Sunday, July 08, 2012

Define "Normal"

In 2002, at the age of 27, I was diagnosed with Essential Hypertension.  I was living in Canada at the time and I had access to some of the best health care on earth.  I saw the top specialists - Cardiologists, Endocrinologists, Oncologists, Nephrologists - and had every possible test they could perform.  I traveled back and forth between hospitals and cardiac centres from Toronto to London.  The results came back normal - there was no physical reason for my incredibly high blood pressure.  The term Essential Hypertension means, "no known cause".

Numbers under 140/90 and over 90/60 are generally considered normal in adults.   The first number, systolic blood pressure, measures the maximum pressure exerted as the heart contracts, while the lower number indicates diastolic pressure, a measurement taken between beats, when the heart is at rest.

 At it's highest, my reading was 210/170.

I was a young healthy woman.  I ate well, I have never smoked, I exercised regularly, I was not under extreme stress.  I did not fit the profile.  But here I was with malignant (potentially life threatening) hypertension.

They didn't have an answer so they just put me on medication.  It started with a basic beta blocker.  They prescribe these drugs to help slow your heart rate down.  They use them to control anxiety and prescribe them to people who suffer stage fright and migraine headaches.  The drugs worked for a while, but they slowed me down too.  For the first time in my life, I started putting on weight.  Beta blockers slow your metabolism and mine has always been naturally high.  My doctors experimented with the dosage because my BP was inconsistent.  Sometimes it was incredibly high for no apparent reason and then it would suddenly drop down to below average which would make me incredibly tired.  When it was high, it was dangerously, scarily high.

I've never been one to take pills.  I really hated taking the beta blockers but I was terrified of what might happen if I didn't.  The doctors put so much fear in me so I took the drugs even though they weren't actually helping.  In fact, they were messing around with my body.  The side effects were awful - weight gain, lethergy, sore throat, cold hands and feet, depression.  They prescribed anti-depressants to counter the side effects.  Reading this now as I write, I cannot believe I fell for it!  But I was told that if I didn't take these drugs, I could have a heart attack, stroke or eventual renal failure.

I sought advice from one of my cancer specialists - my childhood oncologist.  This man saved my life and was like a father to me.  There was speculation that somehow the chemotherapy had aged my organs and I had the heart of a 60 year old.  He looked at me with great love and concern and he said, "Live your life to it's fullest and get life insurance."  It wasn't easy to hear, but I appreciated his candor.  He was absolutely right.  Life is too short.

So I took his advice.  I needed to re-evaluate things.  I planned to start traveling again and ended up coming to New Zealand (that's a whole OTHER story).

I was so afraid I was going to die, it was always in the back of my mind.  I found a doctor in New Zealand who continued to fill me with fear.  The beta blockers stopped working and even though I was on the highest dosage, my BP began to spike.  The doctor prescribed ace inhibitors which relax the blood vessels to allow for easier blood flow.  A side effect of the ACE inhibitor is kidney failure (which just so happens to be one of the possible outcomes if I don't take ANY medication), so to counteract that she added a diuretic to take pressure off the kidneys.  Wouldn't I be better off not taking anything at all and leaving it to chance?  Unfortunately, it wasn't clearly explained to me. This was all new to me, it was like learning a whole new language. I trusted her judgment. I HAD to trust her judgment.  She's a doctor after all.  Surely she had my best interest in mind.

Those shocked my system into submission for a while but the BP began to rise a few months later so the doctor added a calcium channel blocker to the cocktail which dilates the arteries allowing for more oxygen to get to the heart.  The doctor kept telling me that we needed to get this blood pressure under control before it created irreversible damage to my organs.  But what damage was this medication causing?  She didn't know the answer to that. Well, she probably had some idea but she wasn't sharing it with me.

I was taking more medication than the 96 year old lady I was caring for at the time.  This can't be "normal".

I was gaining weight, I was depressed and I was losing myself.  Suddenly I was dependent on pills to "keep me alive".  I lived in constant fear and felt like a victim to my own health.  What a horrible way to live.  I became afraid to travel in case I needed more medication or needed my doctor. 

Then my biggest fear of all happened.  I developed another tumor on my remaining ovary.  This has nothing physically to do with my high blood pressure - but I believe it has everything to do with my fears.

At the time I didn't see the link.  I was a victim remember.  Westernized medicine loves creating victims.  They feed off us, we feed off them.  It's a very unhealthy co-dependent relationship.

I had a radical hysterectomy at the age of 32 (uterus and ovary removed) which threw me into medical menopause.  I did not want to take hormones - I tried taking the birth control pill once when I was 17 but my body did not respond well to it. Proof that I listened to my body then and trusted my own intuition when it came to taking synthetic man made "pills".  Once again I sought the advice of my Oncologist in Canada.  He agreed, I needed to go ahead and have surgery before the tumor became aggressive but he advised me to stay away from hormone replacement therapy (HRT) due to my medical and family history.

However, my surgeon in New Zealand told me that she would not do the hysterectomy unless I promised to take HRT.  She felt I was too young to be without estrogen and I was putting myself at risk for developing osteoporosis and developing heart disease and my GP strongly supported her.  Obviously they were both fully aware of my acute hypertension and it is a well known fact that HRT raises blood pressure.  They assured me that HRT was harmless and perfectly natural - it was made from pregnant mare's urine.  Ah, completely natural to consume horse's urine.  Horses that are bred to be kept in foal so scientists can make a pill from their urine.  That makes so much sense!  It didn't even occur to them that hormones will naturally regulate themselves or that the ovaries aren't the only organ we have that makes estrogen.  At the time I didn't know this either.  I trusted my highly educated surgeon and doctor because I was under their care.  And medical menopause hits you like a tonne of bricks.  I needed help and I was desperate and frightened and I was doing this all on my own.

The cycle of fear continued. 

I started doing my own research which showed that taking HRT not only raises blood pressure, it also increases your chances of developing breast cancer (a strong gene in my family) and having a stroke (also a strong family link) and brought these up with the doctors.  They dismissed the claims and still felt that the risks of not taking drugs outweighed the risks of being on them.  I began learning more about the endocrine system and how our pituitary gland plays a very significant role in regulating hormones.  I kept reading and researching for the next two years.

I was on 4 different types of blood pressure pills and taking HRT at the age of 32.  I gained 12kgs and didn't know who I was anymore.  Have you ever seen those sumo wrestler suits?  That's how I suddenly felt, like I was trapped in a sumo suit.  My self esteem and self confidence plummeted. 

I struggled to deal with my weight for two years.  My doctors were apathetic, advising me to accept the changes my body was going through.  This was "normal" and everyone gains weight as they get older.  All the books I read about menopause said the same depressing things.  Basically I was going to get fat, get wrinkles, become miserable and my vagina was going to shrivel up and turn to dust.  According to them, life ends at menopause.

What a load of rubbish!  Someone needs to change this!  I need to change this!!!  Someone has to write a book about how you can learn to enjoy menopause.

I decided to stop taking the HRT.  I went off it cold turkey.  The worst of the symptoms were the hot flushes and insomnia but otherwise I think I was pretty lucky.  I just dealt with it.  Seriously, it wasn't as bad as some of the side effects of the medications.  Menopause is part of life.  Deal with it.  We are conditioned to take pills to avoid dealing with things.

I went back to my doctor to talk to her about my decision. She was not impressed with me at all.  My main concern was the history of breast cancer in my family, and the fact that I've had ovarian cancer.  I wasn't prepared to risk losing the last of my "femininity".  She suggested I make an appointment with a geneticist to find out whether I carry the breast cancer gene.  I asked her, "And what if I test positive for that gene?  Then what?"  She told me that the responsible thing would be to consider preventative measures and have my breasts removed.  WHAT?!

I walked out of there and I never went back. This was insanity!  The time had come to take control of my own health again.  It was my wake up call.

How on earth did I ever allow myself to get so dependent on this messed up health care system?  When did I stop listening to my body and stop trusting it?  Somewhere along the way, I lost my connection with myself.

It's not all that uncommon, most of us do.  We forget that we have the ability to heal ourselves.  I forgot, and I'm in the natural healing business!  Fear has a way of taking away our control.  Fear consumes us.

I knew that somehow my high blood pressure was linked to emotions I'd been suppressing. I found a Holistic Homeopathic GP and so began my journey back to health.  I was anxious to get off the medicinal "cocktail of drugs" which were now making me feel worse than I ever felt before I started taking them.  I was advised to wean myself off, but I just stopped taking them cold turkey.  At first my BP was all over the place as my body was readjusting.  Taking the drugs inhibited my body's natural rhythm, it struggled to function on it's own again and my doctor kept having to reassure me that I wasn't going to die.  She was supportive and caring - what you'd expect a physician to be.  She trusted me so as a result, I trusted her.

I was going through withdrawal.  There is no official support system in place for mainstream pharmaceutical withdrawal.  That must be against human rights, surely?

This is when I began doing yoga daily and started putting myself first.  I hadn't looked after myself for a long long time.  As the fear subsided, my entire perception changed and as a result so did my body.  It didn't happen overnight.  It was a slow steady incline over 3 years.  I had to be disciplined and consistent. It was not an easy climb.  I filled my life with positive, encouraging people and ended relationships that drained me.

Yoga helps to balance the endocrine system. It awakens the glands that regulate all of the hormonal systems in our bodies - the pituitary and the pineal glands in our brain, the thyroid in our throat, our adrenal glands which happen to sit on top of the kidneys and finally the ovaries (which had been cancerous).  There is no question that all of these glands were not functioning properly for much, if not all of my life.  The adrenal glands in particular are responsible for regulating blood pressure.  They make adrenalin - our fight flight hormone.  Something I've done my whole life - fight or flight.  This was where the problem was even if no medical tests could prove it.  I instinctively knew I needed balance.  So that's what I did.

Today, I no longer have high blood pressure.  Actually, that's not entirely true, I should say I am no longer diagnosed with high blood pressure.  From time to time my BP has random "spikes" which I have accepted as my "normal". I just vibrate at a higher frequency, more like a humming bird than a falcon. It's my body's indicator that I need to stop and breathe.  This is when pranayama (breathing) and meditation are crucial.  This is also when I know I need a massage and do more yoga.  This is now my medicine.

I'm a healthy size 8/10 (size 6 in North America).  I've gone through menopause and no longer have any symptoms.  I feel better than ever.  It takes 7 years for all the cells in our bodies to regenerate completely.  Every 7 years we get a whole new body!  I'm halfway there. 

We can all become victims.  This was a great lesson for me to experience first hand.   As soon as you "think" you are unwell, you become unwell.  Our thoughts become us.  Trust your intuition.  You know your body better than anyone else.  Don't let anyone tell you what "normal" is.  What the heck is "normal" anyway?

The Oxford Dictionary defines normal as:  conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected. 

There you have it.  Conforming.  That's a very dirty word!  No one should conform.  EVER.  

It's official.  I am SO NOT normal.  Thank God!

I love this quote from Buddha:

To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one's family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one's own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him. 

Take control of your thoughts.  Think positively.  Be kind to yourself.  Follow your path. This is your life.  Live it well. 

If you've read this and feel you're struggling to regain control of your health, please leave a message.  I'm happy to help in whatever way I can.  

***Note:  This is my own personal journey and my story.  I am in no way suggesting that people do what I did and stop taking their medication.  This is incredibly risky and you must be in the care of a doctor.  If you don't feel that your doctor is listening to you, it is okay to get a second, third, forth, fifth... opinion until you find someone who will help you and listen to your needs.  There are some great mainstream Westernized Medical doctors out there.  They aren't all narrow minded.  

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Tracy, That was truly amazing and inspiring to read. There are many similarities in our lives in regard to health issues. You never give up and never give in and that's what makes you stand out in a crowd. You think, you challenge the statis quo and you find your own path in life. You have helped me today in more ways than you will evern know. Hugs, Brenda