Today, my heart hurts.
I don’t mean in a metaphorical sense. I mean literally. Because I have a heart condition (not life-threatening) and today is one of those days.
I’m betting anyone with a chronic illness understands what I mean. I can go months with only minor symptoms—palpitations, the occasional twinge—but then boom, I have a day or two when I’m practically doubled-over, clutching my chest like a dad who just got his teen daughter’s cell phone bill.
I have yet to find a pattern for these bad heart days. They tend to strike at will and there’s not much I can do about them except breathe my way through them. But it makes me appreciate all the good days. Because when it comes down to it, I’m so very lucky. My symptoms are generally mild and easily managed, unlike a lot of other people who deal with SVT (supraventricular tachycardia). I’ve never had to go to the ER because my heart rate wouldn’t slow. I don’t have to take medication to keep it under control.
Days like these make me think of the many people who walk around with invisible illnesses, struggling to make it through the day although you’d never know it. They’re a special kind of warrior, people who deal with chronic pain and invisible symptoms. They don’t get the same kind of respect and understanding people offer someone with a cast on their arm, but their struggles are no less real.
And it’s not just the average person who misjudges people with chronic illnesses—medical professionals can misjudge and misdiagnose them too. I got a small taste of that when, as a fifteen-year-old claiming chest pains, the doctors kept asking me if I was stressed and then implied that SVT was a diagnosis they landed on only because they could find no physical evidence and had ruled out everything else. I was only a teen, but I wasn’t stupid. I could see the doubt. (If you want to learn more about when I finally learned the truth, you can read about that here.)
I take that experience and multiple it by about a hundred to imagine what so many people with chronic illnesses go through, running the gauntlet of skeptical specialists and doubting friends. As if handling an illness isn’t enough, they also have to battle to be heard and fight to be supported.
So yeah, days like these are frustrating, but days like these are also beautiful. They remind me how lucky I am. My bad heart days are infrequent. I have an official diagnosis I can point to as an explanation. I have a husband who picks up the slack when I’m struggling and never shames me for asking for help.
My bad heart days remind me of all the good things. So I really can’t be too mad about it. And the reality is, my wonky, imperfect heart keeps beating, keeps powering through. How could I ever be upset about that?