Post #24 02282020

To recap, I quit smoking cigarettes in early December. After 80+ years of life with a normal 120/80 blood pressure or lower, in less than three months (November 2019 to January 2020) it inexplicably skyrocketed to 170-180/100-140 accompanied by almost daily headaches, lousy sleep and brain fog – not to mention gaining 20 pounds (I was within 10 pounds of my target weight too).

Why?

My doctors (family doctor, pulmonary specialist, and cardiologist) had no idea.

But I think I know why.

Increased stress is one common cause of HBP, and the only one that makes any sense for me, given my circumstances.

Like anyone else, I have my own basket of worries/stressors: Spiritdog having cancer, spending too much money, worry about running out of it before I die, the car broke down again, my DVD player won’t work, blah blah blah.

But my biggest psychological shift came in November when I went from working on my book to completing the book. My focus, purpose, means to contribute to others, evaporated. Suddenly, I was without purpose. It was as if I retired from work I loved only to come face to face with a deep sense of emptiness. What to do with my life?

But it gets worse. In the past, regardless of whatever stresses I happened to be dealing with, cigarettes have always provided me with a reliable everyday go to tool for handling it (though I did not realize tobacco was fulfilling this role in my life). Suddenly I had no tools at all.

So, as I see it, I have created a story about my life (no purpose, et. al.) that makes me feel anxious, stressed. Medically this stress acts to constrict my blood vessels, producing high blood pressure. And I am bereft of my lifelong tool (tobacco) for handling it.

Let’s assume this is all true. What do I do now?

  1. My most immediate action must be to reduce life threatening HBP ASAP. (HBP increases risk of heart attack and stroke significantly). The quickest way I see of doing this is HBP drugs to replace the drug I used to use, tobacco.

 

My doctor prescribed Lovastan (L), a Western HBP medication and I learned, through a friend, about an Eastern HBP medication called Mukta Vati (MV). It is an ancient herbal mixture routinely used in the east for HBP.

 

With my doctor’s knowledge and concurrence, I began taking both to see if I can get my BP down to my goal of 120/80. By 2/28/20, my BP has gradually dropped from ~ 150/90 to ~ 120/70, which is good. But, inexplicably, the daily BP variation can be as high as 30 points in my systolic pressure and 15 points in my diastolic pressure, considerably greater than it should be – a mystery.

 

When I reported these swings to the cardiologist I was sent to for follow up testing, he added a prescription for 5 mg of Amlodipine (A) to supplement the 50 mg of Losartan (L) and the 4 capsules/day of Mukta Vati (MV) I was already taking.

 

(By the way, after running an EKG on me, he declared I must have had a heart attack in the past as he could see heart damage. I told him I could not recall any episode of heart pain unless it would be when my wife died, breaking my heart. He looked at my quizzically and we moved on. I subsequently cancelled all the tests he had scheduled – stress test, echocardiogram, chest X-ray, pulmonary function test, blood work. Why do all this stuff in a hospital when at least half the people are already sick, it is still flu season, here comes the corona virus, and me with COPD? I will do it all when the flu season blows over.)

 

I decided to follow my own drug protocol, given I now had a home BP machine to track my BP daily, even hourly. I did not want to add A, another drug, further confusing my body and the data too. How can I know which drug it doing what while taking three of them at the same time?

 

So, instead of adding A, I substituted it for L on 3/1 instead. I also dropped MV from 4 to 3 capsules/day. I did this because my average BP readings had been dropping into the 110-140/60-80 range during the 3/2 to 3/13 period. When my BP stayed in the 120/70 range, I stopped taking A all together and reduced MV from 3 to 2 capsules/day on 3/13. Now I was down to only MV.

 

I could do all this drug manipulation and modification because I have a home BP monitor, taking readings 2-3 times/day and, like any good engineer, recording the data on a running graph so it is easy to see how things are treading.

 

As of 3/16/20, my BP has been running in the 110-120/60-70 range. I have cut my MV back to one capsule/day. If this trend continues, will discontinue it completely and will have achieved my goal of being off all BP drugs.

 

I still have two concerns: a) my daily systolic pressure can still swing 10-15 points and my diastolic ~10 points. No answer for this as yet, and b) need to make sure my home machine is giving me good numbers. So will bring it in to compare to my doctor’s equipment soon.

 

So, why has my BP dropped back to my historical normal?

 

Will explore this question in my next post.

Post #23 02092020

Since I quit smoking on 12/2/2019 I have had a miserable two months of lousy sleep, periodic headaches, a sense of despair (even though my physical life is, quite frankly, one of relative ease and abundance compared to so many others suffering all over the world). Then I (accidentally) discovered I have inordinately high blood pressure! My frequent headaches are a symptom of HBP but I did not know that. Besides, BP is supposed to go down when one quits smoking!

On the positive side, my lungs do appear happy with the change, almost no phlegm, no coughing. Saving money with no trips to the tobacco shop, no shivering out in the garage while smoking in the winter (in past 25 years, have never smoked a cigarette inside my house) and no time wasted on rolling cigarettes or smoking them either. (Although hand rolling cigarettes can sometimes be experienced as a form of meditation.)

However, peeking into an unknown future, I would rather die the slow death of COPD (but still able to choose if and when to end it myself) than the possible sudden incapacitation of a heart attack or, much worse, a stroke that might suddenly steal my capacity/agency to make choices. I do NOT want to spend my life or money on a nursing home, nor on expensive end of life medical expenses. I have already purchased my long term care plan for $700, a well made .38 revolver and a box of metal jacketed bullets. (They don’t sell them individually.)

In any case, my goal is to get my BP down to a safe level.

After some research, I learn the principle causes of HBP are:

Smoking. (This is contraindicated for my situation given my BP was normal a month before I quit and sky high afterwards.)

Being overweight or obese. (I am a bit overweight but the same weight I was when my BP reading was normal only 3 months ago)

Lack of physical activity. (Walk my dog twice/day + do aerobics on an elliptical at home alternating with weight training- not in shape to do a marathon but not a slug either – same as I was 3 months ago)

Too much salt in the diet. (My diet is unchanged from three months ago and don’t eat processed food, the source of most dietary salt.)

Too much alcohol consumption (meaning more than 1 to 2 drinks per day) (I drink very little)

Stress. (Interesting possibility!)

Older age. (I am only 3 months older than I was when my blood pressure was normal!)

Genetics (have the same genes now I had three months ago!)

The possibility of stress being the source of my HBP got me to reflecting on my life.

I finished my book in November, quit smoking in December.

For the past five years, my principle daily motivation was writing the book. I would get up in the morning; eagerly go to my journal, my Morning Pages (this title taken from the excellent book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron) and write 2, 3, 4, sometimes even 5 pages in my 8 1/2X 11 notebooks. I so looked forward to this, perhaps my favorite part of the day. I loved to write there in the garage at my work bench, in silence (Spiritdog still snoozing), armed with a hot cup of coffee and a cigarette or two or three. For me, it was Heaven on earth. Pure joy.

It is not a stretch to say that my latest book, 11 Life Practices/An Old Man’s Stories of Light, Love, Joy, was first imagined, and put down on paper (using my beloved Pentel Artist’s pen, 0.4 mm thickness) in my journal. Then, after meditating, walking Spiritdog, doing my daily exercise, the next few hours were devoted to converting those insights and revelations into readable copy on my computer.

When I get up in the morning now, I am lucky if I can fill a single page of my journal. No cigarettes, but no ideas or excitement either. Some days, I literally have nothing to say at all. There is nothing exciting to fill up my morning, or day, either. Tasks here and there of course, errands now and then but …………

 

So, here is my story:

My daily life has been tipped over, spilling away the meaning in my life. Now I understand why I have gone into an emotional tailspin.

Suddenly, my life feels empty and meaningless. I feel anxious, even despondent, at a loss with what to do with myself. The fun, satisfaction, thrill of creating something new has disappeared from my experience. What am I to do with me, my energy, my time? No surprise that my stress level has skyrocketed.

At the same time, my lifelong way of relieving stress is gone. My cigarettes!

When my wife, Dianna died, I was in a similar situation. I went from being married to an amazing woman, and having the honor of being her caregiver 24 hours/day to, in a single moment, having no one, suddenly without a purpose for being. Yet, throughout the subsequent years of grieving and sorting out my life, my blood pressure remained absolutely normal. I was smoking in those days.

In contrast, during this stressful period, my BP has gone from lifelong readings of 120/80 or less, to 160-190/100-160 when untreated with medication. So, today, I am taking 50 mg/day of Losartan and my average BP is still 140-170/80-90; better but still not good. Of course, the dose can be increased. BUT, I am not willing to accept lifelong HBP medications to achieve something I had naturally without drugs only three months ago.

So, where do I go from here to find my way back to normal BP without medication?

Post #22 02022020

Since quitting smoking on 12/2/2019, my approach is to take it one day at a time, recognizing that each day I can find a different way to respond to life events (a phone call, capping off dinner, having a beer, etc…) that used to trigger a cigarette I am re-wiring my brain for living life without tobacco.

Summarizing some sage advice from others who have traveled this road already:

Every smoke-free day I complete I am teaching myself how to live my life without cigarettes. Bit by bit, I’m re-wiring my brain, reprogramming my responses to daily events that trigger the urge to smoke by choosing something other than smoking when the urge surfaces.

Over the course of my first smoke-free year, I’ll encounter – and have a chance to clear – most of the events and situations (triggers) in my daily life that I have associated with smoking.

Practice is a necessary part of recovery from nicotine addiction. There is no getting around it, so try to relax and let time help me. I built my smoking habit through years of practice, and now I must build the nonsmoking me in the same way. The more practice I put between myself and that last cigarette I smoked, the stronger I’ll become.

Nobody said it would be easy.

On the other hand, when I look around the world and see what others are enduring, it puts my petty whining in perspective.

Time for me to Buck Up (practice #10 in my book), Lighten Up (practice #11)

Then, on 1/17/2020, a shocking turn of events.

While in a CVS pharmacy to get a shingles vaccine, I checked out my blood pressure on their store BP monitor. My blood pressure has always been normal and the last check up at my doctor’s office on 10/29/2019 was 117/74. I expected about the same this time so I could not believe my eyes when all three times I checked it, that CVS machine gave readings in the 190+/160+ range!!!!!

A couple of days later, I had my BP checked at my doctor’s office: 168/100!!! Still ridiculously high. The next day, for the first time in my life, I started taking a high blood pressure medication (losartan, 50 mg/day).

I also immediately purchased a home BP monitor on Amazon (Omron, recommended by my doctor, cost $50, and so far, am very happy with how it works, ease of use, though have yet to compare the results to the doctor’s machine, and durability is unknown.)

Unfortunately, during the two weeks since taking the medication, my blood pressure has stayed in an unacceptably high range – 145-180/90-100 – and the readings are erratic (the machine or reality – have no way of knowing yet anyway) so will be seeing the doctor again in a couple of days.

Besides, one’s blood pressure should go down when one quits smoking (smoking constricts blood vessels), not up.

So, what is going on?

Post #21 01152020

In my last post, I brought up the emotional turmoil I was feeling since I quit smoking on 12/2/2019.

How to describe it?

Periodic, almost daily, headaches (before this, I have had probably 5 headaches in my entire life), a discouraging absence of passion to do anything. No motivation, no focus, no enthusiasm. The opposite of how I usually feel about life, how I greet each day.  Worst of all, the quality of my sleep, which has almost always been excellent, has fallen off a cliff. Drifting in and out, most of the night, waking up still tired.

This all came as a complete surprise to me. I had no plan whatsoever for dealing with it.

On top of the emotional disorientation, which persisted through December, I hosted a family gathering for the holidays. About 2-3 days later, I began experiencing chills, lack of energy, headaches. The flu coming on? I immediately fell into taking long naps (2-3 hours), mega doses of vitamin C (3000 mg at a time, 2-3 times per day) and Echinacea 6-8 capsules/day). After 3-4 days, I began feeling better. So I have apparently dodged that bullet, whatever it was.

While physically OK again, I am still dealing with the same emotional funk.

I found the following comments while doing research into the characteristics of nicotine withdrawal:

People who have successfully quit the habit often talk about the “icky threes” of quitting. These include:

  • 3 days. The worst period of physical withdrawal. (not really that bad for me – I had spent months re-wiring my brain to not smoking prior to my quit day.)
  • 3 weeks. The time when physical withdrawal is waning and the psychological withdrawal takes over. (Oh yeah!)
  • 3 months. Sometimes referred to as “the blahs,” at 3 months post-quit-date some of the newness of quitting wears off, and some people wonder, “Is that all there is?” This is a common time for relapse to occur. (hmmmmm)

I am definitely in the last phase, an emotional state aptly named, “the blahs.”

My approach for now:

  1. So be it. This is how I feel. Be fully present to it (practice #1/ A Beginner’s Mind). In other words, do not put a happy face on it, or grin and bear it. Rather, acknowledge how I really feel, be willing to fully experience it and see if whether Werner Erhard nailed it when he said, “Whatever we are willing to fully experience disappears.” Has been true for me in the past. Will see how it goes now.
  2. Choose a more useful attitude about it all. (Practice #7, Choosing Our Attitude, in my book). Yes, the feelings I am having suck. However, each day is another day I have not responded to the million cues a smoker gets to have a cigarette by having a cigarette. Each day I am re- wiring my brain to behave as a non smoker. Each day without smoking is another success. Each day, my body, especially my lungs, are gaining time to heal, another day it is no longer under siege. Another day gifted to my body.

It is a beginning.

Post #20 01022020

Post #20 is my first post for 2020; nice symmetry.

This post also marks a shift from a 100% focus on just my dog, Spirit, to exploring other facets of my life.

 

On 12/2/2019, I smoked my last cigarette.

I smoked my first one when I was 13 years old on a cold, clear winter night in 1951. It was a Lucky Strike, snitched from the poker table where my dad and his friends were taking a break from their annual New Year holiday marathon poker session in Dearborn, Michigan.

I slipped out of the house with my single cigarette and a book of matches in my coat pocket. I can still feel that snow squeaking under my feet; see the cyclone wire fence paralleling the sidewalk, my breath puffing out into the black night air. I stopped under a street lamp to light up, then took my first ever drag.

Oooooh. Suddenly I tumbled into a wonder world. Bliss. Safer, more secure somehow, a space without sharp edges. This felt familiar to me in some diffuse, blurred way. Did I smoke in other incarnations? Did I know then what I was feeling now? That I had a new friend I could always count on to deliver, calm, peace, joy, relief, comfort, even a keener insight into life?

I never looked back.

Some 400,000 cigarettes later, I smoked my last one a month ago in a cold garage, snuggled up in my winter coat. I liked that one too. I remember liking them all save those few I smoked while suffering from one illness or another.

Why quit now, at age 81?

I have been pleasing my brain for my entire life but at the cost of abusing my body, especially my lungs. I could see the possibility of one day having to choose between breathing and smoking. I already have COPD. Not going to live my life dragging around an oxygen tank, which is why I bought a .38 last summer, paying $700 for my long term health care plan. A bargain I would say.

Still, why not do an experiment? Give my lungs a chance to some healing. See what life is like without smoking. If I don’t like it, I can always go back to it.

My process for quitting was/is elegant and simple: Pick out a date a few months away, occasionally remind myself I am quitting, and when exactly, and why exactly. I was giving myself plenty of time to practice re-wiring my brain so on “that day” I would already see myself as a non smoker. There were times during these months I was anxious for the day to come. I was already feeling like a non smoker.

When “that day” arrived, I quit cold turkey. It was easy. Since then, I hardly think about smoking – to be generous, maybe it has surfaced as a momentary desire a half dozen times during the past month.

I did buy some licorice candy and licorice root (to chew on) because I had heard it helps with cravings. Maybe it does. I like the root best, no sugar plus it provides oral satisfaction while chewing on the root. Nice.

What has not been easy at all, however, is the emotional turmoil I have been experiencing ever since. Ouch!

No energy, no motivation, no focus, no desire. Lousy sleep during the night so wind up taking long naps during the day too. And in the past couple of days, coming down with …. something. Chills, coughing, feeling delicate, vulnerable. I am devouring thousands of milligrams of Vitamin C, Echinacea.

So this is where I am at today.

There is always tomorrow.

Well, usually.

The Origin of 11 Life Practices

Hi Steve, Mark,

As you know, my wife Dianna died at 7:04 AM on February 20, 2008.

As you also know, while still grieving, I started to write a book. I wanted to tell her story, about the way she lived her life.

We were all moved by how she expressed herself in the world.

That book, Dianna’s Way, was a best seller … well, among her friends and family anyway. 🙂 Thanks for buying a copy, by the way. Did sell a few hundred copies and I enjoyed talking to people about it.

Still, I was nagged by a feeling there was still more to say.

What were these qualities that made her stand out?

In Dianna’s Way, I showed the reader what these qualities look like when embodied in a real human being, but nowhere did I identify them, even for myself. Which was fine – it was a memoir not a self help book.

As I began to write this book I slowly realized I was not talking about qualities, I was talking about practices.

Makes sense now. It’s not like we’re born with a list of qualities we then magically use to master the game of life. Regardless of our raw talent, none of us walks out on a baseball field for the first time, already a Hall of Fame player.

To get good at playing the game, we have to practice, practice, practice… And of course there are guys like you that never get any good at it! 🙂 Sitting around drinking beer or smoking joints does not get it done. Okay. Kidding. I admire both of you or I wouldn’t be writing to you.

Anyway, as you now know (finally – I hesitate to tell you I told you so but I told you so) better than I, we are playing a particular game while we are here messing around in physical reality. Sure, we enter this reality imbued with some genetically based talent for playing the game (physical life) but if we want to excel at our position (our unique expression of Infinite Being), we will have to practice if we are to gain the skills needed to become competent at playing our position (our role in the grand game of life).

In the game of life, from our first breath to our last, not a day or an hour or a minute goes by that we are not practicing. We are always in the game, no time outs, like it or not.

The only question is, practicing what?

Some practices are useful for creating a life we love living, some are enough to get us by and some are counter-productive. Of course, I wanted to focus on the former – we all know how to do the rest without trying.

Hence the origin of my upcoming second book, tentatively titled 11 Life Practices/ Creating a Life that Works.

In my next blog, I will talk about why I saw the practices naturally divided into two distinct groups, hence the reason for Part I and II of the book.

Dear Steve and dear Mark,

You guys should have stuck around awhile longer.

I have nearly completed my second book.

Would have loved sharing it with you, seeing how you reacted to it. Of course, I know neither of you can read but at least you could have held it in your hands and admired my great work. 🙂

My working title is 11 Life Practices/ sub title: Creating a Life that Works.

I split the book into two parts.

Part consists of four practices in being.

Part II consists of seven practices in expressing our being.

The two parts are bridged by a chapter called “The Huddle” where we review what is at stake for us all and why these practices matter.

My goal is to publish it sometime in the fall of this year. Hopefully sooner but we will see how it goes. Better done as well as I can than just done.

Miss you both very much.

Will be seeing you soon enough. But not too soon either.

Love always, dear friends

John

 

Dianna’s Way is now available at www.diannasway.com, Amazon, and, soon, at Barnes & Noble – or you can order it through your local bookstore. Fairly soon, it will be available as an eBook as well.

This book is a very personal and inspirational story about an ordinary woman who chose to live an extraordinary life. She also happened to choose me as her husband. Lucky me.

When I look back on my life with her, I can see I may have taught Dianna a bit about the world as it is but she taught me, by example, so much more about how it could be. It also occurs to me she offers a template for living that opens the possibility for creating an extraordinary country.

Perhaps transforming America begins with transforming ourselves via an inner, individual process but I would not rule out interacting in concert with others by “feeding” each other. Some do best playing solo while others are at their finest in an orchestra. The music is no less beautiful or moving.

No matter our pathway, our creations still emanate from self with a willingness to be responsible for self.

Responsibility: literally, the ability to respond appropriately [to life].  What I learned from Dianna is the only appropriate response to life is to practice being a context of Love.

Self: Careful about the definition of self. Not what we normally think it is. Something to be explore later.

So, I find myself being guided on an odyssey into the wider social implications of living in “Dianna’s Way”. I have tentatively titled this journey A New Age American Dream (NAAD).

From a social perspective, a fair starting point is look at where we are now, which is becoming, for too many of us, living a new age American nightmare.

Why do we, as a nation, seem to be headed in the wrong direction? What can we do about it? Is there any hope for a better way forward? Is there any way to knit together a deeply divided nation into a sane, workable whole, pulling in the same direction?

Frankly, I don’t know.

It doesn’t have to turn out well. It isn’t going to turn out well unless we do create a better way forward.

I do know I am not much interested in generating a laundry list of our problems – we already know what they are even if we may not agree on why or how we have created them – nor am I keenly interested in a different laundry list of nice little remedies. All of this is in the realm of what we can call the content of our lives – and the society we live in.

So, while I may begin with a broad overview of what works and what doesn’t in our society, this is merely a description of that content – many others have already done a fine job of detailing all that stuff.

I am much more interested in the context all this content thrives in.

As Einstein once so famously said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

True.  

For my purposes, I would say it this way:  we cannot change the content of our lives – or our society – while trapped in the same context that creates the dysfunction we find ourselves already immersed in. We will have to step outside the box (the current context we live in).

So, first, some definitions:

Content: Everything that shows up in our lives as our experience, individually and collectively.

Context: Where we come from when we act and experience the acts of others.

“Where we come from”: What we believe is true and, even more deeply, who we believe ourselves to be, whether consciously acknowledged or not.

In Dianna’s Way, I describe my own discovery process that led me to appreciate I need both Light (consciousness) and Love (not love as we normally think of it but Love, the energy emanating from God, Spirit, from the All That Is). Only then could I comprehend how this incredibly powerful woman was able to live her life the way she did – and realize these same tools can be used to create a society that somewhere inside ourselves we have all dreamed but not yet successfully created.

Dianna supplied me and others, consistently, seemingly effortlessly, with a model for expressing our selves when and where it matters – in the practical, day to day life that greets us each morning.  

She supplied us with a Context that works.

Not a bad place to begin.

 

Ironically, I have had the idea to write a book called the NAAD for at least 40 years. But, until Dianna cracked open my heart without saying a word, silently pointing the way toward surrender, toward trusting in Spirit, it was a book I was totally ill equipped to write.

Perhaps now I can.

You and I can certainly have a conversation about all this as I think out loud on this blog.

I welcome your participation.