In early 2017, my Blood Pressure was 160/100 and I was put on two medications to control it.
In the middle of 2018, my BP was 120/80 and I got off my hypertension medications.
When in college, I used to donate blood whenever they had blood donation camps in college. It was during one such camp when my blood pressure was slightly elevated and I was dissuaded from donating blood. Being a doctor and knowing the risks of high blood pressure, my sister asked me to go see a cardiologist. When he measured my blood pressure, it was a little elevated for someone as young as me. Though both my parents are hypertensive and diabetic, I was a little too young to have hypertension. He prescribed a low dose medication and asked me to take a battery of tests to check if there was a secondary source for my elevated readings. The results were fine and this meant there was no underlying reason for my elevated readings.
Thus began my battle against hypertension.
For those not in the know, medication is always the last resort when it comes to lifestyle diseases like blood pressure and diabetes. Though it is a myth that you will have to take them life long once you start, medications are reversed or stopped only after careful consideration. In this regard, a person in their early 20s with blood pressure readings like 140/90 demanded immediate attention.
Two things happened to me after I was first diagnosed with high blood pressure.
One, I became paranoid.
Two, I developed a fear, an aversion almost, towards checking my blood pressure.
Every visit to the doctor was fraught with fear. I would have to mentally prepare myself and would keep postponing it. This meant that I checked my blood pressure only when I went for my doctor visits. Through all this time, all my other tests like ECG, Stress Test, Lipid Profile etc., were normal. I didn’t make any drastic changes to my diet or lifestyle and over the next couple of years, my blood pressure came down to 120/80. After much deliberation, my doctor asked me to stop my medication. When I went for my next review, my first one without medications, my BP as 130/80 and all my tests were normal.
When you have a chronic problem, you are supposed to periodically go for check-ups to see if everything is under control. It isn’t like a fever or common cold.
I didn’t check my blood pressure for the next 3 years. Don’t ask me why. Even though I was supposed to go for reviews every few months, I didn’t go. I was afraid that my pressure would have raised again and I would be asked to start taking medications again.
This also meant that I was afraid to try and donate blood because that meant checking blood pressure.
A month before I got married, a park near my house was conducting a free health camp which included checking blood pressure. With my impending marriage at the back of my mind, I got my blood pressure checked.
The reading was 160/100.
I immediately took an appointment with my cardiologist and sure enough, my BP reading was high in his clinic too. My worst fears were realised — I had to go back on medications. again. It was a low dose and even my doctor was keen to see that I try and get off my medications. This time, I made a few changes. I joined a running group to prepare for running a half marathon, which I did. The running also became an obsession. I ran even when I was injured. I ran even when I hadn’t slept well. The fear of checking my blood pressure still loomed large and the only place where I checked it was in the doctor’s clinic. I had a singular obsession — getting off my blood pressure medications.
So when I went for my next review, I was very confident that all my running would have surely worked its magic.
My blood pressure reading was 160/90.
There are a few moments in life when I have been downright dejected and disconsolate. This was one such moment. To make matters worse, I was prescribed another pill to get my blood pressure under control as the low dose pill was obviously not enough. I don’t smoke, hardly drink and and am physically active. There was no logical explanation for my elevated reading. I wasn’t very happy at work but I doubted that it was the cause for my condition. The dream of getting off my medications was dealt a final blow.
Having seen me fret and be paranoid about my condition, my wife just about had enough. She got a blood pressure monitor for our house and forced me to check my BP. For about a month, I avoided it and when I couldn’t escape anymore, I reluctantly allowed her to check my BP. It was 144/89, not healthy, but a climb down from 160/100.
Then, something strange happened. When my wife again made me check my blood pressure a couple of weeks later, I fell off my chair.
The reading was 111/77. It was the first time in my life that I had ever got such a reading. I was ecstatic. I also didn’t lose sight of the fact that it was under medication.
From that day on, I lost my fear of checking my blood pressure. In fact, I went to extremes, checking it twice a day. The readings only got progressively better — 100/60, 102/70 and a few readings even bordered on low blood pressure, causing me mild giddiness.
I went from fearing measuring my blood pressure to loving it.
After a few months, armed with a bunch of great readings, the doctor was convinced and reduced my dosage to a single pill, which was half the current dosage.
Where I once used to put off going to the doctor, I now couldn’t wait to go for my reviews. By this time, I had reduced my running mileage owing to a bad back and had added yoga to my routine. I no longer senselessly pushed myself to run when injured or not having got sufficient rest.
I continued to check my blood pressure and barring one or two times when it the systolic (the first number) marginally crossed 130, most of my readings were healthy.
The dream of getting off medications was back in play.
After a few months, the doctor again reduced my medication to a low dose and asked me to check it at home regularly. The healthy readings continued, even on the lower doses. On my next visit, I was asked to take the pill on alternate days. The readings were normal even on the alternate day dosage.
On my next visit, I was told I could stop taking my medications completely.
What I thought and was told was impossible, became a reality.
Just a point before I got further:
None of this can even remotely be considered medical advice and please don’t treat it as such. Treatment of chronic diseases depends on numerous factors and at no point did I take any decision on my own. Everything was done after consulting my cardiologist.
All of this doesn’t mean I am off the hook. I still check my blood pressure at home regularly (last week it was 119/77 and a couple of days back it was 122/82) and have to continue to go for reviews.
When I was thinking about this whole experience, a thought occurred to me — that of making the impossible, possible.
I was speaking to an ex-colleague who had changed jobs. When I asked her how it was, the reply was ‘same shit, different day’. She had changed jobs but nothing had changed, really. It had probably gone from worse to bad. Another colleague who had struck it out on her own was very happy with her choice because she didn’t have to work for people she didn’t respect anymore. She had gone from worse/bad to ‘I’m Happy’!
Most of us, myself included, hesitate to leap and think big. As a result, many of the changes we make are marginal.
What if you can go from being dissatisfied and disrespected at work to creating something magical and memorable with your talents, abilities and a ton of effort, instead of merely job hopping?
What if you can go from overweight to running your first 10k in six months instead of try a slew of diets halfheartedly?
We all have best case scenarios in our minds but hold ourselves back because they seem impossible or improbable. Believing that a massive change is possible is the first hurdle to be crossed. The journey can take time, be tedious and make you want to give up, but it all starts with a belief that the best case scenario you have in mind may just come to fruition. If you don’t believe it’s possible, the odds of you putting the effort to realize it are remote.
Instead of just going from bad to tolerable or okay, it’s indeed possible to go from bad or worse to amazing and ‘damn, I didn’t know that was possible’!