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Working too hard can give you a heart attack-ack-ack-ack

18 Apr

March was a rough month for me. I brought it all upon myself but that didn’t make it any easier. The head technician at work took the month to go tour around Asia, and I volunteered to cover his shifts. This meant a month of working 6 days a week and close to 60 hours. Add on top of this cat sitting, dog sitting, studying for my final semester of school and this led to a life limited to work and animals. Work wasn’t the most joyful either. I had to work with Dr. Z who is quite possibly the most difficult, arrogant man in the world. But he signs my paychecks, so I have to grin and bear it. We also took in a precious little pug puppy who after weeks of intense nursing passed away, leaving me devastated but too burnt out to even think of sitting down and crying.

At night I would come home (sometimes to cat/dog sitting clients’ apartments), eat, shower, study as much as possible, and maybe allow myself a bit of time to write in my journal or read. The exhaustion of a long day would overcome me as I turned out the light. This is when my heart would start to pound. I could feel it in my ears, in my hands, in my feet. Breathing would become difficult. It felt almost as if I was drowning. I’ve been having nighttime anxiety attacks for the last 3 or so years, but those were maybe once every other month. This was happening every night. I became accustomed to listening to Buddhist podcasts I had downloaded. I used them to slow down my breathing, to let go of anger, to breathe loving presence into myself. But night after night, there it would be, my pounding tell-tale heart. As my anxiety attacks became worse and more frequent, I found myself almost unable to focus on the teachings. I could hardly even focus on the words the teachers were saying.

Then one night, toward the end of the crazy work run, I left work and on the train home thought over the list of things that I had to do: catch up on schoolwork, update blog, clean the bathroom, book flights to San Francisco. But as I walked into the door of my apartment, I said fuck it all and changed into my workout clothes, grabbed my boxing gloves and went to the kickboxing center. Every muscle in my body felt wound up, and I guiltily walked into the room, knowing my instructor has noticed that I haven’t been in to work out in a month. He just smiled at me though and said welcome back.

The workout began. Running, jumping jacks, burpees, crunches, planks, and the millions of varieties on all of these. But unlike other times when I have worked out, I moved with an intensity, with an energy burning inside that I was unaware of. When we got to the point in the class where we got to punch and kick the bags, I went crazy. I hit and kicked harder than I knew was possible. With each swing I thought of all the things that have made me angry, disappointed, frustrated. I saw the face of Dr. Z and punched with each condescending thing he has said to me. I thought of the puppy dying. I thought of people shoving me on the train. I thought of every moment where I tried to breathe through an emotion instead of confronting it.

I felt a light tap on my shoulder, as my instructor told me class was over. I was dripping with sweat, breathing heavy, every muscle in my body shaking.

“Good workout today, champ,” he said to me. All I could to was nod and try to catch my breath.

At home in the shower, I felt elated. I felt ready to take on the world. My mind was awake and refreshed and clear. I thought of things I wanted to write, places I want to go, paths I want to go down. I felt like I could deal with it all. “Bring it, world. I can take on anything.” And that night, my heart stayed calm as I slipped into sleep with ease.

I love Buddhism. I love what it teaches, but I can’t help but disagree with this idea of sublimating anger and negative feelings. Maybe I’m not doing it right or I’m approaching it wrong. Maybe my crazy workout fits in with Buddhism. I didn’t take my anger and put anything negative into the world. I didn’t hurt anyone, start a fight, say something that I might later regret. I did nothing but strengthen my body and improve myself. But it had to come out. All that anger. It didn’t go away with breathing.

Life is back to a beautifully healthy balance now. And my workouts have stayed intense. Maybe they are a form of meditation in themselves. A way to exist in the present moment, to feel alive and aware and connected. To confront the truth. Maybe sometimes the truth is simply that I’m angry and that’s okay.

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One Response to “Working too hard can give you a heart attack-ack-ack-ack”

  1. wiseone April 18, 2015 at 3:05 pm #

    I am looking forward to talking about some of this with you soon but for now ..you got it exactly right.

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