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How Heart Failure Prepared Me for Difficult Times

Reading time | 6 mins
When diagnosed with heart failure, Rob Obey learned several coping strategies. Here's how he uses them during difficult times.


When I talk about the "difficult times" in the article's title, I mainly refer to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. It's hard to believe that we were locked in our homes for over a year!

However, these coping strategies have helped me in all manner of life events that have fallen under “difficult times,” and I want to share these with you today.

I live with several chronic illnesses

I live with heart failure, fibromyalgia, and type 2 diabetes, to name a few. As a result, recovery periods had meant some level of "social isolation" on occasion - before the COVID-19 lockdowns were ever implemented.

In fact – and this may sound odd – the pandemic’s lockdowns weren’t that much of a shock to my system. I think I have heart failure to “thank” for that!

Heart failure has prepared me for difficult times in life

Before the pandemic, my life had "lockdown" periods out of sheer necessity.

I’ve worked from home for seven years. I had to give up my career when my wife, Bridget, became seriously ill. So, I was already used to not going into the office, communicating via video call, and working in my pajamas.

I was already familiar with the God-send of online shopping. Though Bridget and I love traveling, our health conditions mean we can do so infrequently at best. Instead, we spend a lot of time at home and in each other’s company. The pandemic changed none of that.

Over the last six years, heart failure and chronic illness have meant we’ve navigated life much like one would during a lockdown. You could say we had a trial run for the pandemic in 2020.

I must take a "balanced" approach to my health

I knew I was ill. I even knew that heart failure, chronic kidney disease, and asthma were not the ideal conditions to have with this virus.

But I didn’t appreciate the severity of my conditions. I was a bit surprised when the NHS (the National Health Service in the UK) sent me a letter. It said that Bridget and I are classified as "vulnerable people" according to their records.

Bridget was less surprised. Rheumatoid arthritis has killed off her immune system, so we were grounded together.

It was scary and did hit home how precarious our situation was.

Having said that, I think when you have lived with poor health for as long as I have, you learn to take it in your stride - most of the time.

For future “difficult times,” I’ll need to treat my health with more balance. I can’t let my conditions stop me from doing everything I need and want to do. But I also can’t bury my head in the sand about how much care I need. There must be a way of considering both sides when making future life choices.  

I put mind over matter

I’m not going to lie. When the COVID-19 virus first took hold in the UK, and we were ordered to stay home, I had the odd wobble and freaked out a little bit.

When I say freaked out, I mean I was terrified!

Not for me; for Bridget, my sons, and our elderly parents. I wasn't ready to deal with what could potentially happen to them.

But I was able to calm myself down by thinking it through. This is a technique I learned after being diagnosed with heart failure.

In life, some situations are beyond my control. I can blame myself, others, or circumstances, but none of that will help me make real changes when the going gets tough.

So, instead of playing “the blame game,” heart failure has taught me to be proactive rather than reactive. I can stay calm, self-soothe my anxiety, and decide on the next best steps for dealing with a situation.

I know there are no guarantees in life, but a measured approach is better than succumbing to sheer panic.

Family comes first – even if that means technically putting my health first

I love my family, and I make sure they know it.

The subtitle above sounds complicated, so I’ll do my best to explain. During COVID-19, we were expected to self-isolate and maintain social distancing.

I’ve never let anything stand in the way of seeing my boys and my parents before. So, when we were told separation was best for them and us, it broke my heart.

I decided to break the rules many times, only to come to my senses and remain separated. I was glad when the universities had to close and the boys had to return home. At least, that way, I could protect them.

That’s an example of putting my health first for the sake of my family.

The last time I had such an intense yearning for my family was when I was diagnosed with heart failure. At that moment, I was consumed by the thought of leaving them too soon, and I knew I’d do anything to stick around for them.

I learned to live with heart failure and cherish the time I have. Whatever my health throws at me, I’ll push to get through it as well as I can. For my family, if not for myself.

I shouldn’t close off completely when the going gets rough

I have always enjoyed my own company. I'm not anti-social, but I keep a small circle of friends.

My diagnoses caused me to pull away from some of the people I care about. It wasn’t a conscious decision, more of a meander.

In many ways, the forced isolation over the pandemic in 2020 "woke me up." I craved human interaction – even just swapping pleasantries with a neighbor.

I'm more sociable than I thought. So, no matter what happens, I won't close myself off when life hits rough patches again. Social interaction is a lifeline that should be cherished, especially when my health or hard times make me feel alone.

I appreciate my life

I know how precious life is and why I should count every day as a blessing. Surviving heart failure has shown me that, and getting through the pandemic cemented it.

I'm overflowing with thanks that I still have the chance to make the most of every day going forward.

Isn't this a crucial thing to remember during difficult times?

The medical community is there to help

The UK’s NHS isn’t perfect, and we’re often quick to point out all the problems.

But, putting it simply, I would not be alive if not for them. They’ve helped me get through several episodes of bad health and learn to manage my conditions effectively. And, during the pandemic, many lives were saved because of their enormous united efforts.

I never want to assume the worst about the medical community ever again. My life will always be in their debt, and so will the lives of many others after me.

It's good knowing that I'm in safe hands if my health turns for the worse again.

The takeaway

Having heart failure is no picnic. Managing my vulnerable health during a pandemic had many challenges.

But I've learned I can get through the harder times without falling apart. Some of that is up to me, but a lot of credit must go to the people around me, too. My family, friends, and the doctors and nurses who I'll never take for granted again.

I must keep in mind, “This too shall pass.” Not to become complacent but to remind myself that nothing is hopeless. I'm not crying out for help – I HAVE that help.

We should also remember the efforts of every volunteer, key worker, scientist, and medical professional during the COVID-19 crisis. We thank them for their sacrifice, their care, and their humanity.

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.