A significant event for me in 2013 was that my blood pressure dropped very considerably, to the point where I have now reduced the medication I have used for the last ten years or so and may at some stage stop it entirely.
I have been taking medication for hypertension regularly since 2001, though I first had high blood pressure readings on visits to the doctor when I was in my twenties. For many years I either ignored it, or obsessed about it. I never did much about it though until I started coming to The Haven.
My doctor here on Gabriola recently gave me a printout of my readings since I first started seeing him. In 2007 my blood pressure, on medication, was mostly at the upper limit of OK, about 140/90. It gradually dropped from there and settled for a few years around 130/80, which is pretty good. Then at the beginning of 2013 it fell again, to around 115/75. A couple of months ago, I adopted a new diet (more of which later) and it dropped still further. I started to reduce my medication, first to half, and just recently to a quarter of my original dose. For the last six weeks it’s never been higher than 115/75 and is often as low as 100/70. If you monitor your own blood pressure or are a doctor, these figures will be meaningful to you; if not, suffice it to say that those last numbers are really good!
This is a big deal for me. As I mentioned in my last post, both of my parents died quite young, my father of his third heart attack. I think his first one was before he was 50, about my age now, and hypertension was one of the factors leading to it. This fed into my belief that I probably wouldn’t make it through my 60s. That I had inherited my father’s genetic disposition to hypertension and heart disease seemed to confirm it.
So, it’s very good news to me that at this point in my life my blood pressure is a very good normal.
A number of things seem important to me as I consider how I might have got to this point.
- Medication has been useful to me. Before I came to The Haven I didn’t take any, ‘tho I knew I had a problem. At The Haven, I realized that getting proper medical help would be a self-responsible and self-compassionate thing to do. I’m happy to be reducing my dosage now and would like to not take any medication, but I don’t think I am strongly attached to that goal. If necessary to look after myself in future, I’ll use it.
- The story I tell about myself matters. When I thought I was probably going to die in my 60s, I lived in a way that was quite likely to produce just that result. Not treating my hypertension was one aspect of that; so were smoking and drinking. In shifting that story, and imagining myself becoming 80 and 90, as I described in my last post, I began to take actions that increase the chances of that happening.
- For a number of years I have had a theory that my high blood pressure was related to my physical, emotional and mental tightness and – in theory – if I began to loosen up and express more I would not have to contend with so much internal pressure. This remained theory for quite a while; I think I did loosen up and express more, but it didn’t seem to have much effect on my blood pressure … until recently.
- From which I conclude that sometimes my body takes longer to get things than my mind and my emotions.
- One realization that I think has helped make that theory more of a reality is that is OK to be tight; it is OK not to express. I’ve had to learn some acceptance of myself being this way; otherwise, just as the doctors talk about essential hypertension, I would think of myself as essentially not OK. The fact is that I often am uptight; and I am more than that, and have choices about how I respond to that aspect of myself.
- Related to this, I would hear people say things like, “Listen to your body. It’s trying to tell you something.” Good advice, I suppose, except that I would hear my body accusing me: “You’re uptight and closed, come on, you can do better than this (or you’ll never do better!).” So I used the advice to feed my self-hate. I have learned gradually to speak to and hear myself with more compassion: “It’s OK, you don’t have to hold on so tight, you’re safe to let go. It’s OK to be who you are (including when you’re tight!).”
- Which reminds me that it is sometimes simplistic and unhelpful to say “Listen to your body,” as if it were something separate from your mind, separate from you. The speaker and the listener are one and the same.
- This year I’ve had pretty regular Structural Integration bodywork with Duncan Fraser. I don’t really understand what he does, but I always feel better for seeing him and I think he has contributed to long-term improvements in my physical and emotional health.
- In the years since I moved to Gabriola, during which my blood pressure has gradually fallen, I moved from predominantly participating in Haven programs into interning, assisting, and now leading them. This has required me to show up (to be who I am) and to turn outwards, towards others. In contrast to self-absorption, which I am pretty good at, this movement outwards (a form of expression) is good for me.
- Related to this, at some point I stopped focusing on hypertension as a problem. I have a strong obsessive streak and there have been periods when I have worried and compulsively checked my blood pressure. This form of self-absorption hasn’t helped. Instead, I began to focus on my life as something worth living as fully as possible, for its own sake. I think my blood pressure has improved as a kind of “side-effect” of that intention. (I’ll have to watch the obsessive tendency now with taking readings … tho’ at the moment I do it because it gives me a kick to see how low it is!)
- In the last three months I have changed my eating habits, adopting a diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables and no sugar, wheat, or dairy. I didn’t do this in order to improve my blood pressure; in fact my prime motivation was to be doing something with Rachel, my wife, who wanted to try the diet herself. It has been a very relational process, like several of the others I mentioned above. Fortunately, it turns out that I really like eating this way, and it seems to have knocked some more points off my blood pressure. So, just like the doctor says, I think good diet and exercise (thank you Moxie, our dog, for that) are really important. And so is relationship.
I’d be interested to hear from you if you have had similar (or different!) experiences of this kind of thing. In the meantime, here’s a song I like by Toots and the Maytals, which suggested the title of this post. Have a good day!