A couple of months ago, after having a few sleepless nights where I was convinced I was having a myocardial infarction (heart attack) I finally decided to just get it over with and have a full cardiac check-up to find out what’s really going on. I went to my GP and to nobody’s surprise, my blood pressure was elevated.
He had me monitor my home blood pressure for a week, and sent me to all these tests that would basically rule out other underlying conditions that might be causing the high blood pressure. I was simultaneously relieved to be actively taking steps to get to the bottom of this condition and terrified at the thought of what they might find.
I was breaking out in cold sweats while they took an ECG and blood tests and kidney scans and all the other investigations that needed to be done to come up with a diagnosis. At the end of the day it all turned out to be normal and essentially what I had was a case of stage one primary hypertension. No big deal, let’s get you on medications that you’ll have to take for the rest of your life, thank you, next patient please.
I tried to treat the diagnosis and subsequent treatment as a kind of joke, and God knows it must seem funny to other people for someone who’s relatively young to be on maintenance medications. But underneath the humour and the bluster, there was a real sense of shame. I feel like I’ve somehow failed, like I’ve lost a battle that I’ve been fighting my entire adult life.
You see, my family has a history of heart disease. Its one of the reasons why I’m so paranoid about it. Every single person in my family has taken or is currently on cardiac medication in one form or another. My father, aunts and uncles are all on different kinds of anti-hypertensives. This is the future that I’ve always known I had to look forward to.
I remember having a blood check at 21 and discovering my cholesterol levels were elevated. I mean, I love to eat and I know my sweet tooth will probably be the death of me, but I remember looking at my friends who consume food by the buckets and finding out when they had their cholesterol check that it was all normal…and I felt betrayed by own DNA.
Like how is it fair that a woman who weighs at least 20 pounds more than I do, and who doesn’t obsessively watch their weight or think about what they eat, would have normal triglyceride and LDL levels? LDL is the bad cholesterol by the way.
Anyway, long story short, it was a rude awakening to the fact that you can try to modify your lifestyle all you want but there’s always going to be a risk that your genes will get the better of you.
I suppose it doesn’t help that I eat when I’m stressed and I feel like I’ve been perpetually stressed (and therefore stress-eating) since I was 19.
Anyway, I found it hard to accept and talk about this change in the first few weeks after the diagnosis. Like I said, there was shame and there was also the fear of judgment from other people who might think, serves you right for not dieting and exercising enough. This wasn’t all unfounded by the way; the nurses and GPs I met at the clinic all made some kind of comment that implied this was somehow all my fault.
And in a way I suppose it is. I mean, you can’t blame genetics for everything. Your genes will predispose you to a certain condition but there are ways to actively prevent it from coming to fruition. I am now paying for years and years worth of neglect and lack of respect for my body.
I suppose that’s why I’m sharing my story. Its a cautionary tale against being blasé about your health as well as a message of encouragement to eat healthy and stay active.
Don’t let a future of anti-hypertensives become part of your narrative. It might be too late for me at this point but its not too late for you or for people you know. Stay healthy. Be strong. Live well.