a man practices martial arts with a very high kick

Solutions for Daily Living

As everyone who suffers from a health challenge knows, there’s a lot of frustration that goes hand-in-hand with not being able to do all you want to do, or, go where you want to go. These limitations can cause you to feel a lack of freedom. It can be hard to watch others continue to live their lives like “normal” people would, while you are stuck feeling like yours is on hold.

There are emotional pains of an illness that are personal to each individual. Mine included limitations like not being able to teach my son to swim or be as active with him as I’d like, or watching people close to me occasionally feel burned out because they have put so much effort into taking care of me.

Heart failure advocate, Bouba Diemé, recovering from his LVAD implant

Restrictions with an LVAD pump

With the implantation of the Heartmate3 LVAD pump inside my heart, I’ve also had a number of physical restrictions, which include no swimming, and limited running, jumping, or weight lifting. Depending on your level of physical challenge, you may start to realize, as I did, that the world is not necessarily built for people with disabilities or restrictions such as mobility and physical impairments, psychological disorders, or invisible disabilities.

It’s an aggravation to deal with, and at the same time, often you could gain strength by making the necessary adjustments in your life. I have found that this very difficulty has made me stronger and tougher as I have had to deal with it. That said, unless you are well-prepared with strategies to help you through the inevitable ups and downs, the frustrations and pains, it’s easy to feel helpless and hopeless.

Reaffirming the things that drive me

With ample time to think while recovering at different points in my health struggles, worrying thoughts about the future often occupied my mind, particularly in the early days and months after my diagnosis. Over time, I learned many options for dealing with this, including simply talking to myself about my concerns and reaffirming the things that drive me. I try to remain focused on the positive rather than getting pulled down by mental demons and what-ifs. I do my best to take one worry at a time, look at it head-on, and deal with it specifically and directly before moving ahead to the next concern.

I've labored to find my calm zones

Other ways I try to cope include spending lengthy moments in silent prayers and meditation, reading books, or listening to audiobooks, philosophy, or typing my thoughts. I’ve also been going to psychotherapy and counseling sessions with the initial goal of completing the grieving process and accepting my condition as part of the new state of my being — with a “heart of a giant.” I’ve labored to find my calm zones, digging deep for my strength, learning more about my condition and its implications, and building on these healthy habits to get the better of it.

As I gained momentum from these actions, I started to spend time talking to others with similar conditions, visiting hundreds of websites, online forums, and Facebook support groups. The observations, comments, complaints, and suggestions that other patients and their caregivers or families shared through these media made a huge difference in my ability to accept and face my circumstances with fortitude and determination.

Becoming stronger and gaining confidence

At the same time, I found strength through exercising and practicing martial arts. When you’re living with chronic illness, in some cases, martial arts can provide the perfect platform for becoming a relatively healthier, fitter individual in body, mind, and spirit. It isn’t easy to practice the skills—with their physical and mental demands, the challenge of consistency, and risk of injury—when your health is already compromised.

But depending on the condition, it can be extremely valuable and even more important, since the benefits you reap such as discipline, stress relief, agility, flexibility, power, resilience, self-control, and control can help you feel better, become stronger and gain confidence.
4 tiled images of Heart failure advocate, Bouba Diemé, practicing martial arts

Growing with martial arts

While there are many martial arts to choose from, I’ve been practicing a Vietnamese martial art called Vovinam Việt Võ Đạo. I was introduced to it in 2015 after I moved back to Dakar, but over most of 2016 and 2017, when I was sick and often bedridden, I had to take leave from it. So, it was with great excitement that I resumed training in August 2017, six months after my open-heart surgery. I’ve stuck with it at least twice a week, and it has made a huge difference. I feel physically stronger and more energetic, mentally calmer, more motivated, and spiritually better prepared.

Every time I practice it, I am reminded that my condition is not in my way—rather, it is my way. With this key trio of areas (physical, mental and spiritual) that support my well-being, I am pushed to the limit every practice session, and I find ways to live a fuller and happier life with my illness.

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