A man lying in bed looking stressed while swirls of red, yellow, and orange swirl around. The tv on his nightstand has a heart monitor line on it.

Anxiety You Can't Shake. And Earwigs.

Anxiety. Like packets of ketchup at the fast-food drive-thru, it comes with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and chronic illness whether you ask for it or not.

For many years, I was able to ignore those little warm packets of worry and toss them out along with the wayward fries and greasy napkins that inevitably collect at the bottom of the bag.

But, lately, things have changed.

Now, my brain is starting to feel like it ate an entire handful of those usually-forgotten anxiety packets and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

Dealing with RA co-morbidities

Thirty years, give or take – that’s how long I’ve been living with RA and its numerous co-morbidities.

Ranging from the life-threatening (heart disease, pneumonia, and infections) to the ridiculous (a foot that is shaped like a boomerang, very important parts of me temporarily changing color, and hair falling out).

The side effects that chronic illness and, more specifically, rheumatoid arthritis can cause are a constant burden that must be dealt with.

I thought I was impervious to worry

So, I did deal with it all. From the joint replacements to the weird skin blemishes without much issue, none of it really swayed me.

Even when I was diagnosed with lymphoma, I watched as everyone around me lost their collective minds while I simply said, "It is what it is."

After 30 years of everything the medical world could throw at me, I thought I was impervious to worry. What’s that thing they say about hubris?

A previous heart attack

My heart – the one part of my body that I never thought would cause me problems - has been acting up lately. And suddenly, I’m feeling something I’ve never dealt with before – anxiety. Here’s the funny part: I had my heart attack years ago.

It was the night after my left shoulder replacement. I was sitting in the hospital bed, staring at a pile of what they generously called "mac and cheese" when I felt it. A pain in my chest, a tingle in my right arm, and then the dead giveaway – I began to sweat profusely.

I knew instantly what had happened, but it took the nurses and physician assistants (PAs) a few minutes to catch up. Side note: Why is it always such a shock to medical professionals that I know what’s going on with my own body before the tests do? Anyway, I digress.

Treating the blockage

Long story short, once confirmed I was taken on a 45-minute whirlwind tour of the finest basement tunnels of 3 NYC hospitals, complete with stops for nitro-glycerin mixers and a CAT scan virtual reality ride (it was very realistic!).

Then I waited for 6 hours as the debate raged over the best course of treatment while my heart slowly died.

In the end, they "Roto-Rootered" my femoral artery and opened up those pesky blockages, but not before I lost 20 percent of my ticker muscle. Even with all of that, I was sort of fine with everything, taking it all in stride.

Experiencing heart-related symptoms

Fast forward to about 6 months ago when my rheumatoid arthritis was acting up and I was desperately trying to find a solution, which I did. It turns out that there might be something to all those reports about diet affecting RA after all.

Thing is - I was never a pro-diet guy, and that’s why to spite me the universe made it work when I tried diet as a last-ditch effort. Finally, my RA was being quelled to levels I had only seen pre-cancer, and things were quiet.

Funny that it’s only when things are dead silent that you start to hear things you missed before.

It turns out my heart had been yelling the whole time, but its cries were drowned out by RA, cancer, and all the other co-morbidities.

Now, though, I heard it loud and clear, and it was saying, "Hey! It’s me! Your heart! I’m here and, in fact, I’m going to prove it by beating extra hard!"

Symptoms of ventricular arrhythmia

Four months ago, I started having VPCs (ventricular premature complexes), which most people would call "skipped beats," or "palpitations."

It’s a type of ventricular arrhythmia, and it feels like your heart is about 3 seconds away from exploding like a watermelon with a firecracker inside. Seriously, it feels like your heart is a beat away from death.

As you can imagine, this causes anxiety, something I have never really dealt with before. I mean, who wouldn’t be anxious if their life could end at any time? There’s just one problem – it’s not really life-threatening at all.

Managing axiety related to heart issues

So, now, thanks to RA, I have a heart issue that feels like I’m dying, and the 2 halves of my brain are at war with each other like they are cola brands.

The left side keeps worrying that I’ll drop dead before I can take another Pepsi challenge. Fortunately, there’s the other, right, rational side of my brain to tell me that that it’s not life-threatening and, even if it somehow was, the implanted defibrillator I have will make sure I don’t die.

Ahh, problem solved, right? Wrong.

The anxiety is hard to turn off

I have learned as of late that’s not how anxiety works. Anxiety doesn’t care about trivial things like facts or test results or reality.

It just cares how you feel, and when you feel like you’re going to die, then it makes you scared like you are going to die, and that’s like, pretty high up on the scary things list. Right under earwigs and tapeworms, in fact. It’s anxiety that I can’t tamp down and don’t know how to turn off.

I wish I could end this post like I normally do with some tips and tricks, or a way to help you on your anxiety journey. But frankly, I haven’t figured it out yet.

Once I do, though, you’ll be the first to know because I can’t continue like this. I have to find a way to deal with it. That and earwigs. Talk soon.

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