NEW! Our second virtual workshop: March 11th, 2021: A Virtual “Writing the Heart” Workshop for Heart Patients! See https://tedrogersresearch.ca/2021/01/expressive-writing-workshop/ for more information and to register! Free to any Canadian heart patient.
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Welcome to “Writing the Heart,” a blog site devoted to writing the memories, musings and experiences of the heart. As cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar, MD, describes in his book, Heart: A History (2008), the heart has long been associated with feelings and regarded as the locus of emotions across many different cultures. While science has “corrected” those misassumptions, what we do know is that our emotional lives affect our physical heart, something Jauhar described compellingly. It that landscape of the heart I am exploring in this blog.
Originally, I began this blog in 2018 as an attempt to reflect and write on the lived experience of being a heart failure patient, which I became in December 2008—not to be forgotten. The days leading up to my diagnosis are burned in memory, as if I’d crossed a border into what Susan Sontag once described as “the kingdom of the ill.”
For weeks, I’d noticed short spells of light-headedness and reported them to my family physician. “You’re probably dehydrated,” she said, and advised me to drink more fluids on a regular basis. Then, a sunny day in early December, I leashed up my dog and took him for a short walk around the block. As we rounded the corner of a small hill; I said “hello” to the postman as we passed by. That’s the last thing I remember. When I regained consciousness, my was body splayed on the pavement face down, chin bleeding, and my dog, still leashed, sitting patiently at my side. Five days later, I returned home from the hospital, diagnosed with heart failure and a new defibrillator implanted just under my collar bone.
What caused it? Perhaps the treatments I had for early-stage breast cancer several years earlier, or perhaps the decade of extreme emotional stress in the aftermath of my husband’s drowning; maybe it was something in my genetic make-up…who knows for sure? I began writing about it all, trying to come to terms with what it meant to live with heart failure, inspired, in large part by my years of leading groups for cancer patients, encouraging them to write and express their lived experiences of cancer.
For a time, it worked, yet increasingly, I found it difficult to separate heart failure from life—from the memories, emotions, and experiences that led me to this chapter. It wasn’t enough for me to write only about living with heart failure—there is much more of life to explore: cancer, neurosurgery in my teen years, my loves, losses, places and people remembered who were all in line to be written about. Acknowledging heart failure has, as yet, no cure, it forced me to consider mortality in ways I hadn’t done before, and that realization also encouraged me to explore life, not just the experience of illness or heart failure. Something I’ve learned from those individuals who’ve participated in my writing workshops for cancer, heart conditions or other hardships is that ultimately, writing about illness—or any loss, trauma or hardship—is writing about life. In my groups, it is never only pain and suffering that gets written. Far from it. We humans are story tellers—it’s how we communicate and make sense of our experiences. Invariably, it’s our whole life experiences that are written about, the places and people we carry in our hearts, the very memories and emotions that Jauhar described as being “written on our hearts.”
While my original intent for “Writing the Heart” was initially focused on living with heart failure, as I meet more heart patients, I hope these posts and/or writing suggestions can be meaningful for anyone living with any cardiac condition or disease who wishes to write from that experience. I continue to post monthly reflections and with each, writing prompts or suggestions as encouragement and an invitation to you, the reader, to explore the vast territory of your heart.
(This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License). Author’s permission is required to cite any portion of this site.)