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  • Writer's pictureAnna Kaminski

A confession.

I'm Anna, and I'm not well.

About a month ago, a couple of days before I was due to dash off to Seville for an overnight work trip - my first outing since Spain went into lockdown - I woke up at 4am with blood pounding in my head.

Checked my blood pressure. 156/110. Strokes start happening when the diastolic (the lower reading) reaches around 120. Made frantic efforts to lower said blood pressure by lying on my exercise mat in my living room in the dark, lifting my 5kg weights until I almost pulled a muscle. Dizzy, afraid. And of course, the more I feared getting sicker, the more my blood pressure rose, creating a vicious circle.

It's not the first time in recent weeks that I've woken up at an ungodly hour, unable to get back to sleep, but it's the first time (to the best of my knowledge) that my blood pressure has been that high. For the rest of the night, I sat up, trying to read, fearful that if I were to try and sleep, my BP would reach stroke levels, until I dozed off out of sheer exhaustion.

I have nocturnal hypertension, meaning that while most people's blood pressure dips at night, mine inexplicably rises. Well, perhaps not entirely inexplicably.

I haven't been well - truly well - for quite some time.

I don't sleep well, waking up fuzzy-headed and tired. I snore like a pirate, prompting a friend to compare the noises emanating from my throat to those of a street-cleaning machine when the two of us shared a room in Cayenne. Due to allergies and a wonky septum (I've fallen flat on my face as a child a few times while ice skating), I've had chronic sinus inflammation for many years now, meaning that I don't get as much oxygen when I'm lying down as I should. I function, and meet deadlines, but I'm always tired. My concentration is lapsing. I have reader's block; having been a bookworm all my life, I'm frustrated over not being able to focus on more than a few pages at a time. This needs to change.

These days, I tend to associate my visits to the UK with being patched up by doctors and dentists as my decrepit body falls to bits. After weeks of feeling like a whole-body clenched fist, with nocturnal headaches and a plethora of mystery bruises, I finally bit the bullet and arranged an appointment with a cardiologist and and ENT specialis.

Cold jelly on my sternum. Watching blue and red colours on the screen as the ultrasound shows blood pumping in and out of my heart. A surreal tableau of me chatting to the nice ultrasound technician from Kerala about travels in India while the probe in his hand digs into the skin between my breasts.

The cardiologist is largely positive. My ECG looks fine, and my echocardiogram shows that there is no damage to my heart (so far).

I'd rather like to keep it that way. I'm 38 and shouldn't have the blood pressure of an unwell person in their 70s.

My ENT specialist (Ear, Nose & Throat) sticks a tiny video camera up my nose, as far as my voice box, and tells me that a combination of weight loss, antihistamine sprays and saline rinses may do the trick. If not, there's a straightforward operation that'll align my wonky septum and trim my turbinates, expanding my airways.

Both the cardiologist and ENT specialist have told me that I need to lose weight.

Now that I know that I've been granted time to reverse the decline of my health, I'm proposing some major changes to my lifestyle. Among other things, I've been listening to the audio book version of Dave Asprey's "Head Strong". He's a biohacker responsible for the Bulletproof Diet who's done a heck of a lot of experimenting with his own body, trying to enhance its performance, including having own stem cells injected into his own joints. I'm not looking at anything quite as radical. But I'm willing to incorporate the following into my life:

  • Dietary changes leading to weight loss. No more ingesting crap. Given that I haven't grown a centimetre in height since the age of 18, but have gained about 13kg in weight, I'm in danger of getting in shape. Or rather, becoming as round as a shape.

  • Meditation. I really need to stop my mind from going a hundred miles per hour all the time.

  • Cold therapy. Starting with cold showers and working my way up to swimming in Antarctica without a wetsuit like Wim Hof, the Dutch extreme athlete. (Well, that might be a tad optimistic).

  • More exercise. I already do some yoga, I hike and I lift weights, and can build on that.

  • Supplements. Need to take a blood test to figure out what I'm particularly deficient in and correct the imbalance.

  • Change my toiletries. Use brands that use natural ingredients rather than a ton of chemicals. Stop putting crap on my skin.

  • Limit my screen time in the evenings. I have trouble winding down and my poor sleep quality may well result from my lack of melanin production due to so much digital exposure.

The one good thing to come from this pandemic/lockdown is that once I go back to Spain, I'll be in one place and in a controlled environment, and therefore in a position to make and monitor the above changes. I will record my progress in due course.

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