I Didn’t Think I Was Dying, But I Was


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“I’m currently creating the woman that I want to be, excuse me while I become extremely selfish with myself, time and energy”…. 

I was struggling to get started writing this blog post when I came across the above quote in my Instagram feed. It is PERFECT. Exactly what I needed to hear to get me inspired to write. I am living this mantra right now at 50- but it was a very long road to get here. 

Let’s go back to 2018. I was 48. In a very bad place emotionally, dealing with a lot of stress. Too much stress honestly. And very badly equipped to deal with it all because I didn’t know how to take care of ME. All my life I’ve been the responsible one. The one everyone could depend on. Old reliable. But I never once thought about myself, and as such had a horrible time with setting boundaries. People pleasers are like that. I let people treat me in unacceptable ways and so put up with lots of situations which were detrimental to my emotional and consequently, physical well being. 

April 2018 it all came to a head. Dealing with a teenage daughter that was getting a little rebellious, as well as dealing with issues in my marriage which were putting a strain on my spouse and myself. Not having the skills to deal with any of it, I bottled up my emotions and one day just had a complete, ugly meltdown. Little did I know at that moment that I ended up having a massive heart attack that almost killed me. 

Wait, you’re saying. How can you not know you’re having a heart attack? Well. It wasn’t a fall-to-my-knees, clutching my chest moment like in the movies. It was like nothing. For real. For days following my breaking point, my only symptom was vague shortness of breath that came and went. That’s it. No nausea. No sweating. No pain. Zero. Zilch.

I thought I had heartburn, or most likely an ulcer from all the stress. The only thing that saved me was the feeling I had that something just wasn’t right. I’m sure many of you have had that feeling. You know what that is? That’s your intuition kicking in, and let me tell you- LISTEN TO IT.

It never steers you wrong. That’s the only reason I took myself to the hospital. I felt something was wrong, but wasn’t sure what it was . I definitely didn’t think I was dying. But I was. When I got to the hospital they almost sent me home after the EKG. Nothing showed up and the nurse was convinced that it was probably an ulcer. Thankfully the doctor on duty was listening to his instinct. He decided to send me for a chest x-ray and blood work. If he hadn’t, I would’ve gone home, popped some Rolaids and would never wake up after going to bed. It is only after those tests that I learned that I was having the heart attack right there in the ER.

The doctor told me I was one lucky lady, that most definitely I had guardian angels who were watching over me. In under an hour I was whisked away by ambulance from St. Joe’s to St. Mike’s where a team of cardiologists was waiting for me to have an emergency angioplasty and a stent inserted to open the closed artery. I remember lying in the cardiac care unit, completely stunned at what had just transpired. I was 48. How on earth does something like that happen to an otherwise healthy, young woman? Well, one word- stress. What a lesson the universe gave me that day. 

In the following weeks and months of recovery I took up painting, meditation and mindfulness practices as therapy. I started to take care of me, all of me- emotional and physical. All these things have filled me with so much joy. I started to post my artwork on social media and was approached by different galleries to showcase my work. I got a new lease on life! The heart attack was a catalyst for me to change into the best, true version of myself.The person I was meant to be. Here I am now at 50, and I feel like life is just beginning! I’m excited for the future- there are many exciting things on the horizon. 

My parting words of advice- take care of your minds and your hearts. You are so worth it. And always listen to that little voice… 

Ela x 

Liz "Ela" Szymczak

Liz "Ela" Szymczak


One Response

  1. My Dear Ela,

    I had no idea that your heart attack was so serious! To me you are still a young woman, four years younger than me. You are an inspiration to me now. Also, one of the reasons I don’t work anymore is my sensitivity to stress. I believe in God and His holy angels too, that we all have a guardian angel since birth. I will pray that you will continue to flourish in your artwork, which I do admire, that you will continue taking good care of your mental and physical health. Sto lat! Love, Isa.

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