How I Didn’t Die of Heart Failure


Shame on me and my overly ambitious plans. How long has it been since the previous episode of these gruesome series? Two months, maybe three? However long it was, I’m way beyond schedule. Sorry about that. I’ve been busy with life, and also writing a book (I’ll tell you more about that some other time). Anyway, I need a break now. From the book, not from life. So I might as well try and get back on track with this story of my madness.

If you have read this, you might remember I thought I was about to die in November 2016. Yet the death somehow didn’t seem to be coming after all. Not until January 2017.

It started quite the same way like the other day. On one stormy evening, I went to get something from the tiny bathroom we use as an improvised cold storage space in our house. Maybe I was after an onion for making a salad, maybe I wanted a beer. I can’t recall exactly anymore, and it doesn’t really matter. What I want to talk about is the stuff that happened when I bent to get this forgotten thing I wanted.

Something was off. I didn’t quite finish reaching down. Instead I doubled up in a weird stooping position over the sink. An eerily familiar sensation overwhelmed me. Invisible fingers stroked my scalp. Icy waves of fear spilled down my spine. I’d been there before. Once again I knew I was dying. I’d better call my wife, I thought. I couldn’t possibly handle this thing on my own, not anymore. No, wait, I told myself while I was trying to stop hyperventilating. It’s still possible this is just my imagination.

A minute passed, then two. Nothing improved. It couldn’t have been happening just in my head. The dread felt way too physical. I leaned on the sink with the full weight of my sagging body. My forehead met with its scratched image in the mirror.

The gasping breaths hurt my chest, tight as if caught in loops of a giant spectral snake. Something hot was pounding in my temples. The back of my tense neck pulsed in the same rhythm. It was like muffled gunshots hitting me straight in the head. Quite a long while had passed before I realised it was my rogue heartbeat.

My brain was tripping on its own thoughts. I struggled to understand what the hell was going on. Last time this happened I thought it was a stroke. But that made no sense. These were no symptoms of stroke. It seemed more like something was wrong with my heart.

My wife and kid called me then, dinner time! Need to check something first, coming then, I shouted back, my voice thin. All right, take your time, the answer came.

I needed to know what was wrong with me before I could ask for help. I slapped the toilet lid closed and sat on it, fumbling for the phone in my pocket. Only then I noticed my hands were shaking to the point of utter uselessness. I had to place the phone on my thighs, otherwise I’d have dropped it on the black tiles, so cold under my bare feet.

My fingers tapped and swiped over the screen, leaving smears of clammy sweat on the glass. I couldn’t remember more than few blurry words at a time but soon I knew what was killing me this time. Arrhythmias.

I could have guessed as much, I muttered, launching this heartbeat tracking app. The sensor at the back of the phone shone red through the flesh of my trembling finger. The mess of dense spikes and long plateaus on the screen confirmed the diagnosis. No wonder I felt so funny when my heart was choking like that.

I rose from the toilet and stumbled towards the bedroom. On my way through the dark hallway I glimpsed the hazy image of my wife, moving behind the frosted glass of the kitchen door. I wheezed to her, cleared my throat, spoke at last. Sorry, I’m not gonna eat tonight. I’ll lie down instead. What’s wrong? she asked, concerned, the door opening a crack. Not sure, I said. I feel a bit strange. But it will be okay, no worries. I just need to rest.

She came to check on me shortly after I’d dropped to sit on the edge of the bed, still dressed like I came from the office. I could tell she was worried. But somehow I managed to keep the roiling panic hidden well beneath the facade of my calm voice and sober face. I even cracked few stupid jokes.

When I’d fed my wife with the reassuring rubbish, she reluctantly stopped asking questions at last. Just as I begged her, she went to do her stuff before she would join me in bed later on.

I was about to say goodbye to the woman of my life before she left. I badly wanted to hug and kiss her one last time, because I simply knew I would be dead before she’d come again. Yet I didn’t do any of those things. I couldn’t. Instead I sat in the empty room and stared at the full moon that was rising above a windblown cherry tree in the neighbour’s garden.

The light that seeped in through the open window blinds was bright but devoid of all colour. At one point I raised my hand and all but saw through it. I lied down and stopped moving entirely. The air in the room was still and cold, and full of the sweaty-sour smell of my fear. I suddenly realised I hate myself. It was so overwhelming that I didn’t even manage to be surprised. The disgust and repulsion erased everything. My past adventures were meaningless, the present was empty and my future plans seemed futile. My wife and kid and all the other things I loved were gone, as if they had never existed.

Maybe I cried then. I can’t tell for sure. What I do remember is this, though. I didn’t really want to die but I was kind of glad for those arrhythmias all the same. I was waiting for the final beat of my failing heart, scared and eager in equal parts. It seemed that nothing else would have the power to save me from the bottomless gloom that had engulfed me.

Just like the other day, the next morning found me wondering how come I wasn’t dead just yet. As a matter of fact, I felt pretty good. That shapeless horror that had threatened to devour my mind few hours back was gone for all I knew. But I rang my GP as soon as they opened anyway. Whatever was happening to me, I was not perfectly healthy. That much was already clear to me.

I got an appointment within an hour. When I arrived, I explained what bothered me in a flood of disconcerting physiological details. The doctor was apparently a bit freaked out, though she was really good at hiding it. She arranged good few specialist follow-ups for me. Too bad I somehow neglected to bring up the strange things in my head when talking to her. Mentioning those prototype symptoms of a major bout of depression might have spared me from plenty of struggle that was about to follow.

If I now had a chance to meet anyone messed up the way I was, this would be my advice:

  • You don’t want to do anything? At least not until you know for sure what’s wrong? Screw that. The simple fact that you feel so bad is enough of a sign that you’d better do something, and fast.
  • Stop being afraid that you’re going mad. Because you already are, in a way.
  • You fear people will think you’re weird if you tell them? Screw that, too.

Why? The way I see it, most of what you think or feel when you’re truly depressed doesn’t matter. The only important thing is that your very soul is drowning in a rather stubborn type of mental muck. And it’s really hard to shovel that thing away without help. So talk. Talk to your loved ones, to a doctor, to anyone who might listen and help. If you feel strong enough you could even try shouting out to random strangers on the Internet [sic], though a more gradual approach to this particular type of coming out is likely to work better. Whatever you do, be sincere. I know how cheesy-creepy this stuff may seem when you start putting it into words, but it’s worth it. Just do it, whichever way suits you, and talk for your own sake and the world’s. It’s really that easy.

Then again, it’s not. This particular species of madness is kind of famous for equipping its victims with a wide range of uncanny powers, the first and foremost among them being the art of disguise. Largely due to the stigma associated with the condition, many depression sufferers are great at hiding the true nature of their ailment from even the closest people. And that includes themselves, as I learned all too well.

You wonder how I got out of that deadly loop of silence? I’ll tell you, no worries about that. But before we make it there, rest assured there will be some more juicy grime I’ll drag you through. So follow on here or there to make sure you don’t miss out, and buckle up for the next dip on this roller-coaster ride through hell!

The feature image is a low-resolution reproduction of the Moonrise painting by Stanislaw Maslowski. It originally comes from Wikimedia Commons where more information on the painting, the reproduction and the sharing conditions can be found.

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