NEW! February 11th, 2021: A Virtual “Writing the Heart” Workshop for Heart Patients! See www.tedrogersresearch.ca/writing for more information and to register! Free to any Canadian heart patient living with heart failure, disease or transplant.
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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 the blog 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 finally 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. I have since come to believe that writing about illness—or any loss, trauma or hardship—is writing about life. Just as those who have written with me out of cancer and other hardships have discovered, 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 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.”
It wasn’t enough for me to write only about living with heart failure—there was so 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. I had to acknowledge that heart failure has no cure, and that forced me to consider mortality in ways I hadn’t done before, but that realization also encouraged me to explore my whole life, not just the experiences of illness or a weakened heart.
The original intent for “Writing the Heart” was revised to include reflections on life and living as well as living with heart failure. Monthly I post reflective essays and a variety of life stories, and with each post, I include writing prompts or suggestions for you, the reader, as encouragement for you to explore the territory of your heart. I hope you will be encouraged to write from your heart too.
Welcome to “Writing the 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.)