My Heart.

March 18, 2023

My Heart.

May 29, 2023

"I want to live, I want to give, I've been a miner for a heart of gold, It's these expressions I never give, That keep me searchin' for a heart of gold, and I'm getting old.” - "Heart of Gold" by Neil Young

I don’t know whether I failed my heart, or my heart failed me. Either way, I’m trying to make sense of the fact that I had a heart attack at 62 last month.

I woke up on President’s Day morning and knew something was very wrong. A boa constrictor had wrapped itself around my chest. I struggled to breathe, was drenched in sweat, and my jaw ached terribly. I told my wife I needed to get to the hospital, just a handful of minutes away.

I thought I was going to have a heart attack, but when they looked at the EKG, they told me I was actually already in the middle of having one. The cardiologist had a stent in my blocked artery in what seemed like 15 minutes.

The worst part of that morning is knowing the pain and fear it inflicted on my wife, who drove me to the ER (important tip: don’t do this, call 911), her seeing the pain and panic on my face as I was wheeled into the Cath lab. Perhaps even worse was the tearful call I had with my daughter shortly after being in the clear, knowing that she knew I went in, and she didn’t know if I would come back out. Her Mom died when she was 8 years old and the thought of her losing a second parent is devastating to me.

This event has brought up in sharp detail the memory of finding my father in his side yard, fallen in the leaves he was raking, trying to revive him. It was the first time I’d touched my lips to his since I was a small boy. He was 59 when he died, three years younger than I am now. I was lucky. He was not.

So, what happens next? It’s a question I’m still trying to answer and thankfully continue to be able to consider each day that I wake up.

For the past 25 years, I have worked for EngAGE, where we provide life-enhancing programs in arts, well-being, lifelong learning, community building and intergenerational connection to people living in senior and intergenerational affordable housing. Having thought about better ways to get older for a long time, I am now trying to practice what I’ve preached, so here are some ideas I am applying to my own journey.

The more obvious ones I’ll mention briefly - following medical advice, exercise, mindfulness/meditation, cutting out drinking - and below more detail on some finer points.

Eating healthy: I am not on a diet, eating healthy is my lifestyle now. I am following a nutrition plan created by my friend and EngAGE board member Dr. Greg Berkoff.

Mental health: I am watching out for signs of depression, isolation, and loneliness, and am ready to go back to therapy; I am also trying to constantly connect with family and good friends.

Mental attitude: When I find myself feeling down about what happened or where I am in life, I try to feel a positive, strong sense of being lucky to be alive, as we all should feel, each day.

Gratitude: I practice it actively each day, thankful for my life, my friends and family, for each breath.

Community: I want to continue to create a sense of community, belonging and social connection in my day-to-day life.

Creativity/hobbies: I have been wanting to get back to being a more creative person in my personal life. I have taken up drawing, creative writing, photography as I travel and move through my world.

Nature: I have been walking outside more, trying to get back to a love for walking and hiking and taking in the stunning beauty of the great outdoors.

Purpose: As a person in midlife, I have been paying attention to my ongoing sense of purpose and how I want to live the rest of my life and give back.

Forgiveness: I am working to forgive myself. When we experience a traumatic incident, it’s easy to blame ourselves. I felt responsible for what happened to me and how deeply it affected the people I love, especially my wife and daughter.

After having suffered a heart attack, I would not wish it on anyone – they hurt terribly, it scared me more than I can tell you, and I realize how much I want to live on, to spend more time with my wife, daughter, family and friends. It’s never too late to make this phase, or every phase, of your life better for you and the people you love. Carpe diem.

Tim Carpenter is the CEO and Founder of EngAGE, a nationally-recognized model for creating community and purpose in affordable housing. www.engagedaging.org

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