How Much Can a Heart Hold?

Did you know that you can actually die from a broken heart? It is called broken heart syndrome, more scientifically known as stress induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy. I thought maybe takotsubo was the doctor who first discovered this illness but it turns out that a takotsubo is actually a Japanese octopus trap which is what your heart looks like when part of it becomes paralyzed and ballooned up from stress induced hormones and doesn’t pump blood properly. The rest of the heart then has to work double time to keep up and this causes all kinds of bad shit.

I KNEW it.

Some days I am pretty sure I have an octopus trap heart.

Look at all those broken hearts I mean octopus traps! Wow!
Look at all those broken hearts I mean octopus traps! Wow!

It makes perfect sense.

Picture a perfect heart: in an adult, the size of two fists. It beats 100,000 times a day and pumps six quarts of blood through the body an average of three times a minute. This means that your heart moves your blood 12,000 miles in ONE day.

Did you know this? Our heart is a fucking superhero organ.

And this is how I see it (some of you who know me might want to just stop reading here):

The oxygen-poor blood that comes in from your body through the right atrium represents all the sad stuff coming at you in the world that harms your peace.

For me this is dark stuff like:

…the homeless people I see downtown every day: lonely, mentally ill, hungry, angry, addicted

…the horrid hateful things done by people in the world, painted in the news and social media as being bigger and more powerful than the lovely, life giving blessings that happen every millisecond at a rate infinitely exponential compared to the evil

…fear of losing any of my people to illness or accident

…rejection by people I love who choose to not love me back

…the dead flowers in my backyard that brought me such joy until I forgot to water them (I need to just pull them out so that I quit saying to my family: “my life is a dead flower”)

For you it might be other things. It is all relative: no less retched or painful.

In a normal heart, all this tired toxic blood, tarnished and blackened by the world is pumped into the lungs to be soothed and filled with oxygen where it is then pumped through the left atrium into the body. The heart whispers “lub-DUB, lub-DUB, lub-DUB” which in heart speak means “I am here! I can help! Here comes hope and love and joy and healing nourishment! Drink it up precious body! Beautiful soul! Stubborn brain! Feel better! It will be okay!”

Through the miracle of refreshed blood we are able to continuously overcome the everyday pain and sorrow that comes to us from so many different angles.

But when something more upsetting than usual happens: the death or illness of a loved one, serious rejection or betrayal, the loss of a job, or sometimes even the sudden shock from a surprise, the body (mostly in women by the way) releases stress hormones that can paralyze part of the heart, rendering it puffed up and incapable of rejuvenating the body, brain and soul.

It becomes an octopus trap holding on to more of the sadness than normal, leaving a person breathless and tired and lethargic and without cause for hope. And some hearts can only hold so much of this before they just quit altogether. See?

Have you ever felt like you were going to just die from the ache of what the world has given you? I am pretty sure my mom died from a broken heart. Her death for sure almost broke mine.

I have always believed that my heart has unlimited capacity for love and all the emotions that come with it, which can include not only infinite joy but also ferocious anger, jealousy and devastating sorrow.

But once in a while things feel like too much for my heart and I go through a period of time when I avoid anyone and anything that will cause my octopus trap to just finally explode taking me with it. I call this hunkering down.

The reality is that a typical heart only holds about two to three ounces of blood at any given time. That’s about 3% of the total volume of blood in your body and it has to be moved through quickly and efficiently because another hundred and eighty seven ounces needs to be processed in three minutes to get in the daily little twelve thousand mile jaunt of healthy blood movement.

I wonder if some of the pain from a broken heart comes from holding more than the normal amount of toxic, oxygen-poor blood?

If you take care of your heart: rest, good food (which includes chocolate), loving acts of kindness to yourself and others, some exercise (just go for a walk my good people, one foot in front of the other until you feel better), and lots and lots of laughing your heart will be better able to do it’s job fighting off situational depression (the blues) with its tender lub-dub, lub-dub.

This will then give you a better chance of avoiding a broken heart come time for things more serious than dead flowers. Bad things happen my people and you need to be prepared. Caring for your heart is like doing squats to prepare for the zombie apocalypse when you will have to poop in the woods. It might not happen but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

But if you feel like you are having a heart attack you should go to the hospital asap.

I’m not talking about when you are listening to the SYMPTOMS of a heart attack on the radio like I did the other morning and then started to think “Oh jeez! ! I have all those symptoms! Someone call 911!”

Because while it might not be a heart attack but instead a broken heart (which can mimic a lot of the same symptoms) you could still die if you don’t get help.

But if you think it’s just suggestive radio talk (or way too much important knowledge from this blog post) chew a couple of tums and buy yourself some pretty (not dead) flowers before you overreact.


  1. I actually remember hearing of this on…gah, which was it…Gray’s Anatomy or ER. Good reminder all the same!


  2. Nolsie says:

    Enjoyed your post, and learnt lots of stuff I didn’t know!


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