Building confidence after heart surgery

Alan Henderson, 66

Confidence is often shaken following a heart event. Sarah Brealey gets tips on recovery from those who’ve been there and two leading psychologists.

“Any health difficulty tends to rock people’s world. Health problems can lead to changes of role and how you feel about yourself,” explains Consultant Clinical Psychologist Dr Mary Welford.

“Your focus shifts to your health instead of previous passions, which creates a different sense of who you are. You’re in unfamiliar territory and anything that is unfamiliar can knock your confidence.”

For Alan Henderson, 66 (pictured), heart surgery to repair a faulty mitral valve led to his loss of confidence. “It affected my perception of who I was. Not being able to do things I’ve always done affected my confidence in other areas too,” he says.

Alan had always played tennis, football and cricket, and loved running. But soon after retiring as an engineer in 2011, he started suffering from shortness of breath.

I was a bit reluctant to talk to anybody initially, but it’s one of the best things you can do

Over the next 18 months, activities fell by the wayside as his symptoms worsened. Following his surgery, he says: “I was a bit depressed. I thought my tennis days were over.”

A visit from his cardiac nurse a few days after returning from hospital was the first step towards rebuilding that confidence. “She had a plan for my recovery and that really lifted my spirits,” he says.

Cardiac rehabilitation helped Alan build upon this. “I was saying, ‘They have just fixed my heart, I don’t want to break it again’. Being able to exercise under supervision helped – that built my confidence up,” Alan says. “And I met people in the same position as me, which was really helpful.”

Building up fitness

Alan Henderson playing tennisAlan’s dream was to get back to playing tennis, which he was told he could do eventually. He exercised in the gym in the meantime but when he did pick up a racquet again, things didn’t go as he hoped. “I was slower, while everyone else had improved. I couldn’t run or serve like I used to.”

He readjusted his expectations and took positive steps to improve. “I started having lessons, which I hadn’t done for a long time. I started playing with other friends, just having a gentle knockabout, to build up my strength and my muscles.”

It took “a good six months” to regain his tennis skills, but in June he and his doubles partner won the men’s doubles trophy at the Whitstable Lawn Tennis Club.

Alan’s biggest tip for rebuilding confidence is to talk to others about your experiences and concerns. “I was a bit reluctant to talk to anybody initially, but it’s one of the best things you can do,” he says.

“It can be someone close to you, or your cardiac nurse. I also talked to a volunteer at cardiac rehab, who’d been through something similar. To share with someone and know that it is not just you, it happens to other people and you can recover, is very helpful.”

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