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Monday, February 1, 2010

Can You Hear My Heart Beat, Heart Beat?

June 27th 2008 - My Heart Beats for HerImage by Stephen Poff via Flickr


There was a lot going on this past weekend.

Saturday I needed to get my dogs bathed. Another plumbing issue reared it's ugly head on Saturday evening necessitating a trip to the hardware store. Saturday's mail brought the wrong strength of one of my prescription medications and I only have about 10 days left of the correct strength. I also received a letter from Social Security informing me that they want to conduct a Continuing Disability Review and expect all the paperwork sent to me returned completed by March 1st.

I went to bed Saturday night aware that the culmination of all my hard work training my dog Brunswick would be put to the test Sunday afternoon when we would go to PetsMart and participate in the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test.

Perhaps this list doesn't really seem like a lot, but my body let me know differently. I got the worst night's sleep Saturday into Sunday thanks to an exacerbation of my dysautonomia symptoms. I haven't talked a lot about dysautonomia on my blog, but I really should. If I were to rank my current health problems in terms of troublesome symptoms it would be:
  1. dysautonomia
  2. chronic fatigue
  3. chronic pain
What is dysautonomia? Here is a definition I like from the National Dysautonomia Research Foundation:


Dysautonomia is a general term used to describe a breakdown, or failure of the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system controls much of your involuntary functions. Symptoms are wide ranging and can include problems with the regulation of heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and perspiration. Other symptoms include fatigue, lightheadedness, feeling faint or passing out (syncope), weakness and cognitive impairment.


The cluster of symptoms that kept me up all night and into the early morning hours were a rapid heart beat, the feeling of my heart pounding and skipping beats and a corresponding feeling of panic, like I was running away from a tiger. It felt like someone had switched on my fight-or-flight reflex and my body was responding accordingly. To take a few steps in my shoes, take a moment and just image a time when you felt really freaked out: a car accident, a lost child, an unfriendly animal approaching you, a natural disaster or a seriously scary roller coaster ride. That's what my dysautonomia flare-ups feel like.

So Saturday night I'd drift off to sleep only to wake up because of my pounding heart. Or worse yet, my dreams became tainted by my heart's hi-jinx and I started having nightmares where I faced perilous situations, which also woke me up. Every time I was awake, I tried to focus on my breathing or tried counting sheep or tried focusing on positive thoughts or tried to embrace stillness and calm. Unfortunately, my body would have nothing to do with it. I tried not to look at the clock each time I woke up. Unsuccessful in this attempt, I observed that I was up about every half hour.

After about 4 hours, the symptoms started to subside and I was able to really fall asleep. With Brunswick's CGC test, I could not compensate for my trouble getting to sleep by sleeping in Sunday morning. So only got about 4 hours of good sleep Saturday night.

Yes, I think it is time to talk more about dysautonomia this week and explore, among other things, how poorly my body seems to handle even small amounts of stress now.

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