• Vipan Maini

Overcoming My Biggest Life Challenge: 8 Key Lessons Learned

Updated: Feb 2

Undoubtedly, at some point in our lives, we will face major adversity, or "life shock". How we respond to this event is a key determinant on our well being and peace of mind. I want to use this blog to share what I learned from my biggest challenge in the hope that it will help you if you encounter similar turbulence in your life.

When I started writing this blog, I suddenly realised that it is 11 years this week that I suffered my first of 2 heart attacks in 18 months. So it is rather poignant that I am writing about my experience at this time. Its been a crazy rollercoaster of a journey with some huge lows. However, I have learned an immense amount about myself and, looking back, I don't regret what I've been through as it has taught me so much and presented opportunities that I wouldn't have had before.

Before that eventful day in January, I had always thought of myself as immune to major physical ailments, especially as I had always been keen on sport and keeping fit, training 3 times a week since I was 18 ( I was then in my early 40s). So even after feeling v unwell after coming home from a gym session, I thought I had just overtrained - having a heart attack was laughable, albeit slightly painfully, even as my wife called the ambulance.

As the event had occurred during the weekend, I had to stay in hospital over the weekend waiting for test results and to see various specialists. During that time I remember being immensely frustrated at having to stay in a bed, total loss of independence in a ward filled with people at least 30 years older than me. It was a complete anathema for me to be reliant on other people, especially when I felt I was fine and that this was a just a storm in a teacup.

I was not a good patient and refused to be wheeled to the bathroom as instructed by the ward sister. Eventually, I managed to extinguish her patience, she made me sign a waiver to absolve the hospital of blame in case something happened to me during my walk to the bathroom! It was also when she delivered a bombshell telling me that the tests came back showing I had a heart attack, hence her concern at my behaviour! Wow, what a bombshell...wasn't quite expecting to hear that at 230am!! Needless to say, I didn't sleep after that. Probably the worst night of my life - mind and heart racing at 1000miles an hour - the overflow of emotions - anger, fear, anxiety, feelings of injustice, frustration. I wandered about the wellbeing of my family, would I be able to work again? Anger at the world at my ill-luck! Why me? I did what the doctors say - exercise regularly, eat well, social drinker only and didn't do drugs or smoke! What was going on!!!??

Despite the pronouncement of the nurse, the blood tests were not 100 per cent conclusive so I underwent a procedure called an angioplasty, which enables the surgeons to view your heart and perform surgery if required, whilst you are awake! Have to admit it felt rather odd feeling all the rummaging going on around my heart whilst watching it on a big screen! The Cardiac surgeon began by reassuring me that it was really unlikely ( he said 1/100) that I had suffered a heart attack but they needed to be sure. However, within 5 minutes his tone completely changed and apologised and said what I thought was impossible..not only had I had a heart attack but it was likely that I had at least one other in the past! All my main arteries were completely blocked and they needed to open some of the worst affected ones by inserting stents. 5 stents later and I was back in the ward, so many thoughts and emotions swirling inside my head; confusion, bewilderment, sadness, fear to name some!

Although I was deemed well enough physically to be released from hospital 2 days later, it would take me much longer to come to terms with what happened. When I suffered a second heart attack only 18 months later, I realised my recovery was not going to be straightforward. It took me many years of learning to realise what I needed to do to move forwards in my life and accept what had happened. Even to this day, I am still learning and still have bad days. Thankfully there are now very few and I know have the benefit of putting into practice some key lessons which helped me enormously.

Lesson 1: Having a strong support network is essential to help your recovery.

Family and friends play a vital role in how you recover after a traumatic event. Especially during the early days after the first heart attack and again similarly after the second - in particular, having the support of my wife as well as other close family and friends. They never wavered in their belief in me and my ability to recover which, in turn, boosted my morale and kept my spirits up. My wife has not only been a constant source of support but also at times a stern friend preventing me from wallowing in self-pity.

Lesson 2: Be kind to yourself and give yourself time to heal.

The temptation is, especially for impatient people such as myself, to try and rush our recovery and get back to "normal" as soon as possible. However, this approach does not allow you time to process what has happened to you and to recognise that changes have to be made. It's not clear immediately after the event what those changes are - for work, or more importantly for your approach to life and your family. I was determined to get back to fitness and training in the shortest time possible, with the completely wrong assumption that once I was physically healed, all would be good! It took me a long time to realise that physical wellness is a veneer of well being but what's much more important is to understand the psychological changes that have occurred and the significance of these for your future well being.

Be kind to yourself both physically and mentally. You need time to process the event, and there is no need to try and fast forward the recovery process. For what purpose? The extra few weeks of rest and reflection are not only invaluable but essential for your future well being, so take them!

You might be thinking, " but what should I be contemplating during this time?" There have to be major changes in your life because of the event, but it is still possible to lead a fulfilling life with meaning and purpose. Use the time to identify possibilities and to reassess your priorities.