How a Heart Attack Saved My Life

This story is dedicated to all the moms out there who are trying to #doitall.  And to my husband and children who have been patient while I try to figure it all out.


Looking back, in 2016...I was stressed.  I think I knew it at the time, but I would never have admitted it out loud.  I just put my head down and kept trudging along. Off to work, to sports practices, to the grocery store, to errands and the list goes on.  I needed to get things done. All the things. And for some reason I felt like I needed to do it all myself (hence the stress).


It’s funny (not really) that when you put this kind of pressure on yourself, it makes you really fucking unhappy.  But it’s also funny the things you get used to. For example, drinking a gallon of coffee each morning for energy. Living out of my minivan during soccer season.  Eating dinner at either 4pm or 9pm, depending on practice times. And of course, always being in a hurry.


Now, you might think a nervous breakdown is on the horizon for me. But that’s what’s so great.  In the midst of all this crazy, I didn’t break down. It wasn’t until things actually wound down that something started to happen.


The kids were gone to my parents house for the summer. And I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I was training for a fitness competition so I tried to stay busy with exercise and food prep. I took on a couple projects around the house.  I just couldn’t not be busy. It drove me nuts. In fact, I was feeling a little lost without my busy-ness. I was even picking fights with my husband out of boredom!


So I decided to head out for my daily run to clear my head.  And that’s when it happened.


I had a heart attack.


Oh, but it gets better...I had a heart attack for no apparent reason.  34 years old and healthy. Turns out (I would find from a shit ton of testing) I was just a stressed-out hot mess.


You’d think that a scare like that would immediately make you change your life or your job or whatever it was that was causing you stress.


Not the case for me.  In fact, for the next 8 months I became more stressed-out than before. I developed severe anxiety and held so much tension in my neck and shoulders that I actually couldn’t turn my head to the right.  I became afraid to workout (you know, due to the risk of my heart exploding). I had panic attacks daily and could only fall asleep after several glasses of wine.


On top of that, my MS seemed to be relapsing (about 6 years prior I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis).  I was having strange sensations in my legs and was worried that I was losing feeling in them. My life felt like it was spinning completely out of control.


I needed a change.  I just didn’t know what.


Every night I’d google everything I could about possible reasons for heart attacks or connections to MS, but everything I read was about heart disease, diet and lifestyle changes.  It just didn’t apply to me (so I thought). I mean, I was healthy. I couldn’t have brought this on myself, riiiight?


One night I found an article that stood out to me.  It was about Acupuncture. I knew nothing about acupuncture.  But something about it intrigued me. Perhaps because it was the one thing I hadn’t tried yet.  


I remember my first appointment.  I lied down on the table and the doctor placed the needles.  Then he told me to just relax for the next 45 minutes. My eyeballs about popped out of my head. 45 minutes?!!! What the hell was I going to do for 45 minutes?!!  Just lie there? Are you kidding me? And it was the longest 45 minutes of my life.


But I kept going back.  Because my neck was feeling looser. My legs started feeling normal.  My head felt clear when I left. Something was changing. The appointments still felt really long, but something was different.  I just couldn’t put my finger on it.


I discovered that listening to an audiobook during acupuncture worked well for me. It kept my mind busy and felt like multi-tasking so I didn’t feel guilty lying there doing nothing.  And you know what? Eventually I actually fell asleep on the table. You might not think this is a big deal. But it was a BIG DEAL to me. It meant that I was actually learning to relax.  I was learning to let go. I was allowing myself to say that it’s OK for me to not be busy all the time. Learning how to relax may have been the biggest lesson I’ve ever learned in my life.


When I would get off the table, I’d not only feel refreshed, but I’d feel insightful.  I started journaling.


And in my journaling I started to figure out what was actually going on in my head.


It turns out, I wasn’t living the life I thought I was.  My priorities were all wrong. Work came first. Family came second.  I thought kid practices and homemaking was what was exhausting me. But it turned out that being stretched too thin at work drained me so much that I had nothing left to give when I came home.  I was crabby and tired and not very happy. And that needed to change.


The journaling was really helping me get to the root of things, but I still wanted more. I wanted guidance. I wanted help. I wanted to understand what it meant to “let go.”  I wanted to learn how to ask for help and how to find peace. It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I wanted to learn how to be happy.


So I began to pray.  I started attending church. I started reading the bible.  I asked God for strength and signs and peace.


And he showed me all of these things.


In July 2017, just one year after my heart attack, I decided to take two weeks off and visit my parents with my girls.  My husband was away on a work trip and I thought it would be good to get away to their lakehouse and do some thinking and praying.


Now, it’s important for you to know that in the past my trips to their house have not been restful or relaxing.  I’ve always been stressed about cooking for everyone, keeping the house tidy, and figuring out when and where I’d get in my workouts.  But this time was different. And everyone noticed.


I’ve never before felt the kind of peace I was experiencing that summer.   I know it sounds cheesy, but those two weeks changed me. God and the universe were sending me signs everywhere.  


In fact, I found an actual sign that says,

Ask yourself what is really important and then have the wisdom and courage to build your life around your answer.

That is the motto that inspired me to make the change.  And it’s what I still turn to when I need to make important decisions.  It’s hanging in my living room.


At the end of the two weeks at my parents' house, I just knew that I couldn’t go back to a job that was draining my energy.  I needed to look for new solutions.


I’m gonna fast forward a little bit here.  The next 6 months were all about me figuring out HOW to leave my day job and create a business out of what I really enjoyed doing - online marketing.  I did a lot of praying.  And somehow, by some miracle, an idea came to me.  I could run Facebook Ads for businesses from home.


I’ll be honest; it wasn’t easy to convince my husband that running Facebook Ads for people was an actual thing.  He just couldn’t understand what I did or how it would make money. In fact I’m pretty sure that to this day he doesn’t quite “get it.”  But that’s ok. He eventually came around and that’s what’s important.


Just before Christmas 2017 (in time to spend winter break with my girls!), I left my day job.  Despite all the things that had happened up to this point, it wasn’t an easy decision or move for me to make.  I had developed a very close relationship with my boss and we had been discussing the opportunity for me to run the club in the future (at this point I was assistant manager and marketing director).  To be honest, I didn’t want to walk away from that opportunity. I did love where I worked. I loved who I worked with. It just wasn’t the right fit for me at this time in my life.


What I desired more than anything was the flexibility in my schedule to be able to drive my kids to and from school. To have the energy to have fun with them and be there for all their games and practices.  To volunteer in their classrooms and on field trips. To have healthy, home-cooked meals for my family to sit down to every night. And to not pass out on the couch from exhaustion before my husband even gets home.  It’s the little things, am I right? ;)


Fast forward just six months later and that’s exactly where I am.  Working for myself and living a lifestyle that allows me and my family the time and financial freedom that we have needed for so long.


When I think about why it is that I do what I do, I get a little choked up.  Creating a Facebook Ads business has allowed me freedom and change beyond anything I couldn’t ever expected or even dreamed.  It has allowed me to completely change the way I live my life. I’m so grateful for that.


I’m also grateful that I’m able to impact others lives in a similar way.  


There are so many lesson I learned through all of this that I want to share with others.  Through my story, I want to help entrepreneurs, especially mothers, grow their businesses without having to add more to their plate.   And I want them to experience the happiness, freedom and peace that I feel from owning my own business and owning my own time.


I believe that you don't have to experience something as scary as a heart attack to make the changes in your life that you desire.  But I'm grateful that it happened to me the way it did.  It truly changed my  life.


Here’s to living life better!




Jackie EllisComment