February is a month all about heart health—emotional (e.g. Valentine’s Day) as well as physical (Cardiovascular Disease Awareness Month), but what is often overlooked is how passion or love for something (as opposed to someone) unrealized can so deeply affect our heart organ, our overall health and can even affect our ability to love again.
My first true heart break came over ten years ago when the community center I had helped create and which I felt as though I had poured every last tear, drop of blood and sweat into was shut down by a city that was scared of the community coming together to empower themselves and learn how to be self-sufficient. That community center had given me the occasional glimpse for what a world without greed based on community health could look like. Though only a glimpse, it had lit my heart on fire and given me hope.
As political and corporate greed worked to destabilize the community we created, everything crumbled and my heart broke and I spiraled into loneliness, uncertainty and failure. And I had the fascinating opportunity to experience a panic attack. Okay, it wasn’t so fascinating at the time… In a panic attack, a surge of fear overcomes the individual and the person feels as though s/he may die and sometimes even faints. The symptoms of a panic attack, coincidently, are very similar to those of a heart attack: palpitations, difficulty breathing, a sense of doom, lightheadedness, nausea, chest pain and sudden chills. And not surprisingly, a study published in Archives of General Psychiatry in September 2007 indicated that women are three times more likely to have a stroke or a heart attack If they’ve had a panic attack within the last six months. Aha!
In my own experience, I couldn’t breathe. I was gasping for air and crying uncontrollably in heavy, pained, emphatic, pleading for life bursts. I couldn’t breathe. I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe. My whole world was caving in. I couldn’t breathe. I blacked out. I came back to and was completely lost—physically and emotionally. My heart had broken and the panic attack was the physical manifestation of that non-visible experience.
But unfortunately, even that wasn’t all. When you love something so completely, so wholly and you fail, there are often physical repercussions too. I fatigued my adrenals from exhaustive stress, worry, overwork, lack of play, poor diet and limited sleep, which affected my thyroid. I didn’t have the emotional energy to nourish myself and developed all sorts of digestive problems, which resulted in food intolerances and developing antibodies to my own thyroid. My poor diet also resulted in hypoglycemia which exhausted my adrenals and thyroid even more. I developed skin problems, low energy, weight gain and low motivation; all exacerbated from a poor, refined carbohydrate-based diet that imbalanced my neurotransmitters.
My health continued to spiral downward because I, like so many activists, community change-agents and conscious entrepreneurs refused to slow down and nourish myself. I refused to listen to my needs—my body. I acted without any awareness that I had a broken heart. I wasn’t in a broken relationship with a person but was in a broken relationship with my passion—a passion that was unrealized through failure out of my control. “Failure” creates even more stress for activists and change agents, because it is usually accompanied by a sense of hopelessness and lack of choice. Having a lack of control in a situation with the same outcome as having control has been found in study after study to create more stress. In terms of a social movement or revolutionary change, individual change is not enough, which can result in feelings of hopelessness.
Over and over again, I see this with community change agents, activists and/or people trying to change the world. We fall in love with what we do and we fall hard and completely. We develop a relationship with our passion that is so intense and so deep that nothing else matters. She is everything. There is nothing else. When we are with her, we don’t need to eat, we don’t need to sleep and we don’t need to breathe because nothing else matters. And then, even if we don’t lose our passion, but we lose our ability to put our passion into action, it all catches up to us… The not eating, the not sleeping, the not breathing, the not moving our body, the not slowing down and giving time to ourselves. The not nourishing ourselves. And what is left is a hole in our chest that nothing can seem to fill—an emptiness that she had previously consumed. And that emptiness, that void, combined with pure exhaustion burns us out and we can’t act anymore, because there is nothing left to give. The giving, giving, giving, go, go, go, fight, win, keep going mentality of the activist and conscious entrepreneur is what eventually prevents them from going anymore.
The inability to go anymore, to cope anymore, to fight for my love anymore is what happened to me and I see it happening to others around me. I see it happening to all the activists that staked their hearts, souls, blood, sweat and tears on the Occupy Movement. They fell in love with her and she occupied them and as business returns to normal, I see their hearts breaking. As their movement splinters, in fighting begins and federal infiltration ensues, I see their hearts breaking. There’s lots of information out there for what to do with a broken heart from losing a loved one, but what about a broken heart from losing your passion or from your passion losing?
So am I saying to not have those passions—not try to create a world we really want to be a part of? HELL NO!!!! But what I am saying is that we have to nourish ourselves along the way, because we need to be healthy to succeed. We need to eat healthy, breathe deeply, move our bodies, laugh and play and it’s okay to do those things and also be an agent for change. Tenish years ago, if I had been given permission to nourish myself, WHILE I was busy being occupied by my passion, I wouldn’t have destroyed my health. And you know what? We still wouldn’t have won, but damn, I would have been able to fight for the world I wanted so much faster again if I hadn’t depleted every energy source I had. My ability to rebound and love again and fight again would have happened much faster. I probably wouldn’t have even had that panic attack.
And I’m sorry, if you are reading this, already with a broken heart. But, I can tell you from personal experience that it’s not too late. Yes, it will take some time and some work to nourish your health back into having room to love without abandon again, but the journey is worth it. Join me in my new love and passion to explore how to renew our health… How empowered self-care can awaken transformative action.
How about you? Have you experienced any emotional hard-ships that negatively effected your physical health or vice-versa? Please share below in the comments. I would love to hear your story. And happy Heart Health Month!