It was only after I survived a heart attack that I first got an insider’s perspective on how it actually feels to be depressed. Really depressed. Really, seriously depressed. Up until then, like many of you reading this, I was disdainful of this particular mental health diagnosis, often silently smirking things like: “Oh, for Pete’s sake, why can’t they just pull up their socks, quit whining, and get on with it?”
But after my heart attack, absolutely convinced by every twinge that yet another horrific cardiac event was imminent, I somehow fell into the grip of an icy, low-grade terror, what Frances Perkins has described as “the slow menace of a glacier”. I knew something was terribly wrong with me, but could not seem to pull myself out of this dark hole that was my new life.
Later, while at Mayo Clinic, I was actually relieved to learn that these ongoing feelings of profound despair were common among heart patients. In fact, I learned from cardiologists there that up to 65% of heart attack survivors experience significant depression, yet fewer than 10% are appropriately identified.
Cardiac psychologist Dr. Stephen Parker (and a fellow heart attack survivor who also experienced severe depression himself) writes:
“I think the depression and anxiety following a heart attack are different than the depression and anxiety that most therapists encounter, and both are going to be more resistant to treat because there are damned good reasons to feel anxious and depressed.
“A heart attack is a deeply wounding event, and it is a wound that takes a long time to recover from, whatever the treatment.” Continue reading