Elissa, a reader from St. Paul, MN, found out about my blog from the American Heart Association Go Red for Women campaign. She's the reason all my hard work is worth it! At 28 years old, Elissa was diagnosed with heart failure for the second time. Today she's searching for strength. Please open your hearts and send her all your healing energy and strength. Below is Elissa's voice.
If you Google the word gratitude, you find an endless explanation of its meaning.
It's a powerful word.
One that I've learned to love.
Ten years ago, when I was 18 years old, I was the typical girl. Fresh out of high school, engaged to be married to my high school boyfriend. Life was good. It was all I had imagined it to be.
Until the eve of my best friends wedding, when chest pain and shortness of breath sent me to the hospital. From that moment on, my life was never the same.
I was diagnosed with Viral Cardiomyopathy.
The following years were filled with fear, sadness, and loss.
I lost more than I could ever describe. My love, my security, my innocence.
My gratitude for life.
I was jaded, and angry. I couldn't make sense of why this happened to me. Why did I have to be different, why did I have to be sick?
The years went by, and I started to regain some footing. Outwardly at least. I tried to live as normally as possible.
My physical health went up and down. It was a struggle.
That brings me to this last Christmas.
I knew. I just knew. Something was wrong.
I went to the doctor after the holidays, and was diagnosed with Heart Failure.
My heart. My one and only heart, failing again.
The heart that for ten years, I forced myself to love, to accept for being "different"....for being weak.
I have always thought of myself as a positive person, someone who knows the power of grace and dignity.
But in the face of illness, I tend to forget all of those things.
I started to ignore, to refuse to accept that this was happening again.
I didn't want to be sick anymore, I wanted to be a normal 28 year old woman. I wanted to play, and date, and run, and work, stay up late, drink too much red wine....the whole thing.
I wanted it all.
To make a long story short, (okay, shorter...) I tried to live like that "normal" girl for awhile. Only taking a break to slip away to my doctor appointments, hoping nobody would ask me where I was going that day. I wanted to hide the fact that I wasn't just like them.
Nine months went by, until I found myself laying on my couch in the house I was renting at the time, sobbing with grief. I finally let it all sink in. How long I had run from my reality, how long I had deprived my body of much needed rest and tenderness.
I made three phone calls. My dad. My mom. My brother Ryan.
I barely had to say a word. They knew.
Within a week, with the help of my family, I moved to Saint Paul. The city where my doctors are. My wonderful, caring, amazing doctors.
I knew in my heart that it was time to take control of my life. To accept that my number one priority is me, my heart. My beautiful, strong and sometimes weak heart, that has tried so hard to get me through this journey. It is my turn to give back, to give it everything it needs to fight, to stay as strong as possible.
So here I am, in my tiny studio apartment. I've been here three weeks. My dog Bennett is sleeping on my feet. She and I are two country girls living in a new city. I am within minutes of my doctors, which is amazing. I am creating a life that is all about health, and healing. One step at a time. I call myself a full time Healing Junkie!
I have good days and bad, but one thing that remains a constant is this...
I am grateful for my journey. All of the things I've lived through had a purpose, they brought me to today. I am grateful that my heart is beating in my chest. I am grateful that I finally put my health and well being first. I am grateful for my amazing family, for holding my hand every step of the way. I am grateful for my doctors. I can actually say, I am grateful that I am living with Heart Disease. I truly am. It has created a depth in me, something I might never have had. A wisdom. A sense of purpose. I am grateful that I'm living with this, that I'm surviving. One day at a time.
I will continue to dust myself off, and walk on.
I still get scared, and have days where it takes everything in my power to get out of bed. I get angry and frustrated, and sad about the things I have lost.
I allow myself that.
I figure that I deserve that much. Being sick is a challenge, one that you can't really describe. It is ugly and defeating. But at the same time, there is so much beauty as well. There is magic underneath. I can promise you that. Even if you have to peel away the layers of yuck, it's under there somewhere.
If I had to leave you with one piece of advice, I would say this...
Even when it hurts.
I am so honored to have been asked to share my story with you.
I wish I could say, happily ever after....but at this point my story is still unfolding.
It is still being written.
So for now, I will say this... I am on to a new chapter of my life. One that I hope is filled with a new understanding of my body, a new acceptance for its loving ability to keep me going. Every day I will take time to be grateful. I will place my hand over my heart, feel the constant thump of its beat. And I will say, thank you, thank you, thank you.
All my love,