“Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.” – Bob Dylan
Listen. Although I had a chance to tell you all this in my recent post on the iTDi Blog, I didn’t. Rather than write about staying healthy, I wrote about motivation. Then I read Chiew Pang’s wonderful post How To Stay Healthy The Cheap and Easy Way and decided to tell the whole story, and by doing so, the truth.
I admit it. I used to lie to myself, especially when it came to my health. In fact, I became so good at self-deception that two years ago I managed to convince myself that I was getting tired and out of breath so often because of, well, anything I could think of that didn’t involve my own body. I blamed the heat, the cold, the stairs, or the fact that I had heavy things to carry. Even when my daily walks became painful I kept the lies up.
I was scared to admit to myself that there was something seriously wrong with me. Then, one day I couldn’t lie any longer. I was alone, so deep in the mountains that I was even out of cell phone range, when I experienced chest pains so bad I could not ignore them. It took me an hour, a few meters at a time, to get up a steep hill and back to my car. It was my heart. I knew it, but even then it took me some days to arrange a hospital check-up for a series of tests.
Somehow, I still managed to feel surprised when the doctor told me that 25% of my heart was not working at all and that I’d need an operation. How could that be? I tried to convince him that I was too busy for an operation. It was a couple of weeks before the JALT Conference and I had presentations to give. How about after that, I suggested? It took the doctor telling me that I might not make it until after the conference to get me to finally believe I was in a dangerous situation.
Thankfully, all I needed at that point was to have a stent put into my heart and afterwards make some major adjustments in my lifestyle. I got the stent, felt great, and half-heartedly tried to make some changes in my diet and personal habits for a few weeks. Then, I gave this pecha kucha called 19 Albums and A Book during which I almost proudly proclaimed that I was not ready to give up the funk of my busy life, that I would not change my ways, and that I’d rather burn out than fade away. As it turns out, I almost did blow up like the firecracker I showed at the end of that presentation.
Fast forward to November, 2011. I was back in the hospital to get a second stent put in. Still, expecting that I’d have the same very positive experience I’d gotten from getting the first stent put in, I was not worried in the least. Then everything went wrong, and I wound up having a heart attack. It took me months to recover from that, and I mean both physically and emotionally.
The good news is that I did recover and that last month I did go back to get that second stent put successfully in my heart. The better news is that I have changed. I’m now very conscious about what I eat, have given up most of my bad habits, and am exercising daily. I have essentially given up salt, have said good-bye to my favorite sausages and cheeses, am in bed every night by 11 pm, and this week have begun doing 1-minute interval training to build up my strength and keep my heart strong. I’m also discovering that I can be quietly vibrant and that this calmer, slower Chuck is perhaps an even more effective educator than the wilder, crazier Chuck who was constantly tired and malnourished from flying all over the world to give one presentation after another while at the same time doing a million other projects. I can’t do that anymore and won’t.
I recently read a book called Teach Us To Sit Still: A Sceptic’s Guide To Health And Healing by Tim Parks who, while suffering a different set of symptoms than I had, discovers that his real problem is that he’s always doing something, worried about something, and moving ahead to the next thing before even getting started on the first thing. I recognized myself in Park’s description of himself. I was that man. I didn’t know how to relax, couldn’t sit still or keep quiet, and was never able to quite live in the present. I can’t be that man anymore, so I am doing what I am always telling others to do: I am changing. I am changing myself.
In my iTDi blog post I said that I want you to know me. What I wrote there was true, really, but it was not the whole story. This is who I am, and what I want to tell you is simply this: I am not indestructible and neither are you. Pay attention to your body. Don’t lie to yourself. If you need help, get it. If you need to make some changes in your life, then make them. We only get this one precious life to do our good work, and I know we all have a lot of good work to do. Stay healthy. Live now. Be the change you need to be and may you stay forever young.
Chuck Sandy is a cofounder of iTDi, an iTDi program director, an author, a teacher, and an avid gardener who’s trying hard to stay healthy and be alive in the present. He’s @chucksandy on Twitter and on Facebook.
Note: This article by Chuck Sandy originally appeared as a guest post on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.