Monday, January 12, 2015

I am so Over all the Optimism and Heart Health Articles

I just know something is wrong with this study, bad wrong.  But when I try and analyze the findings and results, my reaction is one of confusion and anger.
Yes, I am smiling like the person in the study photo!  I am optimistic! (Fooled you :) )

Confusion is a dissection symptom confronting me daily.  My confusion is not normal, but the fact that I stay confused on a daily basis is a normal daily issue I am used to.

But anger is not one of my normal responses.  So when I got really irritated after reading about the study described below I knew something was up.  I just had to figure out what was wrong.  Why was I so mad?

First of all the study seemed to be positive, good news rather than bad.  The title. "Optimism and Cardiovascular Health.  Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis" even had a 'feel good catchy' ring to it but cost thirty seven dollars to buy.  I stayed content with reading the many third party reviews of the study.  Thirty seven dollars will be better off spent on my numerous medications.

So in all fairness I am not qualified to review the actual study.

But I can give you my thoughts on the way numerous national publications such as, TIME magazine's review of the study in their recent article entitled, "How Optimism Might Be Good For Your Heart"; and U.S. News and World Report's "Study Suggest Correlation Between Heart Health and Optimism".

The U.S. News and World Report's write up offers a by-line  under the title that says: "Smile.  It'll make your heart happy."  The article lead photo features a smiling young person holding a cup of coffee with the caption, "A new study suggest optimism could be linked to cardiovascular health."

The write up quotes the study's author, Rosalba Hernandez, as stating, "individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts."

Apparently, abundant optimism is more often than not a companion to lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, higher levels of physical activities, healthier body mass index measurements and lower rates of smoking.   The article did not really specify if optimism produced the healthier attributes or if optimism was a collateral product of possessing these healthy attributes.

My immediate take away impression though was one of guilt and anger.  I felt guilty because even though I try to stay optimistic, I am also realistically pessimistic too.  I say realistically pessimistic because I struggle with physical and mental issues each day.  I am not always 'happy go lucky' or all 'smiles' like the photo of the young woman in the article.

I asked myself, 'am I doing something wrong?'  Ouch!  It hurt to smile like that.

What about all my friends who struggle with Marfan Syndrome issues or those living, like me, with aortic aneurysms and dissections?

I think of their ongoing surgeries and pain and daily struggles.  The line from the OneRepublic song "Counting Stars', "everything that kills me makes me feel alive" is so true for many, including myself.

"O.K. Kevin, take the article in context," I told myself.  Perhaps the article was written about the average person, you know, the one without Marfan Syndrome or a dissected aorta or cancer or other serious health issues.  Perhaps the article was written about a 'normal' person.

But many studies show Americans are really less healthy and die sooner than others in the world.

The Huffington Post states that only one in three Americans are truly happy.  Yet Huffington also tells us that 92% of Americans are actually optimistic.

So we are optimistic, unhappy and a third of us are truly healthy.

Is the take away from the articles about optimism supposed to be 'if I smile and act perkily bubbly, then I will be healthy?"  I don't think so.

Thankfully, the last line in the U.S. News and World Report actually helped me make sense of the entire issue of optimism, happiness and cardiovascular health.

The last sentence mentioned a study entitled "Heart Health When Life is Satisfying".  This study proposed that heart health is really promoted when the basics of life - one's job or purpose, one's family, one's sex life and one's self all exist in a stable, satisfactory state.

One's love relationship, leisure activities or standard of living actually had little or no measurable positive impact on cardiovascular health.

I can grasp this concept of a 'stable, satisfactory state' affording a positive benefit to cardiovascular health.

Walking miles for daily water can be a satisfactory state when one returns with water to a loved family, weary but fulfilled after the hard work.

I cannot relate to the more optimism - more heart health line of reasoning when the  whole 'optimism' premiss is based around the ostrich concept.

In fact, I would label this more optimism approach as one of denial.  Deny the fact that our diets do not contain outrageous amounts of sugar, salt and inflammatory substances and our bodies will be deceived into rushing forward, fueled by adrenaline, until we collapse.   Deny that our hectic, out of touch with nature lifestyles contribute to hypertension.

We exist in a state of optimistic denial.

Today I am alive.  I am momentarily stable and I am in a satisfactory state with respect to life's fundamentals.  That is good enough for me.  I can't be the young person with the big gleeful smile in the article's main photo. It'd be a contrived smile.  I can grin a little though.

I am just so over people and media telling me that an optimistic attitude and heart health go hand in hand.

So let's be realistic.  I am alive.  I woke up this morning despite all the hurt and heart-aorta worry and bet that if truth be known, my sometimes pessimistic, dire outlook and attitude, combined with my daily walks, spirituality seeking moments, non-processed food diet and medications make me just as heart healthy as most others - even if it is my own perception.  Yes, "everything that kills me makes me feel alive."  It does.  It really does.  I acknowledge that despite the hurt and pain and struggles, despite the dour smirk, I am complete.

In my old age I have decided that there really are no answers, just questions.

After reading all the optimistic health articles and writing this post I am even more confused about everything heart health related.

I think I'll go take a walk and listen to the birds sing in the drizzling rain outside.  They sound happy and look healthy.  Are birds optimistic?

And it always pays to listen to the little birdies.  When I walked out in the drizzle, one whispered in my ear something astounding!

So I went back into the house and did a little research and the bird was right!

The Huffington Post actually reports that university studies show that pessimists live longer!  It is right here in this link! Yes!

I am vindicated.

And I am even more convinced there are no answers in life.  Only questions and my dour smirk or perky grin, depending on how bad I really hurt.

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