Diary of a Cockeyed Optimist: I’m not fine. But I will be.

I went to the doctor for what I thought would be a routine checkup. Not that I would recognize a routine checkup if I saw one. I hadn’t been to a doctor (except for two emergency room visits, one after being mugged and one after falling off a racing camel. Now that’s a story for another time.) in eighteen years. I felt fine. I was fine. I thought.

Recently I turned fifty. Also recently, as in a few weeks ago, I got health insurance. Fortunately, I hadn’t needed to see a doctor in the past eighteen years (exceptions aside), but I did think it would be nice to get all of those “You’re this age now” checkups. I walked into the office happy. I was happy to be there. Happy to check those checkups off my list. After a five minute wait, which is to say no wait at all, I sat on the elevated bed and the nurse asked a few questions and then took my blood pressure.

“Oh. That’s not good.”

“What?” I asked. Slightly concerned but not really. 

“Your blood pressure. It’s 190 over 120.”

“Oh.” It’s not good when a nurse says ‘that’s not good,’ but I had no idea how not good it was. The nurse left and the doctor arrived. Asked a few questions. Took my blood pressure.

“Oh. That’s not good.”

Crap.

“It’s 180 over 110.” 

OK. So it was still high, but it was going down. That’s good, right?

“If you hadn’t said you were feeling fine, I would be sending you to the ER right now.”

Oh. That’s not good.

We went through the lifestyle questions. She said no processed foods. Check. No fast food. Rare. Exercise. Check, although that’s new. Alcohol. Mmmm. I’ll work on it. Smoking. No.

She left the room and came back and told me she’d already called in a prescription and I would have to begin taking it that same day. She wanted to put me on two medications, and thinks I’ll need two, but wants to try this one solo first. I have an appointment for blood work next week and a follow-up the following. I’ve also got appointments for a mammogram and a colonoscopy. Making up for lost time, I guess. Making sure I don’t lose any time.

I suppose I should have expected it. Not only is high blood pressure a common occurrence in my family, I’m also overweight and have been for years. Really overweight. Like, I need to lose a quarter of my weight, overweight. Up until the past few weeks I’d been sedentary. Then there’s that whole global pandemic and a dictator-wanna-be and the fact that my job essentially stopped. I’ve been trying to finish writing one book for months and am contributing to another. I pulled out the Chicago content from my site and rebranded it eight months after completely switching platforms. So, you could say stress is a factor. I should have been surprised if I didn’t have high blood pressure.

It’s still scary.

I called Jim when I got in the car. When I got home I began researching heart-healthy foods. Jim had a sphygmomanometer and he dug that out. I called my parents. Called my son. Cried. Picked up my prescription. Jim drove.

It had been a point of pride that I hadn’t needed to see a doctor in all those years. Except I did. I wasn’t worried that I didn’t have health insurance because I didn’t need it. Except I did. Well, at least I do now. At least I have it now.

That night I took my blood pressure, and it was 148 over 91. Not great, but a far sight better than emergency room-ready. Both Jim and my dad had opined that I might have had white coat syndrome. While that may have played a part in it, my numbers were still too high without an M.D. present. I took my medication, realizing that now I was someone who took medication. I hadn’t been and it was going to take some getting used to.

Things are looking up. I’ve lost seven pounds since we started daily three-mile walks two and a half weeks ago. This morning’s numbers were good. I have tuna and salmon in the freezer and containers upon containers of cut fruit and vegetables. I’m skipping my evening cocktails. It’s Friday night and an Old Fashioned sounds appealing, but it can wait.

I’m also taking a good, long look at what causes me stress and what brings me joy. Social media, with its overflowing toxicity and barrage of negativity, has been one of the biggest contributors to my anger, frustration, and anxiety. Conversely, the connections I’ve made and the friendships that are nurtured are sources of happiness. I’m going to be much more intentional with my usage and hopefully the latter will outweigh the former.

I find joy in little things, like a balmy day with a slight breeze. The hummingbirds that dance around the trumpet vine that climbs up the side of the house. The “Good morning!” exchanged on the early morning trail. I’m inhaling all of those. Holding them in.

I know I’m happiest and most present when I’m writing. I’ve been doing a lot of that in the last few months. I write in my journal every morning and then for at least half an hour at some point during the day. I write whatever I want. Some of it has landed in a book chapter. Some of it is wordplay. Some of it ends up as articles. Some of it’s crap and some of it’s brilliant but every word is fulfillment of who I am.

And the thing is, I have a lot of words I haven’t used yet. I have a lot of hugs I haven’t given, a lot of “I love yous” I haven’t said. There are so many stories of things I’ve seen that I still haven’t told, and so many experiences waiting for me to discover them so I can spin their tales, too.

It’s sobering and humbling to realize that no, I am not invulnerable. It’s embarrassing to realize that, even though genetics may play a factor, I’ve made some life choices that contributed to this frightening experience. But, I am now aware and can make different choices that will prove to myself just how much I appreciate this strong body and creative mind.

I am not fine. But I will be.