The Anxiety of Survival

By Pramod Raheja, Entrepreneur and Co-Founder & CEO of Airgility, Inc.

What do tennis star Serena Williams, news broadcaster David Bloom, and TV pitchman Billy Mays all have in common with me? They were all victims of a pulmonary embolism, and the latter two individuals died from it. Pulmonary embolisms strike individuals of every age, health condition, and livelihood. No one is immune from this often-silent killer, to which about 15% of all sudden deaths are attributed. A pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs when an artery in a lung becomes blocked by some material, usually a blood clot. Each year, approximately 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with the condition, and an estimated 3-4 times as many individuals have the condition without receiving a diagnosis. My profile was not the typical one for someone who just suffered a significant health crisis. Having been remarkably healthy all my life and a very active athlete and runner, I was not prepared for becoming a temporary semi-invalid.   

I first thought something might be wrong when I was on a training run, and suddenly was hit with lack of breathe. I felt anxiety and thought to myself, ‘maybe I’m getting sick…or just getting old!’ I was concerned and visited two doctors, both of whom dismissed my symptoms as perhaps just an upper respiratory infection…nothing serious because I was a runner and very fit.

I remember, as a kid, the sheer exhilaration of being able to run. I remember playing games with my friends and always having the ability to outrun them. This feeling I had was what many call a “natural high.” That feeling was addictive, and I wanted more of it, eventually becoming a competitive runner, competing at the highest levels in high school and then finally college. All of that experience culminated in a lifelong habit of running.  

Then five years ago, when I suffered the PE, my lungs were anew and needed to be trained again. Initially, I could barely walk up the stairs. Every day after the PE, I did a little bit more and a little bit more.  

All of my life, I could run…until now, I couldn’t. It was depressing, and given what had just happened to me, anxiety set in.

Emotionally, I was a mess. Every chest pain got me scared, and I even went once or twice to get checked out, where another PE was ruled out. I was convinced any leg pain was another clot breaking free to travel through to my heart or lungs. My doctor said having this anxiety was normal but told me to keep on going and running as that would be the best therapy, given how much I enjoyed it.

Before the PE, I don’t think I ultimately equated my running with my mind and how it made me feel. After all, the idea that physical exercise might do something fundamental for mental health is not apparent—especially given the Western distinction between “mind” and “body” that implies mental and physical health can be separated.  

So back to my PE story…eventually, after a month of effort, I was able to run a mile. I kept on plugging away and eventually got to 2 miles and much more, all the while working on increasing my pace and attempting to get back to where I was. After many, many months of effort, I eventually got back to where I was before the P/E…I was back in my happy place!

In conclusion, most of us find that a sunny walk or trip to the gym improves our mood in the short-term. Exercise is well known to stimulate the body to produce endorphins – the body’s natural feel-good hormones, which can make problems seem more manageable. The simple act of focusing on exercise can give us a break from current concerns and damaging negative self-talk. 

And after beating the clot, I feel like I’m unstoppable. I wake up every morning and realize how lucky I am to be alive. I tell my family how much they mean to me, and I’m more patient. I also value life more. And I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore.  

I’ll take more time to enjoy just being, whether it’s watching a sunset or going a day early on a business trip to enjoy. I still sometimes have anxiety about another embolism, especially when I feel a twinge of twang in my leg. Still, the ability to keep on running helps me overcome those feelings. If you want to know more specifically about the correlation between running and mental health, check out this excellent book, Running Is My Therapy.

Is improving yours or those close to your mental health important to you? If so, be sure to RUN, not walk, to LEAD’s $100K Launch Campaign and consider donating right here.

Disclaimer: Any self-care, stress-management, and self-help strategies shared by LEAD’s bloggers do not substitute appropriate professional help and clinical support for people living with a mental illness. While these strategies may be part of a treatment plan designed by a clinician, professional advice is required to assess for risk and craft the treatment plan.

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About The Author 

Pramod Raheja is the Co-Founder & CEO of Airgility, Inc., an aerospace company based in the Washington DC area.  He is an entrepreneur of 20+ years. He is a graduate/mentor of the Founder’s Institute, A member of Mindshare, current President of the Washington DC Chapter of the Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO) and a graduate of the Entrepreneurial Master’s Program at MIT.   Pramod thinks of himself as half geek and half sales guy and believes Airgility is at the forefront of an aeronautics revolution. He lives in Potomac Falls, VA with his Wife and two sons. Physical fitness has been a part of his daily routine as long as he can remember and credits it and specifically running for being his mental outlet that helps him get through any situation.

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