A Walk Down Wardour Street on a Late December Evening

Note: I set out to write a cheery Christmas vignette, but this is anything but! The following post, an account of a past Christmas, contains mature themes, disturbing imagery, mentions of suicide, descriptions of eating disorder thoughts, and “sick photos”. If you are easily triggered, please exercise caution when reading. Thank you, and have a very Happy Christmas.

There were lights on lamp-posts. They flickered—on and off, on and off. Were they dying, too? Blurry through the haze. And they were barely visible now, hard to see; hard to keep her eyes open, she could hardly breathe. But really, they were just lights, lights in the darkness, what was there to see? Incandescent and rainbow, festive and free.

And there were pies in the windows—tiny, white, dusted with powdered sugar, filled to the brim with fruit—with apples, with cherries, with blackberries, with pumpkin, with rhubarb, with mince meat—with pecans, with chocolate, with creams… Should she get one? A smile cracked her lips, ripping through her cheeks, shredding like scissors on wrapping paper, and a laugh clogged her throat—a gurgling sound, a gravelly sort of choking. Was she gagging, asphyxiating? And my god, she couldn’t breathe. It was the thought—the thought of it, the sheer ludicrousity of it, the misery; it was just so funny, so funny that it was killing her. But she had to get going now; she really had to keep walking.

The pies could keep leering at her through the bakery windows for all she cared. She really had to get going; she really had to keep walking. She really wanted one, though; yes, she really did want one. But no, it was fine; she was fine. And no, no, she would not be getting one. Besides, she only needed to see them to taste them, smell them to feel them—in her mouth, against her teeth, down her throat, sitting in her stomach, squatting in her skin, boiling in her blood, infiltrating her cells, turning to fat. So no, no, she would not be getting one.

And there was tinsel on the roofs. She could see it despite the darkness. It was hanging, hanging, hung—silver and sparkly, limp but lovely. Oh how she wanted to take a piece! She could wrap it around her neck, drape it like a scarf, pull it tight and feel the warmth, tie it to a hook, hear a crack and feel the pain until—thank god!—she couldn’t breathe. Well, it was dark inside, too, she supposed.

And there was music in the shops. Tambourines tinkled as jingle bells jingled. Shop doors opened, spewing music, spitting warm air into the cold—yes, the cold, the bitter, biting cold; she could feel it in her bones, taste it in her lungs—was that why she couldn’t breathe?—, hear it in her ears—a popping, a pressure, a pain, a pleasure. There was a heaviness to it, to the music, to how it sat in her ears and how it sunk there; it gave her that airplane kind of feeling—the one you get when you take-off or land (when the cabin pressure changes), the one you have to chew gum to get rid of. But gum has calories, you know.

And there was snow on the sidewalk. Legions of boots stamped through it, leaving lesions on the pavement, letting crusty, brown blood ooze from their scars. The wind whipped them over, beating them like frosting for a cake, concealing them from view; the flakes fell down again, and instantly they were cadavers covered in sheets, those hospital corpses that no one had claimed—hidden from view, under a blanket, yet still so very, very there. She wondered vaguely where they went, the footprints in the snow, but it didn’t matter. She just kept walking, her shoes slapping the sludge, sinking a little deeper into the spoils they had made. It was too cold out, and the snow looked too much like powdered sugar. She didn’t want to breathe it in; it might make her hungry.

And there was a girl in the middle of Wardour Street, standing on the edge of the sidewalk, too close to the cars. She was waiting for one of them to hit her, watching with bated breath as they passed her by. Snow fell all around her, and the wind threw her from side to side; she was a puppet on their string, a statuette of sticks, stuck together with the stuff of nightmares. A clock chimed through the darkness, and her heart skipped a beat. It was Christmas time in London, the perfect time to die.

‘Tis the Season: Heart Health and the Holidays

‘Tis the season for gingerbread, candy canes, presents, snowmen, joy, good cheer… and, apparently, heart attacks! Yes, according to the American Heart Association, more heart attacks occur during the holidays than any other time of year (with Christmas logging the most heart attacks per day annually!). Take extra good care of your heart this year and make your holiday one of stories not statistics. Read on to find out how:

  • Stay warm: When it’s cold, your arteries constrict to preserve heat; the flow of oxygenated blood to and from the heart is thusly decreased, forcing the heart muscle to work harder. Sudden temperature changes (e.g. stepping out into the cold or participating in the polar plunge) can trigger a heart attack in predisposed persons. Additionally, prolonged exposure to the cold can result in frostbite and/or hypothermia, causing tissue death and even freezing the heart muscle so it can’t contract. Bundle up!
  • Don’t overdo it: There are so many winter sports–skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, tubing, and my personal favorite, ice skating! While many of these activities are wonderful ways to get exercise, they can do more harm than good. Since your heart is already strained by the chilly temperature, it is easy to overexert yourself and inadvertently trigger dangerous arrhythmias, arterial spasms, and consequent cardiac ischemia. Be careful!
  • Follow the rules: The holidays present lots of temptations and distractions. It’s easy to get caught up in the bustle and forget to take your meds, or skip your workout, or accidentally eat that thing you’re banned from. Don’t! Set reminders for yourself on your phone, find a buddy to hold you accountable, put up sticky notes, whatever–as long as you’re following doctor’s orders. They really do know best!
  • Take precautions: At Christmas, we exchange germs as well as gifts. The flu is awful for everyone, but it can be especially harmful to those with heart disease. Ask your cardiologist if you’re healthy enough for a flu shot. If you are not, stay away from sick people and wash your hands frequently in order to avoid contracting the influenza virus. You should also inform your cardiologist of planned air travel and intended alcohol consumption, as they can respectively increase the risk of blood clots and mimic feelings of warmth. If you do fly or drink, take the necessary precautions like blood thinners and extra coats. It is better to be safe than sorry!
  • Minimize stress: With family reunions, Christmas shopping, and airport lines, the holidays can take an emotional toll on us as well. Emotional stress causes physical stress, notably a raise in heart rate and blood pressure due to adrenaline release. Severe emotions including stress can trigger chest pain (stable angina), palpitations, and ‘broken heart syndrome’, a type of cardiomyopathy where part of the heart enlarges temporarily; a heart attack, stroke, or cardiac arrest could result. Deal with stress immediately, or you may become reliant on maladaptive coping mechanisms such as alcoholism, drug addiction, and/or eating disorders, all of which will further damage your heart.
  • Be aware: Take time to check in with yourself. Register how you’re feeling and act accordingly. If snow shovelling’s got you tired, take a break. If your family won’t bug off, get some alone time and breathe. If you’re cold, put on some gloves. If you’re feeling a bit peckish, eat a festive snack. If you experience chest pain or any other symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 immediately.

Thank you for reading! Have a happy and healthy holidays!