Panic: sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior.
Panic is never a good look on anyone.
The COVID19 pandemic is sending a lot of people into a panic of apocalyptic proportions. I spend my life writing and speaking about living authentically not controlled by fear and shame. That's the primary message of Joel Speaks Out.
Let me be clear, I don’t want to be sick and I’d prefer not to die right now. But the truth is we are ALL dying from the moment we are born. We are all living one breath away from death, but we rarely acknowledge that in day-to-day life. We rarely ponder our own mortality until something like COVID19 is staring us in the face. It’s a rude awakening to just how much we take living for granted.
Ironically, as I write this, I’m celebrating 5 years since I stared death in the face and was forced to seriously contemplate my own mortality. It was life-changing.
March 2015 I was working on getting in the best shape of my life before my 49th birthday. I was eating healthy, working out regularly, taking extra classes at the gym and training to run in a half-marathon in June. While I felt young and full of life, I was unaware that I was days away from the first of two heart attacks.
The warning signs were there, but because they didn’t fit the classic descriptions I didn’t recognize either one as a heart attack. Instead, I told myself:
My lack of stamina in my GRIT, high-intensity, full-body workout class was simply my body reminding me of just how out of shape I really was and it needed me to push harder so I could get better conditioned and increase my stamina.
Being quite winded while training for my half-marathon was sports induced asthma.
The extreme fatigue and muscle soreness were from overdoing it at the gym and not drinking enough water to avoid dehydration.
Being extremely winded after climbing a long flight of stairs was me needing to climb stairs more often.
The heart attacks took place about a week apart. The second was more severe than the first. In addition to the muscle soreness in my upper torso and fatigue, this one included extreme shortness of breath after I climbed a long flight of stairs to my office. It caught my attention enough that I called David who encouraged me to call and make an appointment with my doctor. This was on a Wednesday. I followed his advice and was given an appointment that Friday. Saturday afternoon I received an urgent call from the doctor telling me to go immediately to the ER because my test results indicated something was not right. David and I arrived at the ER, where I was quickly whisked to the back, hooked up to various machines and run through a variety of tests and x-rays. I told the doctor about the two episodes. When he returned he said, “Mr. Barrett, you’ve had two heart attacks.” I was dumbfounded and angry. “You’ve got to be kidding me! I’m only 48 years old and I’m healthy, how could I be having heart attacks?!” I was admitted to the hospital and scheduled for a heart catheterization two days later. Because of my youth and good health they were optimistic that no real damage was done and It would only require a small procedure.
I went into the heart catheterization confident that I’d receive good news, instead, the doctor leaned over the table, looked me in the eyes and said “Mr. Barrett, we have found significant blockages in your arteries. Your main artery, known as the widow-maker, is 100% blocked and your back two arteries are 80-90% blocked in two places each. We are going to have to do open heart, surgery to install bypasses.”
This was beyond my comprehension. My anger turned to despair and sadness. Tears replaced my words. I couldn’t understand how this was happening to me at 48 years old. It felt like something only “old people” go through.
Two days later the surgeon’s nurse came in and began explaining the surgery to me. “Mr. Barrett, the doctors will cut you open, pull back your rib cage and stop your heart and lungs long enough to put them on artificial life support while we do the surgery.”
My first thought was, “Wait, where do I go during that time and what if I don’t return?”
Yet, here I am today. I spent a year in recovery carrying a heart-shaped pillow around to protect my chest. I still have some side effects from the surgery. I take an assortment of drugs and supplements. I watch my carb and sugar intake. I have blood work done twice a year. I stay active.
What did I learn? I’m always aware of my mortality. I try to always live every day like it may be my last day. I ask myself:
If I died today, do I feel okay about my relationships as they are?
Do I feel okay about the impact I’ve left on my world?
Do I feel okay about what I’ve experienced in my life?
Do I feel okay about who I've been?
I'm happy to report that my answer was a resounding YES! But asking the questions gave me a level of clarity and direction like never before.
I refuse to live in fear or shame. I don’t panic. I’ve been here before. If it is my time to go, I’m ready. I’m at peace. I’ve stared death in the face more than once.
I ain’t skeered. I’m prepared for life and I'm prepared for death.
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