I was hiking yesterday, alone. (My preferred hiking mode, I kind of feel like Mary Oliver, if I walk in the woods with you, I must love you very much). I was feeling good and hitting the hills hard. It was then that I decided to look at my watch to see how my heart was doing. Bad idea.
I looked down and saw my heart rate was like a 80. I thought, “cool, ok, just getting it going...”
I hit a couple more hills hard and checked it again, this time it was like 140, and I thought, “awesome, pushing it harder and getting myself moving.”
I looked again a little while later, it was 230, this time I thought, “Fuck, that seems high, but I feel fine...”
Again, still later, I looked down and it was 340 and I thought, “OMG, this can’t be right! I don’t think your heart rate ever goes this high without having a heart attack...”
I inventoried myself:
I was not that out of breath.
I had no chest pain.
I felt fine, good even.
What the fuck was going on?
I made a mental note to check with my doctor because this did not seem normal even though I felt fine.
As I hiked on, this whole heart rate thing continued to naw at me.
“Was I really ok?”
“Was I going to stroke out on the trail?”
“Should I turn back towards home?”
I pressed on because that is who I am. Nothing like a fucking out of control heart rate to stop me from getting those miles on the counter.
I did realize that this is likely not normal behavior and took note that, once again, I was behaving like a nut job, I mean I am pretty sure most normal people would stop and seek medical attention...but nope, not me, I press fonward (fucking onward).
I couldn't shake the feeling that something was off so I stopped and looked at my watch...maybe there was something wrong with it. Now, I have to fully own here that I was more concerned that my watch was not logging every mile than I was that I was possibly dying on a hill in the woods alone...which just gives you a tiny window into the depths of my crazy.
When I actually stopped and looked at my watch more carefully, I notice that now my heart rate was at 550. Ok, even I know that isn’t even possible...and I was asymptomatic. So I looked carefully at my watch...
I was looking at the elevation change...not the heart rate monitor. My heart rate was 110. At that point in the hike, I had made 550 feet of elevation change so far.
HAHAHA! And also, I am seriously not ok in the head!
I was relieved and started laughing at myself. Can you imagine if I was someone else? I might have called 911 for help. I might have called a friend to come get me. I might have really decided I was dying and sat down to just let myself be consumed by heart failure.
Thankfully, I did not embarrass myself or waste resources on my fictitious heart issue. That would have been so bad and way less funny.
And no one would have known of my ridiculousness except I had to write it down and share it...because, One, it is funny; Two, I share it as a Public Service Message for those who might also read their iWatch wrong out on the trail; Three, because it is yet another example of me getting the facts wrong and drawing incorrect conclusions; and finally Four, because pausing still saves me from myself a great deal of the time.
I mean, it is really funny. I was like legit concerned but not enough to stop, which is really how I operate in life in general. I would be really pissed if my hike or life was interrupted by an inconvenient heart attack. What the fuck is wrong with me?
And I do offer it up as a warning to other distracted hikers who can’t be bothered to really look at their watch face for the correct information...slow down, lest you might have an imaginary heart attack that is really your elevation gain.
And again, I took in information about my environment, drew the conclusion that I was likely going to die on that fucking trail and got it wrong again. If I had a nickel...
It was a good reminder for me to see how I can still be absolutely sure about something that is totally incorrect. And, even though I am sure that I am right, I still have the magical thinking that allows me to ignore the warning signs and keep pressing forward. In this mad rush to live life, I do not heed the warning and move forward pushing, always fucking pushing the limits.
And finally, pausing, instead of reacting saved me from having a totally different Sunday. I mean if I would have reacted immediately, I might have caused all kinds of people to have a wholly different day. I am so thankful for the pause, because it allows me to wait long enough that some Divinity can enter the Erin realm which is so needed, for all our sakes!
And I learned something else, that my body will not lie to me. Even though my head received information to the contrary, I did check in with my body...and it was fine. I went with what it said over what my technology said and that made a huge difference in my reality.
This may not seem like huge news to anyone but as someone who has abused the shit out of her body for the whole of her life, it was nice that me and my body had done the work to evolve into a place where I could rely upon the information I was receiving from it. That we were on actual speaking terms, that I could listen and evaluate it better.
As someone who has starved herself, over done it with exercise and diets. Someone who has hated her body and done everything she could to annihilate it, it was pretty wonderful thing that my head and body were in sync yesterday and were able to have each others’s back, even in the face of numbers on a screen that had an air of reliability.
For me, it was one of those sublime moments when in a weird way I got to experience how much I have changed from who I used to be.
Back in 2012 when I had an actual mini stroke, I ignored it. I pretend that I wasn’t feeling badly. I went to fucking lunch instead of seeking medical care. My body and I were still at war back then and even after a long season and final tennis match, I wasn’t going to miss lunch, even though I didn’t feel well and knew something was really wrong.
I ended up in the ER that day, and the hospital that night. I lost the ability to talk and could somehow feel the blockage in my brain...I was very lucky in that it cleared of its own accord quickly and with minimal lasting effects. It took a few months, but I was eventually fine.
So yesterday when I paid more attention to my body than my watch, was a good sign...but also a further indicator that I might have some more work to do...
I mean I didn’t stop hiking, just like years ago when I went to lunch anyway. I still will not stop to get a painful rock out of my shoe when hiking. I have some work to do on my refusal to stop, when there are indicators that even a brief pause might be warranted.
I am really grateful that I was able to pause long enough yesterday to more fully evaluate the data coming at me. Allow myself to take it all in and then compare that to what my body was telling me. And arrive at a place where I cared enough about myself to give it a minute to check out, to touch in with myself to more carefully evaluate how I was actually doing.
And I am super grateful that what appeared to be a cardiac level event really just turned out to be me not being present enough to read my watch correctly. And I am grateful that I was able to adjust my course yesterday and slow down and enjoy my hike like it was my last, I mean, for fuck’s sake, I thought it actually was for a few minutes there.
I am also super grateful that my legs still work to move me up and down mountains. That I don’t hate myself as much as I used to. That I am ok sharing something this ridiculous with you because I have the ability to laugh at myself today. And I am grateful that I have come to have this interested but not reactive relationship with my mind that tells me all sorts of things, all day long.
I am grateful I didn’t die by heart failure out on the trail. I am grateful that my actual highest heart rate was only 159 and not 1200 which is what I covered in elevation change. I am grateful that I also took the time to figure out all the heart monitoring stuff my iWatch actually does, and took the time to set up the Afib and EKG function, just in case. No assurances that I will read the data correctly, just that I now have it activated, just in case.
And mostly, I am grateful for the fact that I can write about this experience, laugh at myself and can still hike up and down the glorious mountains that surround my home. At peace in body and mind, these two no longer at war with each other and now in a much more loving relationship, where mutual care and concern reigns supreme...and what appears to be a cardiac crisis, is actually just a cardiac event, one where I am able to deepen the love I have for myself and take care of myself in ways that I previously been unable or unwilling.