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  • Writer's pictureJanet Federico

My Husband's Heart Attack Improved My Art Practice

Pencils creating a heart

It came on suddenly. I was sitting at the table drawing. We had about 20 minutes to kill before we headed out to church and I was tweaking some details on a pattern. My husband sat down on the couch in the living room and said to me, “Baby, I’m having some chest pains.” Those six words indelibly changed both our lives.

Twenty minutes later we were at the hospital. Within two hours, we knew he was having a massive heart attack and he was admitted to the ICU. Three days later he would have open heart surgery to repair the blockages in his heart. Nine days later he came home from the hospital but nothing has ever been the same.

Before The Heart Attack vs. After The Heart Attack

Once there is a life-altering event in your life, things seem to become organized around the before and after of the event. Before the heart attack, my husband didn’t pay much attention to his diet (because of my medical issues we already eat very healthily). He was training to run a marathon. He worked in his wood shop making furniture and art. We had absolutely no warning there was anything wrong with his heart. There were no symptoms.

After the heart attack, everything is different and yet not. My husband is training for a 5k. He works in his workshop making furniture and art. He’s currently making me a set of barn doors. He is only marginally more careful about his diet. And he has no symptoms.

For me, though, everything is different.

Being the loved one of someone who is in grave danger changes your perspective in unimaginable ways. What I hadn’t expected was for it to change my own life so drastically. I thought it was only happening to him, but it was happening to me too, just differently.

The first few weeks after the hubs got home, he was very restricted in what he could do and needed a lot of assistance. I made the conscious decision that I was going to have to slow down. I had been actively pushing to get my art onto my own e-commerce platform and off of Print On Demand. Before the heart attack, every free minute was spent working on this goal. In the aftermath, everything shut down. My focus was solely on making sure my husband had what he needed to recover. I wasn’t working on my business, I wasn’t even reading, or listening to podcasts as I had always done.

Within a few weeks, my husband was more or less tending to himself, but I was still dealing with this inertia that I couldn’t seem to get past. I was stuck. I was still drawing. My art had taken a turn after the hubs’s hospital stay. I drew a lot during his time in the hospital. I was drawing to stay sane, really, and I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth I normally did, so my inner critic was nowhere to be found. The result was a collection of patterns that I loved and that sowed the seed for what has become my signature style. But, I still couldn’t seem to return my attention to my business. I just kept drawing more and more patterns and illustrations.

Close up of a silk scarf with flowers and insects
The first design I created at the hospital is now a scarf in my line

I was coping.

It took my dear friend breaking her ankle and an episode of Hidden Brain to get me, not just unstuck, but to radically change how I approached both life and my business.

It was July, we were five months post-heart attack and all of my husband’s doctors were astounded by his recovery. We’d been told it would be a year to two years, and five months later, he was back to normal. I was planning a solo trip to the beach in September and reached out to my former housemate about staying with her one night to break up the trip down to the Gulf of Mexico. She texted back yes, and that she’d broken her foot. Knowing she lived alone, I offered to come down to Austin and help her out. We agreed I’d be down there for a week. Three days later, I was in Texas.

My friend and I settled into a routine that involved nightly conversations. She’d be in her bed, her foot up on a stack of pillows. I’d sip on a cup of tea while curled up in a deep armchair in her room. We talked about everything and nothing.

Getting Unstuck in My Art Practice

Austin is roughly eight hours from where I live in Kansas so I made sure to have a long playlist of podcasts and audiobooks ready for both drives. One of those podcasts was Hidden Brain. If you haven’t heard of this show, it’s produced by NPR and it explores the way our minds work. Listening to all of the shows I’d missed as I drove, reminded me of how much I loved to listen to thought-provoking media.

Every summer, HiddenBrain does a series called You 2.0 that is dedicated to self-improvement. As part of this year’s series, they had an episode called “Slow Down” all about the art of savoring. To make a long episode short, it comes down to intentionally slowing down to ensure you are both fully present and get the most out of any given experience.

I had already slowed down to accommodate my husband’s recovery, but there wasn’t any structure or plan. It was reactive. After listening to the episode, I made a conscious decision to not just slow down, but to savor everything I do. Things that changed for me were:

  • Drawing: I used to push and push to get a drawing or pattern completed in one sitting. Now, I draw one aspect of a drawing in a sitting. It could be a single petal on a flower or just the right leaf on the stem. The result of savoring in my drawing is that my art has taken on a distinct voice and the details get more attention now.

  • Reading: I only read a single chapter in whichever book I’m reading. Even if that chapter is only two pages, I stop. This has allowed me to more fully engage with what I’m consuming. I retain a lot more too.

  • Stitching: I am teaching myself Sashiko and before, I would have been pushing myself to complete the pattern as quickly as possible. Now, I stitch a single strand every time I sit down with the cloth. That’s it. One strand.

I was packing up to go down to the Gulf and was struck by how much I’d managed to get done since I’d listened to that episode of Hidden Brain. In just two short months, I’ve almost completed my online store listings and will launch by the end of the year, I have done two vendor events, I have completed three more collections of patterns, I have finished three books, and am mostly done with my first Sashiko project. And, I’ve done this while devoting two of the three evenings I was previously giving to my art business to working out. My husband is teaching me to play racquetball and I’m loving every minute of it.

I can’t tell you the science of it all. I don’t understand how I’ve become more productive in my art practice while slowing down and spending less time on things, but I have. More importantly, my life is richer and so much more textured than it was before. Being fully present in what I’m doing gives my life new meaning and, even better, I enjoy my life more than ever.


Janet Federico, MBA, MFA is a trauma educator, licensed artist, award-winning author, and speaker from Washington, DC now based in the Midwest. Her art has been exhibited at the Wichita Art Museum, the Wilson K. Cadman Art Gallery, City Arts, and InterUrban Art House. Janet’s writing has been featured in Elephant Journal, Writer’s Digest, and The Mighty. Want more? Get Janet in your inbox.


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