Becoming Mindful

Starting to practice mindfulness and meditation techniques was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my entire life.

I’ve received a lot of feedback from others who want to begin their own practice but don’t know where to start. Hopefully by sharing my story, you’ll consider taking the next step in your journey. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources out there for curious minds alike who are looking to uncover the benefits of becoming more present. I’ll spend some time at the end of the episode to provide you with some apps, websites, and podcasts that I’ve found helpful.

I’d like to rewind to this past summer. After my heart operation in August, my anxiety was at an all-time high. I had gotten home on a Thursday and the following Monday was when it peaked. It reached a point where every foreign feeling that I felt, threw me in the vicious storyline where I thought that I was going to revert back to my dangerous heart rhythms, that my pacemaker would go off, that I’d have to go back into the hospital and then I’d be there for another week. You can see how the storyline takes off pretty quickly and can send you into an emotional whirlwind. I remember being afraid to get out of my Dad’s chair because whenever I was walking around, I would be scared something was bad was going to happen, whether it be a palpitation or something else. During lunchtime, I went to the kitchen to make a sandwich and I couldn’t even do that because I was so uneasy and scared. After talking with my Mom, we decided to head into the ER to get my heart checked out to make sure there was nothing wrong with it. I left the hospital an hour or so later with a clean bill of health. Still, the reassurance didn’t seem to help matters. It still felt that nothing was being done to fix my anxiety. I couldn’t live my life like this anymore. It wasn’t healthy nor enjoyable. On the car ride home, I still felt sick to my stomach and didn’t really feel like talking to anybody. A few days later, I scheduled an appointment with the counselor that I had just began seeing prior to my surgery. I had spoken to her prior to our meeting to let her know exactly what was going on and how I was feeling. When I showed up in her office a few days later, she handed me a yellow flyer titled “Mindfulness Training.” She proceeded to tell me that there was a woman conducting mindfulness classes in the building next door. My counselor thought it would be a good idea for me to try it out. Her suggestion was certainly met with some hesitation, as I have a hard time just trying new things where I’d have to meet new people. In the end, I decided to give it a shot as I had briefly heard about mindfulness before.

When I showed up for that first time, it took me some time to even find the office. I was lost in more ways than one. When I finally found the office, I sat in a chair in the waiting room with some white noise machine humming. When her door opened, I was introduced to this woman named Val who asked me if I was here for Mindfulness training. When the session started, it was me and four other older women. I didn’t really feel like I belonged and my first impression was that this wasn’t going to work and it would be a waste of my time. The first session was just merely and introduction where we told a little bit about ourselves and why we were taking the class. A few weeks later I met with my counselor again and told her that I didn’t think it was going to work out. Because the class was 7 sessions, I told her that I would stick it out because I had already made the financial commitment to do so. During the third class, I had a major mindfulness breakthrough. First, we took part in a three part meditation about self compassion. The first part of it asked us to close our eyes, focus on our breathing for a couple of cycles, and to envision someone in front of us who embodied strength, love, and compassion. It could have been someone living or someone who we had lost. My mind quickly went to my Dad. It was extremely hard to fight back the tears and stay in the mindfulness pocket. Envisioning him right in front of me was a very heavy moment. Next, we were asked to envision an image of ourselves in front of us. This vision could have been of yourself at the present day or could be you at a younger age. Lastly, we were asked to envision someone who we had a difficult relationship with. We were told to envision what we would say to them at that moment if they were in front of us. Then, the story began to truly formulate. I went from feeling a sadness of the loss of my Dad, to feeling that he would be happy of me today. I then thought about someone who didn’t have a good relationship with his/her Dad. The hope was that I could impart the lessons that I learned from this meditation and my Dad to help this person. Later in the mindfulness session, we practiced a metta meditation technique which involves a repeating a mantra. The mantra that we used in this exercise:

“May I/You be happy
May I/You be peaceful
May I/You be safe
May I/You live a life of ease.”

Peace and ease were the two words that kept repeating and pleasantly resonating in my head. My overall life goal is to live with peace and ease. We all should strive to live in peace and with ease. Next, we were asked to pass that mantra onto someone else in our lives. Who would need to hear those words right now? In a strange way, I felt that being there in that room and in that moment, I somehow had a power to transmit that advice and positive vibes to those people I chose. My effort of transmitting it to all of you comes in the form of this blog post.

My new mantra:
May I live a live of ease
May I live a life of simplicity
May I live a life of honesty

I finally feel now that I’m at a place where I’m beginning to settle down and gain control of my life again. With the steps I’m taking, I feel that I’m beginning to live a fuller life with less anxiety. The mindfulness class as a whole has taught me to slow down and be more present in life. Meditation is only one part of it, the second part is applying mindfulness and what I learned to my daily life. I’ve developed a desire to try new things and take on new lifestyle challenges. September 1st was the day I began to start walking everyday. I’ve kept that up and I’m looking forward to keeping active in other ways during the winter season. October was the month of trying to dress better and improve my style. I wanted to be more professional and presentable. My November goal is to focus on my stuttering problem. My goal is to slow down my speech and thought process to be able to clearly communicate my thoughts and ideas. Clearly communicating my ideas will in turn allow me to have more meaningful conversations with people. There is no doubt that the stuttering is partly a product of my anxiety. I will speak slowly as to remain calm and speak clearly. I ask for your time and patience to allow me to complete my goal sparked by a clearer mind and outlook on life.

Week after week, the class began to continue tackle a lot of life’s hard questions, topics, and emotions. I began finding value in the class more and more. I realized that I wasn’t there to make friends and that I was there for my own personal benefit. The five of us actually ended up getting close as we were able to share some real personal revelations with one another. Without a doubt, Val was the one who single handedly made me a better person. Every time I see her, my face just lights up because she’s become my beacon of peace and well-being. Well all joke about the power of Val, her soft voice and kind nature, and her comfortable office that always seems to be a much needed sanctuary from the world.

Becoming A Writer

I’ve been blessed to have so many influential role models in my life who have shaped me to be the writer that I am today.

My loving mother and father were the first ones to recognize my proficiency for writing at an early age. They always encouraged me to be an active writer and creative thinker.

At Derby Academy, my teachers did an amazing job of properly implementing fundamental grammar and writing mechanics into my education. In the sixth grade, I was asked by my Latin teacher and mentor to write a piece for our school’s student publication called The Derby Spirit. After being thrilled with my first submission, he encouraged me to continue my involvement with the publication by creating a weekly column where I could share my thoughts on various subjects. It was in that format where I was able to let all of my creative energy flow and to experiment with many different styles of writing. The combination of my strong education with the outlet to strengthen my creative muscle gave me the utmost confidence as a young writer.

At Hingham High School, I enrolled in my first journalism class where I was taught traditional news-writing techniques. During that class we had the incredible opportunity to tour the Boston Globe Headquarters located in Dorchester, MA. Being able to walk through the same hallways as some of my favorite writers was enormously inspiring. I then began writing for the school’s student newspaper called The Harborlight. After a period of time writing for the newspaper, I began to find strictly fact based news-writing to be stylistically boring and quite restricting. During my junior year, I had a life-threatening health incident that flipped my world upside down. Writing became my escape in an attempt to try to make some sense of the situation. I began to discover and invest the majority of my time in the art of creative writing.

At Emmanuel College, I created my first WordPress blog which aimed to merge together my love for creating writing and music. I was truly blessed to be able to attend college in the city because Boston has long been a hotspot for both writing and music. During my senior year, I became a Digital Content Intern at WAAF, one of the biggest radio stations in the Boston area. In that role, I became more familiar with creating and managing blogs by using the inner workings of WordPress’s backend platform.

At Quincy College, I enrolled in two creative writing courses which proved to be very beneficial to my development as a writer. I also enrolled in another journalism course where I wanted to revisit news-writing with more of an open mind. The two courses ended up complimenting one another very well although they varied greatly in many ways. My creative writing professor taught me that nothing was off limits and it was acceptable to get carried away with the details of a storyline. Each of our classes provided intriguing and unique assignments that were designed to keep our thought processes and ideas fresh. More specifically, I thoroughly enjoyed our stream of consciousness sessions where the goal was to write for five consecutive minutes without stopping. It gave me a fun “writer’s rush” to be under pressure like that. The lesson of breaking the barriers between your brain, hand, and paper to dump your first thoughts without any regard for clarity was well received.

My beneficial personal and professional experiences have allowed me the opportunity to develop my writing skill set, expand my scope of knowledge, and practice my craft. My mind is constantly churning and trying to come up with my next great idea for a post. I feel most alive when I think that I’ve locked into an idea that no one else could come up with. It has become therapeutic for me to sit in peace and to only have to answer to the thoughts in my head. Over time I’ve become even more drawn to the personal freedom that writing offers.

I feel truly blessed to call myself an alumnus of Derby Academy, Hingham High School, Emmanuel College, and Quincy College. I would not be the writer that I am today if it wasn’t for the incredible mentors and educators who took the time to teach me and influence me greatly on a daily basis.

Becoming Grateful

My name is Christopher Sadler and I’m a heart failure survivor. First and foremost, thank you for taking the time to read my heart story. My hope would be that you will take something positive away from it that could be used to better your life.

I’d like to take everyone back to October 5th, 2007. I was a seventeen year old high school student who was just settling into his junior year. That first Friday in October started out as any other school day. I tossed on my favorite Wes Welker New England Patriots jersey, a pair of jeans, and headed out the door. I walked down to the end of my street where I met my neighbors Dana, Lizzie, and Jonathan for our usual morning commute. When we got to Hingham High School, we had to park in the farthest parking lot away from the school. When we got to the front of the school, I suddenly felt a sensation that I had never ever felt before in my entire life…

I’ve grown to describe this feeling as “fading in and out of consciousness.” For a few seconds I was in complete tunnel vision and then I would return back to having full sensation. Not knowing what it was, I headed into school thinking nothing of it. I thought that maybe it was a result of not getting enough sleep or that I hadn’t fully woken up yet. During both A and B blocks, the same sensation happened again very infrequently. During C block, the sensation episodes started to last longer and became more severe. This was the first point during the day that I started to become worried that something was seriously wrong. Eventually, I asked my teacher if I could go see the nurse whose office was on the complete other side of the school from where I was. During that whole walk, it felt like I was in the twilight zone. When I got to the nurse’s office, there was another person being seen before me. As I sat down to wait my turn, I was sick to my stomach with anxiety. When it was my turn to be seen, the nurse asked me what brought me down to her office. I told her about the episodes that I was having and that they had never happened to me before. Immediately, she wanted to check my pulse and heart rate. My pulse was barely existent and my heart rate reading was low. By the look in her eyes after taking those measurements, I could tell that something was very wrong. She calmly instructed me to go to the back room and to lay down in one of the beds. About five minutes later, the Assistant Principal came up to see how I was doing. When she walked into the room to check on me, I could see that she had a walkie-talkie attached to her hip. The walkie-talkie beeped and all I heard was, “The ambulance is out back by the rear entrance to the high school.” With panic in my eyes, I sat right up and told the nurse, “no no no, it’s not that serious.” She instructed me to lay right back down and relax. By the time the EMT’s had come into my room, my Mom followed right behind. The EMT’s then loaded me on a stretcher and started to wheel me to the ambulance. In the ambulance they put in a couple of IV’s and the shock pads on me just in case. When we arrived at South Shore Hospital, they rushed me right into the emergency room and tried to rip off my Wes Welker jersey. I gave them some pushback since it was my favorite jersey and told them that they needed to find a way to get it off me without ripping it. After attaching me to numerous monitors and running a plethora of tests, they quickly realized that my condition was too critical and that I needed to be transferred to Boston Children’s Hospital. As we waited for all of the transfer papers to process, My Mom had the daunting task of calling the entire family to try to tell them exactly what was going on. We didn’t have any answers other than that my pulse was really low and heart rate was astronomically high, around 220 BPM. Here she was, with no answers as her son was fighting for his life in a hospital bed. She told them that they were still trying to get some more answers but that they needed to come now because it was very serious. At the time, My dad and one sister were in New York, one brother was in Cleveland, my other brother was in North Attleboro, and my other sister was local. When I was transferred to Boston Children’s Hospital, I was rushed to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) where I was greeted by a team of a dozen doctors and nurses. They asked me to explain what was going on in my own words and how I was feeling. Their first determination based on the medical information they received and collected was that I needed to go to the cath lab to determine the extent of the issue. My final memory of October 5th, 2007 was a special moment that I had with my Mom and sister. As I was being wheeled in for an emergency cath procedure, we looked at one another, embraced, and then started to cry. My mom told me that everything was going to be okay and that we were going to get through this. It’s a moment that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. As the operating room doors closed, I learned later that there was some uncertainty that I would even survive the surgery. Everything was in the balance. Later on, the surgeon came out to give my family the news that I had survived the surgery. Over the next couple of hours, everyone else in my family had arrived to be with me.

When I woke up the next morning, the room seemed like a cockpit of an airplane. There was a bed, a small TV hanging in front of me, and a massive panel of machines and monitors behind me. With all of the wires that were attached to me, there was a monitor alarm going off just about every few seconds. My Mom had stayed right in my room overnight, sleeping in the back of the room where there was a small window seat that was converted into a makeshift bed.

Over the next few days, some answers started to trickle in. They determined that I had heart failure, and that I would be placed on the heart transplant list. They had the heart assist machine on standby. The medicines that they had put me on seemed to be helping. After a more few days, they needed to do another surgery to install a Pacemaker/Defibrillator to support my existing heart. The full name of the condition I was diagnosed with was: Dilated Cardiomyopathy w/ Severe Arrhythmia, and Heart Failure. After my surgery to install the ICD Pacemaker/Defibrillator, there was a lot of downtime. I needed to recover from the event and surgery. They also needed to continue to figure out which medicines would be most effective in improving my heart function, which was hovering around 9 percent. Laying in the hospital bed as a bedridden heart failure patient allowed me to slow down and to try to process everything that had just happened to me. There were still so many outstanding questions, including the big question of “Why?”.

As my heart function began to improve over time, the doctors thought it would be a good idea for me to try to get up and walk around the unit. It felt like I had to relearn how to walk again. I was unsteady on my feet and required my Mom and a nurse to hold onto me to keep me upright. On one of my first walks, I received my first dose of perspective, arguably the most powerful medicine that there is. In the room right next door to me in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit was a toddler named Jackson, who was waiting for a heart transplant. Seeing Jackson in the same position as me made me think about my life. I immediately became grateful for being 17 years old, believing that over time I’d be able to continue to mentally process my condition. I was starting to come to terms with the fact that my life going forward was going to be drastically different than how I had originally envisioned. After seeing Jackson, I made the decision right then and there that I would never openly complain to others about my illness. Perspective taught me never to complain since there is someone out there who is going through something similar or worse than you. In Jackson’s situation, I felt bad for him and his family because his childhood was going to be significantly altered. The hope would have been for Jackson to be able to experience his childhood free of sickness and pain.

When I was moved from the CICU to the regular cardiac floor, there was no airplane cockpit behind me anymore. I developed my own personal life motto in the hospital which was, “Do What You Gotta Do.” When the nurses would come in every few hours in the middle of the night, they would wake me up and ask me if it was okay if they checked my vital signs. They made it seem like I had some sort of choice or something. Here I was, attached to all sorts of monitors and I’ve got a nurse standing right over me with a blood pressure cuff and a thermometer. By default, the answer just became, “Do What You Gotta Do.” The lesson here here is to control what you can control and leave the rest to fate. Don’t waste your time on fighting things that will inevitably happen.

Since the beeping and nurse’s visits became a little less frequent, my hope was that I’d be able to get some peace and quiet. One of the first days that I was in my new room, I had finally dozed off to take an afternoon nap. My Mom saw that I had fallen asleep and knew that the nurses were due to come in at any moment to check my vital signs. She took it upon herself to make a Do Not Disturb sign and proceeded to tape it to the door. When a nurse tried to come into the room, my Mom flagged her down from across the room and waved her to leave the room so I could get some rest. Thankfully, they let me sleep for a little bit longer.

One of my favorite memories in the hospital was when Wes Welker gave me a phone call. I was taking a nap when the hospital phone rang, which it never did. My sister was taking a shift to sit with me and she picked up the phone. She woke me up and told me that I had a phone call. Because I just woke up and was still groggy, I told her to take a message and I’d call the person back later. She insisted that I take the call right away. Reluctantly, I took the phone call. On the other end was New England Patriots Wide Receiver Wes Welker. Wes asked me how I was doing and told me that he’d heard a little bit of my story. I didn’t really feel like talking about myself so I began to ask him if he was ready for the Patriots v Cowboys game on Sunday. On Sunday, October 14th, 2007, The New England Patriots beat the Dallas Cowboys 48-27. Wes caught 11 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns.

After several surgeries and too much time in the hospital, I was finally able to go home. It was a real challenge to transition from being in the hospital to being home. I was taking a variety of medicine throughout the day and night. I slowly began to reintegrate myself back into the life I built for myself at home.

Over the last ten years, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder the important questions of life and wrestle with the question of why this happened to me. The way the answer has presented itself to me is that this happened because something bigger than myself knew that I was capable and strong enough to handle it. They believed that I could handle it and also learn something valuable from it that could be shared with others.

It’s became part of my mission to step back and think about how I can take my situation and make good from it. How am I going to be a productive member of society? How am I going to thrive? How am I going to make a difference in the world?

My path of the last ten years has led me to the American Heart Association. The American Heart Association is a non-profit organization that “funds innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies, and provide critical tools and information to save and improve lives.” Their end goal is described in their mission statement, “To build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular disease and stroke.” By becoming involved with the American Heart Association, it makes feel that I’m doing something right and just. To celebrate my ten year heart anniversary, I created Team Chris to walk in the 2017 Boston Heart Walk. Walking has become one of my greatest passions and it allows me to maintain a healthy lifestyle. it has also provided me with a great sense of gratitude and clarity. I continue to realize how lucky I am and know that I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my amazing support system of family, friends, and doctors. Together, amazing things can be accomplished. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of others. To date Team Chris has raised $4,123. I feel strongly that if we bind together, we can be the loud voice that blows the cover of the silent killer. I’m very much looking forward to Team Chris’s involvement in the 2018 Boston Heart Walk.

The American Heart Association has a slogan, “Life is Why”. They encourage their supporters and community team members to choose their why. The first word that came to my mind was “longevity.” Through further exploration of the word, some pretty amazing revelations presented themselves. As defined by, longevity is a noun that means “a long individual life; great duration of individual life.” In my head, I always associated the word as only being marked by a length of time. As stated in the definition above, the word that stuck out to me was “individual”.

Looking back now, I believe my true sense of individuality really started to develop on October 5th, 2007. Time may not heal all wounds but time affords us the opportunity to rethink our individual purpose and position in life. A traumatic illness shouldn’t be viewed as roadblock but rather an opportunity to identify what’s most important to you as an individual and what it would mean to live a prosperous and fruitful life.

From the bottom of my heart, I truly appreciate all of the love and support everyone has given me for the last ten years.

Do what you gotta do

Boston Heart Walk Awards Ceremony Speech

Last night, I had the honor of being asked to speak at the American Heart Association’s Boston Heart Walk Awards Ceremony. The purpose of this event was to reflect on and celebrate the amazing individual and team accomplishments of the 2017 Boston Heart Walk. Below is a copy of my speech:

Good Evening Everyone,

Thank you for the introduction, James. I first want to thank all of you for joining us tonight. This event has been a great celebration of all the amazing things that we’ve accomplished both individually and collectively. As a heart failure survivor, I wanted to share with you a little bit about my story, how I chose to become involved with the American Heart Association, and what all of your hard work and determination means to a survivor like me.

On October 5th, 2007, as a junior in high school, I unexpectedly suffered from heart failure and was subsequently diagnosed with Dilated Cardiomyopathy and Severe Arrhythmia. As an otherwise healthy teenager, my life threatening cardiac event and subsequent diagnosis hit me like a ton of bricks. On the day of my cardiac event, the doctors weren’t even sure if I was going to make it through the emergency procedure I had at Boston Children’s Hospital. After surviving that initial surgery and having another to install a Pacemaker/ICD device, my slow road to recovery began. I spent the rest of the month of October in the hospital as the doctors tried to figure out the best course of care going forward. They informed me that I would live with this condition for the rest of my life, which was a hard pill to swallow at first. Right around Halloween, I was sent home with a whole bunch of medications but mostly importantly, a new lease on life.

The next several years were spent trying to adjust to my new normal as a heart failure survivor. There were many things I could no longer do, including play rugby or row for my high school team. I had to find other things to occupy my time, which included writing, reading, and listening to music. By sticking to a regimen of medications and adopting a more heart healthy lifestyle, I began to make progress in my recovery. I really started to rethink my position and purpose in life. How was I going to turn my experience as a heart failure patient into a positive one?

As my ten year heart anniversary was approaching this past October, I wanted it to be a celebratory occasion instead of a somber one. I wanted to really capture just how thankful I was to be alive and for all the people who have been on the rollercoaster with me. I also developed an urge to share my experience with others. I knew that I wasn’t the only person affected by heart disease and I wanted to connect with others who also had.

This past spring I received an email from Anne Holden, where she told me she had heard a little bit about my story from my sister Jenni. She asked me if I had considered creating a team to walk in the Boston Heart Walk this year. After thinking about it for a little bit, I realized that creating a team to walk checked off all the boxes of what I wanted my ten year heart anniversary to be. What better way to celebrate than to gather with family and friends, all the while raising necessary funds towards a cause that I really cared about. With great excitement, I began spreading the word about Team Chris to my family and friends.

Walking is the perfect symbol for progress. It allows us to go at our own pace, and enjoy our surroundings, while maintaining a focus on what’s ahead of us. Walking is something that we all can do at our own pace but if we are all walking together, we can continue to make progress and make some amazing things happen. As we gather tonight, let us not forget that there continues to be work that needs to be done. It will continue to require an all hands on deck approach.

I’m proud to say that being involved with the American Heart Association has given me a newfound purpose and will to live. From the bottom of my heart, I can’t thank you enough for all that you do. I’d like to end tonight by sharing with you one of my favorite quotes which I stumbled upon a few weeks ago. Author Melody Beattie once said, “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”