This is a short story about a heart attack (mine), a bar set too high (most women), and tuning forks (but not the musical kind!). Read on to see how they’re related.

Early in May, my husband and I went hiking with a few friends. We were moving along at a good clip, slowly climbing—no major elevation gain, but enough to require deep breathing. As we trudged up the hill, I was talking a lot, sharing a story about the dream I’d had that launched my year-long sabbatical.

As I enthusiastically shared my strange dream I found myself breathing harder and harder. The trail incline was steepening, so I didn’t give my heavy breathing a second thought—that is, until my lungs began to hurt, and I called out, “I’m stopping to catch my breath.” As I stood there gasping, with intense pain in my lungs, and feeling frustrated that I was having such difficulty catching my breath, my only thought was, “Wow, Suzy, you need to get into better shape.”

I made it to the top of the hill, but when we returned home, I couldn’t function and fell fast asleep in the middle of the day, which was very odd for me. Still, I was thinking, “Wow, Suzy, you need to get into better shape.” Fast forward a day or two, and my heart began beating irregularly. My thought (you guessed it) was, “Wow, Suzy, you depleted yourself of electrolytes and yeesh, you need to get into better shape!” Fast forward a few more days and now I’m at the doctor’s office hearing these words: “Your heart is in AFib.” Yikes!

A second EKG confirmed the diagnosis of Atrial Fibrillation. Apparently, the pain I’d felt wasn’t in my lungs, it was in my heart muscle. I’d had a heart attack! (Thankfully, a small one.)

Hello, heart—now I’m listening! In case you are wondering, after several tests (including a negative Covid19 test), I received the good news that there was no damage to my heart whatsoever. But that’s not the point of the story, this is…

I missed all the signs of a heart attack because of something so many women do: I set the bar very high. And when I experienced a failure (in this case, a physical one), I instantly blamed my lack of preparation instead of getting curious and questioning if something was wrong.

There’s a reason for this—Women have had to juggle twice as much to have a career. Women have had to work twice as hard to advance their careers. Women have had to do twice as much (or more) to feel that they are ‘good enough’ in a man’s world. So it’s no wonder many of us unwittingly find ourselves over-striving and when we feel we’ve fallen short, we say self-deprecating things like, “Wow, Suzy, you really need to get into better shape!”

Since May my heart occasionally flutters, but the silver lining is that now I have a built-in tuning fork (how many people can say that, huh?!). Whenever my heart begins to skip around, I know I’m out of alignment somewhere. Usually, I’ve stepped into ‘too much.’ Whether it’s too much frustration or too much enthusiasm, if I’m not grounded and centered, my heart lets me know.

Today, I wear around my neck a large, beautiful sterling silver heart that a jewelry artist client made. Touching it and feeling its weight on my chest reminds me to pause when I’m feeling out of balance and to reorient—to slip out of my (likely overactive) mind and into my heart.

My question for you is this: What can you use as your tuning fork? Something that will serve as a point of reference, alerting you to those ‘bar set too high’ moments, and reminding you that it’s time to hit your pause button and reorient?

I’ll finish this with a reminder—heart attacks in women present differently than in men. Please click here to learn more about symptoms in women. And if you’d like your own big heart to wear, consider joining the ‘Big Heart Movement’ started by my client and friend, Stephanie Benson Designs.

With heart, Suzy


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