Facing Up To Feeling Over The Hill

A high blood pressure diagnosis has left me feeling low…

Alan Hansen rolls downhill in cart

I THINK I’m going to have to stop going to the Doctor’s.
Time was, I used to go there to get better. But, nowadays, I just get told I’m becoming more ill.
Take this week, for example. I went to the surgery hoping for an MRI scan on my knee, which is stopping me from running again.
But I also came out with news that my blood pressure is still worryingly high – and strict orders to cut out salt, caffeine, fat and alcohol ringing in my ears.
I’d gone in feeling young enough still to run semi-seriously, but exited with a dreadful sense that I was now well and truly Over The Hill. And heading down the other side fast.

Still in denial about the diagnosis, I hit the ‘Net, Googling: “naturally high blood pressure” because I couldn’t believe that my lifestyle was so dissipated as to put me on the brink of a stroke or a heart attack.

And I found similar experiences to mine: such as Guardian contributor Mark Honigsbaum, who developed hypertension despite being a slim non-smoker who exercised regularly and thought he ate well.

Also like me, Honigsbaum’s blood pressure had been perfect until recently – and yet he was abruptly contemplating the frightening prospect that everything might not be all right, after all.

“Having always enjoyed rude health, I did not wish to be admitted to the ‘kingdom of the sick’,” Honigsbaum explained.

“Nor did I relish the prospect of having to take two, three, or however many pills every day for the rest of my life.”

Apparently – and remember this is from The Internet, so it needs to be taken with a pinch of… Oh FUCK IT! – there is also debate about whether our method of calculating blood pressure is faulty. So, maybe, my high blood pressure (160/90) might not be that high at all.

Another article on the Harvard Health Blog recognised that because sufferers rarely notice any symptoms before a hypertension diagnosis, it was hard to accept the bad news.

And then there is the tricky question of accepting blame.

Like me, Honigsbaum was resistant to the idea that he ate at all badly but – when he thought about it – found plenty of ways that he could cut down on salt in his diet.

We both loved highly seasoned bread, and when I also stopped to consider the crisps, stock cubes, olives, steak rubs and grindings of table salt I regularly consumed, I realised that I would have to own the diagnosis, after all.

So I dutifully complied. I made some salt-free hummus (Blearggh). Sipped a cordial instead of a Diet Coke (Fine). Avoided coffee and ate lots of fruit (Meh).

But by the next night, having finished my salt-free pasta with tomato sauce (minus processed garlic bread; pas de sel in the salad dressing) I had already began to feel that my life was a dreadfully sad and plain thing.

I thought about how young couples moving into their first home used to be given salt as a present – so that their lives were never without flavour – and sighed.

I started craving beer; some bloody crisps, a cake; anything – but everything fun was verboten now.

In the end, I went to bed risibly early, sucked five squares of chocolate, and downloaded another book about the Second World War – because at least reading doesn’t raise your blood pressure (and yes, you can insert your own Jeffrey Archer/Dan Brown joke here).

And, as I turned out the light, I thought about how I hadn’t realised that old age and illness would arrive like this.

I thought there would be some notice, some ‘tell-tale’ signs, but Bad Stuff just happens: like Baldness; Thickening Of The Eye Lens; Bad Knees; Hypertension.

Even though you might still feel young, although you eat what you think is well and exercise hard, these old things are suddenly part of your life and you have to deal with them.

Thankfully, after my dark night of the soul on Tuesday, I am starting to get over it and accommodate the new realities, just as in any mourning process.

On the bright side, I’m not really missing the caffeine and feel surprisingly comfortable about not drinking for a fifth night tonight.

I even think I look slimmer already – I bloody should, cycling every day, combined with all that abstemiousness – and there are miraculous amounts of cash still in my wallet, not having been sucked out by my beer and crisp habit.

I did rebel and have some chips last night with salt – against the Doc’s specific instructions – but I made sure that I applied just half a teaspoon – less than half my Recommended Daily Intake, and it was fine.

What can you do, but accept it, Hansen…?

*​* To clarify, this article and its accompanying image in no way intend to suggest that TV God Alan Hansen is in any way unwell or, indeed going downhill in any sense whatsoever. Hope that’s clear…

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