Joan's Story: Coping With Depression and Anxiety From Heart Failure
figured she would need months to recover physically from the heart attack 2
years ago that led to her heart failure. She didn't realize she would need just
as much time to recover emotionally.
"I was only 52 when I had the
heart attack," she says. "Heart disease runs in my family, but I thought I'd
been taking care of myself. It just hit me out of the blue. And then I got
heart failure because of my heart attack. So now I had a health problem that
wasn't going to go away."
Feeling like a "heart patient"
The heart attack and
heart failure changed how Joan saw herself. For months, she wasn't able to take
long walks in her neighborhood or meet her girlfriends for tennis dates.
"I went from being this really active person to barely being able to
walk at first," she says. "After I got out of the hospital, it took me a long
time to be able to even walk a short distance. I was so out of breath, I had to
stop three times to sit on the curb while I was trying to go around the
Joan also felt down about being a "heart patient" and all
the medicines she needed to take.
"I went into this terrible
depression," she says. "I would sit at my kitchen table and feel I was in this
cloud of dread. I didn't feel like me. I felt like, 'I'm never going to be me
On top of the depression, Joan was worried a lot. She
had cardiac rehabilitation, so she was learning how to slowly be more active.
But she was anxious that any activity would harm her heart.
like another heart attack was just waiting to happen," she said. "I could feel
my heart pounding when I would walk up some stairs, even if I went slowly. I
was convinced that I would drop dead right on the stairs. I knew I had to get
some help. I couldn't keep being sad and afraid all the time."
Joan talked to her husband and some of
her close friends about her feelings. They told her that she was the same
person they always loved. But Joan felt she needed more help. Her doctor
recommended a counselor.
The counselor "helped me see that I was
focusing on all the things I couldn't do anymore,
instead of the things I could do. I may not be able to
play singles tennis as intensely as I did before, but I can play doubles. I can
still take walks and swim. I may have to take more breaks, but I can still do
One of the ways the counselor helped Joan was by
showing her how to stop negative thoughts when they overwhelmed her. "She
taught me how to recognize when I'm saying negative things to myself and how to
stop it. Then I practice saying something positive instead."
doctor also prescribed an antidepressant, which Joan plans to take until she
and her doctor feel she is ready to stop.
Joan has gotten a lot of
her strength back. She knows that she will have good days when she has a lot of
energy, and she'll have bad days when she feels tired.
"But I'm doing much
better than I was when I was sitting on the curb outside my house and feeling
sad. I enjoy my life again."
This story is based on information gathered from many people living with heart failure.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.