This Beating Heart

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

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| This is the 84th story of Our Life Logs |

I was born in Bryan, Ohio in September of 1993, arriving a year after the death of my older brother, who had been born with heart defects. Because I was a healthy baby, my parents had no idea that I would soon develop some defects of my own.

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By the time I was three, I had one of my two younger brothers, and I can still 50% blame him for the start of my health complications that began on a sunny, must-be-outside kind of day.  He was around a year old and not to be trusted outside without an adult; therefore, he stood at our front door with his chubby little face smashed against the glass while his hands clapped the window for me to pay attention to him.  I would run to the window and smack the glass right back, sending him into a fit of giggles that started a back-and-forth nonverbal conversation between the two of us.  Ultimately, I smacked the glass too hard and broke through, landing with one hand on his back and another in a pile of glass.  I stumbled over him and ran to the kitchen, where Dad was doing dishes, holding up my bleeding hands.  The last thing I remember is him turning around while our multi-colored rug came rushing towards my face. This was the first time I passed out.

My younger brother and me, 2000.
My younger brother and me, 2000.
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In third grade, my doctor just said I had a fancy-worded disorder (neurocardiogenic syncope) that meant I had to drink 120 ounces of water a day and add salt to all my food, while taking precautions when I felt faint. At 10 years old, I liked that I was different. I got to take pretzels and water bottles to school while my friends weren’t allowed. But this also meant that I couldn’t blow-dry my hair in the bathroom without sitting down, wear hats, or braid my hair too tight.

I continued to pass out a few times a year through high school, and in college it became 2-3 times per week. I was heavily involved in athletics, even showing horses through 4-H. My doctors assured me that I was doing everything in my power to stabilize my condition. My coaches carried pretzels in their pockets for excessive conditioning days and when I passed out just after the home stretch during a track meet.  Needles guaranteed that my head would hit the floor, and one time just the explanation of my impending ACL surgery led to my toppling over.

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It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I began to think about my disorder and how my life was different from those around me. I had been dating a guy that’s a year older than me. He was a model citizen for our community and good to me. However, the summer before he left for college, he changed. My boyfriend started being more and more intimate with me, trying things we had never done before, or even discussed doing. Each time this happened, I couldn’t say anything to stop him. My body would sense my fear and shut down.

Normally, a person’s natural fight or flight responses bring about an increased heart rate and blood pressure when faced with an onslaught of pain, fear, or even exercise. My normal reaction is the opposite. My condition causes my parasympathetic system to override sympathetic system. This causes overstimulation in my vagus nerve, and then I pass out.

My entire senior year felt like a constant freeze and unfreeze process as my boyfriend went away to college, came back to visit, and went away again. I couldn’t tell him how uncomfortable I was, because every time I tried, my words froze in my throat and nothing came out. My mind just went blank until I was alone again.

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My solution was to make myself busier than I already was, so I didn’t have any time to see my boyfriend when he was home for break. I joined the musical because I knew that after my three-hour basketball practice, I could go straight to musical practice and not get home until at least 11. I even chose to attend a college that was four hours away from him. All my actions screamed that I wanted to get away, but my voice did not.

During Christmas break of my freshman year, my dear friend from England came to surprise my family. I was so excited that she was there, but even more excited that it meant I wouldn’t ever have to be alone with my boyfriend. The only problem was that there was a two-day gap between when she returned home and when he returned to school. That gap ended up being the perfect amount of time for him to rape me for what I thought was the first time, until I learned that most of what had been occurring for the previous two years would have qualified as well.

When I went back to school for the second semester of my freshman year of college, I spent most of my time with high anxiety, fearful that I could be pregnant. I didn’t do very well in most of my classes, barely passing Chemistry with a D-. I didn’t tell anyone—not even my best friend or mom—what was going on.

I felt like I was living two lives. On one hand, I had met a group of wonderful, joyful people through an organization called Young Life. Through this organization, we were placed on teams that worked with area high schools, providing a safe and fun community environment for high school students. On the other, I was living in a dark, lonely world of anxiety.

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When I was home for spring break, I hit my breaking point. I was tired of being sad and anxious, and I was tired of hiding it from everyone I loved. I sat in my parents’ blue van in the garage while I called my boyfriend to tell him that we had to break up. I was going to drive over to his house, but I knew that if I did, it would end the same way it always had.

To this day, I cannot remember what I said to him. All I remember was his response, warping all my words to make it sound like I didn’t love him anymore. I didn’t care. When it was done, I went inside and woke my parents up to tell them. They were shocked, because they didn’t know anything had been wrong. Then I went upstairs to tell my brother, who was also asleep. He didn’t say anything, just pulled back his covers and let me lie there with him until I fell asleep. I was glad to see our relationship hadn’t changed.

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I felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I started to hang out with friends again, including the man that would later become my husband, Casey. I spent over a year figuring out who I was, spending