Who’s in Charge? Your Brain or Your Heart

Brain vs. Heart

All my life I have been a logical person. A Myers-Briggs Personality Test concluded I was a T. I do have feelings, of course, but logic is a primary motivator when I take action. So imagine my surprise when I realized my brain is not really in charge of my actions!

My brain still thinks it is in charge even after my major heart attack but it is not. When my heart says “that’s enough,” no amount of will is going to alter that outcome. It never ceases to amaze me how my brain can even block out the fact that I had a heart attack and wants everything to be as it was before.

My latest episode happened during a difficult test that was ordered to check on whether my heart was having more trouble or whether it was stable. It was a two day test lasting 3-4 hours each day – a serious commitment. The first day the test is performed with a resting heart rate and the second day they chemically induce you to mimic the effects of strenuous exercise on the heart!

The first day was without excitement but day two was not. Before injecting my body with the agent that simulated an accelerated heart rate and then the radioactive dye that they take pictures of, the doctor warned me of potential side effects.

  • Headache, chest discomfort, stomach discomfort, dizziness, nausea, or flushing…and the possibility of suffering a heart attack from this test is minimal, but possible.

So what did my brain tell me during this explanation? That’s other people. Those side effects won’t happen to me… My brain was wrong. I did not have another heart attack but every other symptom occurred including a tough time breathing. They had to use a full dose of the antidote drug to counteract my reaction. (Remember, I volunteered to have a drug injected into me that they then had to give me the antidote. Not sure of the logic on that one!)

Really! Why me? It is a little disconcerting that I am becoming the patient that has the most intense reactions possible. I was exhausted that night. Except for getting up to have a piece of toast, I slept for 11 ½ hours. I cannot remember ever doing that before.

But I am still here and the results of the test showed my heart is actually in better shape than a year ago. So all of the angst surrounding the test was worth it! My heart has responded to all of my effort to make it strong. I have been declared fit to travel and am going to take advantage of that.

Now, if only my rotator cuff injury (from working out to hard and my brain thinking I was a younger John), sore knee, sore throat, and stiff back resolved themselves, I would be as fit as I was when I was twenty years old. Oh, wait a minute. That is my brain talking again. I am in my sixties and had a damaging heart attack. I need to revisit my new normal and let my heart lead the way!

While a positive attitude (which the brain controls) is critical to your success in recovery, it is also important to be realistic and to be gentle on yourself. Perhaps your heart is best to guide you in that pursuit. Slow and steady improvement is a winning strategy!

John Hindle, The Contact Hitter


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