christina was going through. It is because of Christina I have decided to share my tips, my secrets, for getting my POTS under control.
The next articles in this series are going to be about my yoga and wellness tips for POTS patients.