Dr. Strangemeds or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying & Love the Drugs

A few weeks ago, I went in for my annual vision check-up. As part of the exam, they do a blood pressure reading. I suffer from white coat hypertension when I have to get my blood pressure taken, which basically means I get anxious and my reading can be higher than normal in clinical settings. This time was no different. As the cuff constricted around my arm like a python squeezing the life out of a mouse, I tried in vain to go to my “happy place”. It was for naught, as the result was high. However, it wasn’t just “high” this time around, it was “stage one hypertension” high. “Does your doctor know about your blood pressure?” I nodded and thought about my pre-hypertension diagnosis almost a decade ago. I mean, who gets diagnosed with borderline high blood pressure in their 20’s?!? I recalled the many conversations I had with my doctor where he prodded me to adopt healthier exercise and dietary habits while using scary phrases like “silent killer.” Over the past five years, I went through two separate periods where I did the following:

  1. Put on a low dose of blood pressure meds.
  2. Got my ass in gear by running, eating better, and losing weight
  3. Went in for my yearly physical and had a BP reading that allowed me to transition off the meds.
  4. Fell back into a lifestyle of laziness and poor choices.

For context, I haven’t been on blood pressure meds for almost four years.

That is, until this week.

Using an electronic cuff we have at home, I checked my blood pressure multiple times through the day this past Monday and Tuesday. Every result was in the stage one hypertension range. I called my doctor and scheduled a nurse’s well-check visit for Wednesday afternoon hoping  to get some answers. My reading there ended up being 144/87, which according to the doctor was “borderline”. Nonetheless, she wrote me a script for a 30 day supply of pills and had me schedule a follow-up appointment in a month to see the impact the medication is having.

I walked out of clinic feeling a mixture of relief and dejection. Relieved because I was going to take an actionable step that would have a tangible and positive effect on my life. I felt dejected because I’m weak. Please don’t misread me: I don’t believe for one minute that taking meds makes one weak. I felt weak because in my mind, I have so many reasons to try, to fight harder, to take better care of myself, and yet, I don’t. Every night, I tuck my three kids into bed, kiss them goodnight, and pray with them: are they not worth me making my health a priority? What about my wife, who would cuddle next to me each night if I didn’t emit body heat at the equivalent level of a blast furnace, is she not worth it?

I remember a specific conversation a few years back with my doctor. He talked about when it comes to your health, its the one area in your life where its okay to be selfish. That, “if you don’t care enough to take care of yourself now, you won’t be around later to care for them.” At the time, that phrase really hit home. However, over the years, its edge has become dull and ominous in the vaguest of sense.

That said, I say I want to be around for my family, to proudly cry at graduations, finance weddings, and hold grand kids, but are my actions telling a different story?

At the end of the day, its not about whether or not I feel defeated or how much self-loathing I have for being lazy; its about being responsible and doing the right thing. In this case, the right thing is taking the medication and getting my blood pressure under control. Its the one thing I can do that at its core, is both the the simplest task and requires the least amount of “work” out of me. The diet and exercise can come later, but this is a step I can take right now to do something.

I wish I was stronger emotionally and mentally. I wish I was more consistent, more disciplined, and cared more about my health than my comforts. I wish I was more cognizant of the effects my choices have on my life and potentially on the lives around me that I love. I wish, I wish, I wish. American novelist and journalist Lev Grossman once wrote, “If there’s a single lesson that life teaches us, it’s that wishing doesn’t make it so.”

At what point does the wishing stop and turn into action? At what point will I lose the ability to wish and instead, have to face the consequences of my actions? I don’t want to come to the awful realization one day that the problems I thought I had more time to control in fact ended up in control over me.

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