Lessons I learned ….. the day I tried to meditate

So about a gazillion years ago (okay, it was about 16 years ago…. whatever), I tried meditation for the first time.  I did all the things I tell my clients not to.  I went in hard.  I took it too seriously.  I wasn’t in the right headspace.  And I gave up the first time ‘meditation didn’t work’.
I’ve come a long way since then.  A daily meditation practice is so important in my life now – it helps me to calm down before bed, it helps my brain work better – and I don’t snap at every little thing that irritates me!
I learned that you need to:
*. Start with short times
*. Find a guided meditation where the person’s voice doesn’t drive you batty!!
AND
*. Don’t give up just because you don’t become some kind of Zen master after the first time.
Meditation takes brain training.  You don’t go out and run a marathon having never run 100m before.  Go slowly.  Be kind to yourself.  And enjoy the story of the crazy way I threw myself into meditation a gazillion (sorry, sorry, 16) years ago.
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Okay readers – sorry about the lack of posts (like i’m sure you care) – but I haven’t been feeling too much like writing over the last few days – overwhelmed with life and all that. So in an attempt to bring some ‘inner peace’ to my thesis-writing, garden landscaping, house renovating, baby-rearing self, I decided to off-load the baby today and attend a meditation retreat. It’s a free day run by a man who is a sri-lankan buddhist – lovely guy – lots of inner peace. something i wanted to learn. Now, I realise that meditation doesn’t happen overnight. But whoa – nothing prepared me for how hard it really was.

We were told that we had to focus on our breath and to not stress out if our thoughts wandered but be mindful when they did…. to speak to them and plead with them to come back to us if they wandered – much like a small child – you cannot force them to do your will, but you can ask nicely…. so here’s how the session went in my head…

breathe in…..
breathe out…..
breathe in…… i wonder if Firstborn is doing okay with her daddy….must remember to pick up …. d’oh…. mind come back to me
breathe in….
breathe…..must get some more of those thesis revisions done before …oh shit, mind come back to me..
breathe in….. oh listen to that bird… and there’s a cricket… is he in the building with us? I hope not… oh crap…. mind come back to me…..

and so it went for half an hour….. well actually so it went for about 15 minutes – i think i spent the last 15 minutes of the session staring at the trees out the window….. hmmm, this is going to be harder than I thought…

So in the next session, our teacher discussed barriers or hindrances to enlightenment… he mentioned 5… and I think every single one of them applied to me!!   Oh dear…. this path to enlightenment could be a rocky one!!!

We then did some further meditation after we knew the barriers and had a few hints and tips to help us through….. I lasted even less time this round…. mostly because by this stage I had – if nothing else, relaxed a little.  Now what happens when an over-worked stressed out mummy of a 6 month old relaxes with her eyes closed on a nice warm day?  You guessed it – she falls asleep – sitting up :/.
I did that whole ‘jerk-awake-really-suddenly’  thing before you topple over onto the floor and then look around really quickly to see who saw you!!  Thankfully everyone else was still busy meditating!!!
*sigh*
At that point i realised the futility of trying to meditate when you’re falling asleep and I made my apologies and went home for a nap.
And so went my first day of attempting to tame the jungle that is my mind…. practice makes perfect I guess 🙂

Twelve years ago I died in a carpark

Hi there readers.  Welcome to Dr Carla’s very first blog post.  I thought I’d start with a story that I allude to on my website – a story I sometimes talk to my clients about – those who have been through a major health crisis.    On the 7th August, 2008, I died in a carpark…. and this is my story.

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Thursday 7th August

On this particular Thursday I had been at work as usual and was picking my daughters up from daycare (aged 18 months and three years).  People keep asking me if I remember what I did that day, but you know how it is, one work day melts into another and who can say what you did on any particular day. Work has been stressful in the lead up to running our assessment clinics (which began on the 11th August) and I was lost in a sea of database queries, mailouts and telephone reminders. It was hectic…..and let’s be honest, I was loving it.

And that’s the last thing I remember… well not even remember really, but that’s the last thing that I did that was normal that week. After that it all went a bit pear-shaped apparently.

After picking the girls up, with Firstborn having climbed into her seat but not yet strapped in, and with Child Two still in my arms (so Firstborn told me later), I had a cardiac arrest. I collapsed in the car park with Child Two still in my arms.  Thankfully the childcare staff were having a staff meeting, so they were all still onsite – alerted by one of the many mums who were coming and going at that time of the day. Even more fortunately, an ambulance was only about 2 minutes up the road on its return to Prince Charles Hospital. The child care staff, and then the ambos were able to revive me, although it took almost 20 minutes apparently and took me to Prince Charles Hospital (for those of you not in the know, that’s Brisbane’s Cardiac Hospital anyway so kind of fortuitous that it was just down the road.

I came through the ER (or in Australia we like to call it the DEM – Department of Emergency Medicine but I don’t think that has the same ring to it – do you?) unresponsive but with a pulse and BP so I was chilled down to about 33.5 degrees and placed into a coma – and then moved to the ICU. I was warmed about 12 hours later and by Sunday was able to hold a conversation that lasted for longer than 30 seconds at a time without repeating (think 50 First Dates except with the repeat button on 1/2 minute, not 24 hours!!)

I remember nothing of Thursday – Sunday. I don’t remember trying to flee the hospital (ladies, unless you want the worst UTI of your lives I strongly recommend not tearing a catheter out in an attempt to leave a hospital rather quickly!!). I ripped canulas out of my arm and took off.  My then husband, who had been taking a break out in the lounge returned to the ICU with staff saying they had lost me – he was rather nonplussed to say the least. Thereafter I had 24 hour guards on my door whenever family weren’t visiting and apparently at one stage I was convinced that I was in the psychiatric ward – talk about paranoid!!  Clearly someone was slipping me some rather cool drugs that were having the unfortunate side effect of making me rather suspicious!! 🙂 I like to think that I made a rather long-lasting impression on the ICU staff. After they’d had enough, they shipped me off to CCU (coronary care unit) – which is where I was when my memory returned.

Sunday 10th August

So by Sunday when Then Husband was visiting, I was able to retain some information and learnt that an angiogram had revealed no signs of coronary heart disease (but did however give me a great bruise that covered my entire upper leg/crotch area – and I thought waxing was bad!!!). They had two theories at this point – my prolapsed mitral valve, which I had with no problems since I was about 7, started leaking quite badly, causing an arrhythmia which sent me into arrest OR Takotsubo syndrome, complicated by the leaky valve. As Then Husband pointed out in his email to friends, those of you who watch House may remember an episode based on this syndrome.

Monday 11th August onwards

I’m not going to outline individual days at this point. I was in hospital. My days consisted of bad meals with insanely small portion sizes (I lost 3.4 kilos during my stay in hospital though I would not recommend cardiac arrest and extended hospital stays as a form of weight loss, however effective), having blood drawn, having drugs handed to me, having canulas put in and taken out and more veins poked and prodded. Thankfully amongst all of this I also had a veritable stream of visitors who kept me sane (and brought entire florist shops with them!!) – thank you to all the people who kept me sane. Thank you for your company, the flowers, the scones with jam and cream (I thought I would go insane on that cardiac diet!!), the chocolate ice-cream and the friendship. It got me through a bad week. It will not be forgotten.

They started talking about a defibrillator – the valve having corrected itself meant that valve replacement was back on the shelf thank goodness – the longer I can put that off the better. However, this defibrillator thingy didn’t turn out to be such a hoot either. But I was told I wasn’t leaving hospital without it, so it became something that I longed for, just so that I could go home. An entire week later……. and D-Day arrived.

Monday 18th August

While my sis in law was visiting a nurse marched in with a surgisponge, asked it I’d yet showered today and upon receiving my negative response marched me to the shower, handed me the surgisponge with clear instructions and said they would be up to prep me for surgery within half an hour. Wow, for days I had been sitting there wondering if I’d have to go private in order to get this surgery done and the next thing, I’ve got no preparation at all and it’s all systems go.  And off I went ….. only to sit in pre-op/recovery for an hour. Glad I rushed that shower.

Tuesday 19th August

As I knew would happen, anxious to have the bed for someone who needed it, I was turfed out on Tuesday (don’t get me wrong, I was itching to get out of hospital, I just find it funny that I sat there all week waiting for the procedure and then I get turfed out within 24 hours of it happening). Then Husband decided that the girls should stay at his mum and dad’s for one more night to allow me to settle in to home and then we’d get them the next day. I was torn. I was missing them heaps but also really nervous about suddenly having to look after them again. It was great to see them the next day, and especially great when Child Two started vomiting with the bug that Firstborn had had the previous week. My first week home has been spent being vomited on (Child Two), coughed on (Firstborn), clung to (both of them) and generally not resting as much as I should have. But you know what? Life goes on, and with two little children under three, I laughed at the person who said I wasn’t to use my left arm for 6 weeks…. oh okay.

August 25th

So where does all of this leave me? Well I don’t know really. I don’t remember it happening. I was essentially dead for a few minutes there but don’t remember a white light, a euphoric moment, no epiphanies. I’ve been told this wasn’t stress induced or due to my lifestyle (caffeine, exercise or diet) – so no reason to re-evaluate my life with respect to lifestyle choices. I’ve been told I can’t drive for 6 months, so that’s going to be fun. We’ve not yet figured out how I’m supposed to get the girls to daycare and then (post-October) get myself to work given that childcare is about 1km away and pushing a pram that far is beyond me… but maybe by October it will be ok.

So this just happened really. I had a really bad hair day. they don’t know why. They stuck a device in my heart that will essentially kick-start it if it stops again. In the meantime I’ve lost a heap of independence. To be honest I’m still waiting for it all to hit me. To suddenly remember something and to break down crying and realising how close I came to dying. But so far that moment hasn’t happened and maybe it won’t. It feels odd though that something like this could happen and I could remember so little of it. Meanwhile Firstborn tells me every night how scared she was when I fell down and about how I had Child Two in my arms when I fell. It will be something she remembers for a while I think and that saddens me more than anything.

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I often look back on this period of my life in wonder.  Back then I had little understanding or respect for the mind-body connection and never stopped to think that the craziness with which I had been living my life could ever manifest as a serious health condition.  These days, I know better.