a sleepy man with a wire coming out of his back and plugging into the wall

The Cell Phone Theory

One of the struggles of living with heart failure is having to explain my illness and symptoms. I don’t always share liberally, because disclosing takes trust and vulnerability and often this is frankly not the business of new acquaintances. However, there are times that an explanation is important, like when I have to cancel plans (which is something I hate doing) or I have to say no to an activity I would typically enjoy.

The cell phone theory

Since my diagnosis over two years ago, I have wrestled with how to educate people because I have found that most are unfamiliar with heart failure. I am not surprised by this, frankly, I did not know what heart failure was years ago. Nonetheless, I’m always looking for resources to educate (a topic for another post), and I recently came across a “cell phone theory” that I liked! I know that many have heard of the “spoon theory,” but since we do not associate spoons with energy it tends to not little impact.

Battery charge

To start, let’s make an analogy between our own energy and a cell phone battery. Each day the amount of energy we start with is synonymous with a battery charge. A healthy individual gets a fully charged, effortless battery, and it's rechargeable. Meaning that with just a cup of coffee, a snack, or a quick nap their stores of energy go return to full force. However, those of us living with heart failure have batteries that chronically charge to a lower amount, and these are not rechargeable.

Draining the battery

At best, my battery may start at 60%, which is only three out of five bars. I’m happy with that because there were times it’s been lower; however, activities drain me at a different rate than they used to. I used to have a great deal of energy; however, my life with heart failure has completely changed “my battery.” For example, showering used to only consume ~2% of my battery, but now it depletes 10%. After a long workday, you might feel you used 30% whereas that same undertaking took 50% of mine. You can see how easily energy gets used, and how hard it is to keep some reserved for exercise, cooking, etc.

Communication is essential

The misconception that feels most critical to name is that this energy depletion is not laziness or a lack of interest, it’s simply that with heart failure my energy is more easily depleted and there are times I have little left to give. Of course, I could borrow some here and there, and there are times I push it for the sake of what is important to me. But from experience I know I will face a prolonged recovery time because my body simply does not have the strength to go on.

Those of us living with heart failure know this trade-off, but it can be very hard to explain, especially in our culture of never enough and always moving. Communication is essential with vulnerable topics, and I hope this helps!

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