Something’s wrong. I can’t believe it.

I’m thinking of launching a new range of badges. Something along the lines of ‘Broken Heart on Board.’ You know a bit like those ‘Baby on Board’ badges that you can get on the Underground in London if you are pregnant. These aren’t anything to do with a failed subscription to an internet dating site. These are for people who have had heart attacks and to the outside world look just like anyone else. But they aren’t. They really aren’t.

“Yes, I know I don’t look like I have.”

“But I have. Honestly.”

“Yes, I know I don’t seem old enough.”

“No, I’ve never smoked.”

“You are right, I’m not that fat.”

“Yes, thank you. I will let you know if I need any help.”

And so the conversation goes. Time and again. Time and again.

I’m not sure how I am meant to look. I’m not sure what people expect to see. I’m not sure how people expect me to behave.

I’ve had a heart attack, I’ve got no visible physical scars. I still have all of my limbs. I can still talk coherently, I can stand and walk without too many issues and do it all unaided. And I can see, with my glasses anyway. No one walking past me in the street would be able to tell that just over two months ago I had major invasive surgery because the most important organ in my body decided one day that it wasn’t going to work like it was supposed to.

And so the first time I see people after the attack, I sometimes think they can’t really comprehend what has happened. It’s as if the lack of anything visible, anything other than a bloody big pile of pill boxes in the corner of the kitchen, means that it is harder to process for them. Harder to grasp that there is a piece of drug soaked scaffolding in the middle of my heart that is keeping it going and keeping me alive.

So I’m going to launch a range of badges. That should sort it. And maybe a range of FAQs. Something to hand out to answer all of those questions. You know the type of thing. That’s definitely the answer.

And it won’t just help other people, it will help me. It will act as a grounding point. Because often I need to be grounded. Sometimes I’m as guilty as those around me who can’t comprehend what has happened. Sometimes I just don’t get it. Me. And I’m the guy it has happened to. So if there are days when I don’t get it, then is it any wonder that there are a bunch of other people out there who are equally confused.

It’s simple really. I’ve had an operation and I have something in my heart which is helping me stay alive. But It doesn’t mean I am fixed. It doesn’t mean I am in the clear. It doesn’t mean that it won’t ever happen again. And it doesn’t mean that I can do everything that I used to be able to do before, either physically or mentally. And that is frustrating. Really bloody frustrating. Particularly if you are me.

And some days I need to keep reminding myself of that. I need to give myself a break. Sure, most days I feel better than I have felt in years. I’m fitter than I’ve probably ever been. I eat far better than I think I ever have. I weigh less than I have for some considerable time and I sleep. Boy do I sleep.

But I also tire easily sometimes and my heart can’t really deal with sudden explosive bursts of power. I think I may have to hang up my 100m sprinting spikes, if I had ever bought any in the first place. Yes I can walk, I can walk for miles, but anything that needs a sudden burst of pace or energy that has not been built up to becomes tough. Stretching and lifting are equally difficult on occasions. I’ve never been a bench pressing sort of guy, but if I had there would be days when that would be pretty impossible. I mean it looked hard enough in the old world. Now it’s pretty much out of the question. I suppose everything has its upsides. Beggars can’t be … and all that.

Those are just a couple of examples of the things that I can’t do properly any more, but there are plenty of others and getting your head around all of the things that have changed can be a real challenge. When I look at myself I see what others see. I see a guy that on the outside looks pretty good, looks as if he can cope with most things. But now I know he can’t. I’m coming to terms with the fact the world post my heart attack is a completely different beast and just because I look well and I’m not wizened and grey and stooping over a walking frame doesn’t mean that I am fixed.

I’ll never be fixed. I can’t be fixed. But I am able to understand now what my body is capable of, both physically and mentally. And you know what? I’m going to accept it. So it’s not what I want it to be. So what? Get a grip man and accept it, life could have been so very different two months ago. I am going to accept that I have had a heart attack, despite what I look like and how old I am. I’m going to cut myself some slack, I’m going to accept this ‘new’ me for what I now am. I am going to believe it.

So does anyone fancy joining me in making some badges? I think they could become a ‘thing.’

In a dark place.

It’s not all glitz and glamour this heart attack lark. It’s not all tributes to Ray Wilkins, silver pill boxes and Berghaus’ (If that’s the plural?)

Sometimes it can be dark. Really dark. You know the type of dark when you wake up in the middle of the night and try and find your way to the loo in an unfamiliar room without waking your partner up. That dark.

But the thing about this darkness is you don’t know when you are going to want to go to the loo. It catches you complexly unawares.

At the moment for me the biggest challenge is a mental one. It’s way harder than the toughest Times’ Sudoku. It’s trying to come to terms with what has happened to you, what could have happened and how you prevent it ever happening again. Its about understanding what it means for the future. It’s realising that you are mortal. Very mortal. And it’s nowhere near as easy as trying to get 1-9 in a 15×15 box without any duplication.

Since the attack, I’ve fallen into the new necessary daily routines quite easily, the blood pressure tests, the pills, the exercise and the diet. None of those have been as hard as I would have anticipated had someone talked to me about them before the attack. In fact, I’ve particularly enjoyed learning about nutrition and becoming more active than I was in the past. I’m also now the proud owner of a pile of books and pamphlets about coronary care, sleep and diet. They were notably absent from my library prior to the attack.

Of course there are an incredible amount of changes that follow an attack. Changes to lifestyle, changes to your body and changes to the way that your body copes and responds. I’ve talked about some of the side effects of the drugs, but there are others. Many others and I’ll write about some of those another time. But one of the biggest challenges, for me anyway, is a mental one. And there isn’t very much written about that at all.

I’ve talked about not knowing when you will want to go to loo in the dark and that is what has really surprised me. The darkness catches you unawares as it does in all the best horror films and it does so often when you are least expecting it and sometimes when you feel most ready for it. But you aren’t. You rarely are. And it comes and gets you and it envelops you and absorbs you. For those of you that remember, it’s a bit like standing at a bus stop in a Tango advert and a big guy dressed in orange comes and slaps you round the sides of the face and then runs off as quickly as he had arrived. And you are left wondering where he came from. The darkness is a lot like being ‘Tango’d.’

Most of my days are good, great actually. I feel as if I am making some really positive steps on the way to recovery and rehabilitation. Sure I feel tired a lot, often really tired, but each day I set my self some targets, some goals to achieve and most of the time I achieve them. Sometimes those targets are a little bit over ambitious and I don’t quite get there, but this feels like a bit of a long game as our friends in the States would say and it’s all about making positive steps forward each day. Often quite literally.

And then you get ‘Tango’d’, when you are at a bus stop or walking along a path by the Thames or sitting in an office talking to a colleague about returning to work. You get slapped around the face and someone turns the light off on your way to the loo. And the darkness comes.

I wish I could say that there was a simple answer to being able to turn the lights back on, but as with so many things linked to mental health the answers are far from simple. There is no sure fire way to avoid being ‘Tango’d’ and I suppose part of this journey to recovery is about being able to see the orange guy coming and knowing how to walk to the loo in the darkness.

I’ve always considered myself to be mentally resilient and that has been challenged a lot in my life, particularly in my working life. Work is a huge passion of mine, alongside Jackie, Freya, Ed and my family, it is what inspires me. It is what drives me.

When I was in hospital I wanted to return to work as quickly as possible. I needed to. When I was signed off for a month when I left hospital I was incredulous. I’m sure I asked the doctor if that note was the start of their stand up comedy career. There was no way that I wasn’t going to be in work the following week. No way at all. But I wasn’t and I haven’t been and it’s likely that I won’t be for a while.

After that month I desperately wanted to return, I needed to. Despite the fact that work almost exclusively contributed to my stress levels that were off the scale, I love it and feel so emotionally involved with it. And yet when I met with work to talk about returning, Heather, who is our wonderful HR Director, had a Tango suit in her bag. She didn’t know that she had and nor did I, but she did and boy did I get ‘Tango’d’, someone turned the lights off on the way to the loo and left some some slippers and a pile of dirty laundry to navigate just for good measure.

So for me this part of rehabilitation has been about understanding that it is more than just pills and exercise and nutrition. It’s also about mental well-being, you know that thing that men don’t really talk about. It’s about understanding that you take time to fix, often longer than you think you should. And that’s ok. It’s really ok. And the mental part of being fixed is as important, sometimes more so, than all the stuff that the pills and potions sort. It’s about understanding that just because your blood pressure is in the right range and your cholesterol is under a certain number it doesn’t mean you are ‘better’, it doesn’t mean that you are fixed.

It is said that not all challenges are visible. And this challenge certainly isn’t. It also doesn’t manifest itself in the same way for everyone, but it will be there and it will be dark. For some that darkness will last longer than others, but for all it is about learning to identify when that orange guy is going to strike and how to find your way through that darkness.

So it’s not all glitz and glamour this heart attack lark and I’d be really grateful if the last one up could leave the light on and not drop their slippers and dirty washing on the floor on the way to the loo.