The Power of Guilt
August 29, 2013
I was at one of my favorite Zumba classes last January, and I was looking at my watch every five minutes. I wasn't enjoying it at all. I had noticed this feeling creeping into Zumba classes over the previous few weeks. Somehow, I had managed to make Zumba into a chore.
This was not only sad because I love Zumba, but also because it was one of the few non-family things I still enjoyed. I wasn't enjoying reading. The only thing I was reading much of anymore were Regency romances - and those only because I need to wind down before going to sleep. I had stopped listening to classical, jazz, and folk music. All those CDs and tapes were dormant. I listened to pop music on the radio just to have something to do while driving. I didn't listen to any music in the house anymore. If someone else wanted to watch a movie, I would, but there wasn't much that I was interested in.
I enjoyed doing things with my family (I'd have to be really severely depressed not to do that), but I had almost no outside interests left. Photography, blogging, etc. - I had no interest in anything creative.
I was really upset during that Zumba class because I was losing one of the few things I still enjoyed! Fortunately, I was able to realize why I was feeling that way, decide that it was stupid, and go ahead and enjoy the rest of the class.
In the middle of that class, I realized that I was feeling guilty about having moderately high blood pressure, and I was, subconsciously (I hope I wouldn't do anything this stupid consciously), punishing myself for my blood pressure.
I said it was stupid.
Back when my blood pressure was higher, I got guilt trips - not from my doctor because she knew everything that I was doing to try to lower it - and not from the hypertension specialist because, when my blood pressure was measured correctly, it wasn't all that high - but from other doctors and nurses who were incorrectly measuring my blood pressure in bad situations. You're supposed to measure your blood pressure when you're at rest; not when you're panicking because your throat is closing up as a reaction to an allergy shot, your husband is in another state, and you're wondering what will happen to your younger son if they take you to the emergency room; not when you're really light-headed as a reaction to a flu shot and you're wondering how you and younger son are going to get home; and not at an appointment which you've rushed to immediately after a Zumba class (not even having any time to stretch) and your heart rate is still up.
Surprisingly, I'm not at rest in those situations. The hypertension specialist doesn't even pay attention to readings from other doctors' offices because she can't be sure that the other doctors take blood pressure readings correctly. The only readings that matter are the ones in her office.
These other readings didn't do me any good, and the doctors and nurses only did harm. Unfortunately for me, other peoples' emotions affect me a lot. If you know me in person you might say to yourself, "But she seems so calm."
I try my hardest not to impose my emotions on others. I know how much harm comes to me when others spray their emotions all over me.
[Note: If you have any good practical advice as to how not to be affected by others' emotions, I'd love to hear it. "Just toughen up" is not good advice. If I knew how to do that, I wouldn't have this problem.]
The other doctors and nurses didn't do me any good at all, but they did a great job at making me feel guilty for having moderately high blood pressure. All the "serious talks" that they gave me just kicked the guilt into high gear. None of them ever asked what I was actually trying to do to get my blood pressure down:
- Two knee surgeries plus half a year of intense physical therapy so that I could exercise regularly again. I did 2 - 3 hours of physical therapy every single day. I watched most of Battlestar Galactiac sideways because I was doing PT on the floor.
- Four crash diets (I spent last Thanksgiving saying, "No, thank you.")
- Lots and lots of exercising. That's one of the few things that actually helped.
- Stopping using salt in cooking. After a few weeks, the guys weren't eating much for dinner, but they were having snacks later in the evening. I eventually got the hypertension specialist's book out of the library, and the amount of salt she used in her heart-healthy recipes was the amount I usually used before I stopped using it. I'm still making smaller reductions now, but keeping the food edible.
- Drugs. One of them knocked me out for a month and raised my blood pressure to a consistent 175/100. Nobody's been able to explain that one, which makes me wonder about how much they know. All three of the drugs made my throat close up. All of them gave me bizarre side-effects.
- Visiting a throat specialist to see why my throat closed up - no results. He sent me to a specialist in chemical allergies.
- The chemical allergy specialist (regular allergists don't deal with drug allergies) was really enthusiastic about my strange case. I actually took the last drug in his office, and he was amazed at the bizarre side effects. Fifteen minutes after a 1/10 dose, I seemed drunk and couldn't sit up. He told me that no doctor would be able to accept that I have such bizarre reactions to drugs without actually seeing it.
- That's when my regular doctor sent me to the hypertension specialist who said that she'd never seen a case like mine (allergic to 3 bp drugs)
- The hypertension specialist sent me to an integrative medicine specialist. Unfortunately, the IM doctor was a crackpot so I never went back. There's a long post about that that I never wrote.
- The IM office does have a great yoga class (for people with previous injuries)* that a friend recommended. That's another thing that gave an observable reduction in my bp.
- The sleep study. It turned out that I had severe sleep apnea when sleeping on my back. I've been using a CPAP for the last five months, and it's brought my blood pressure down. However, as I've complained in previous posts, it also made me exhausted for most of the first four months. For the first two months, I couldn't drive in the afternoons or evenings because I was too tired to drive safely. I didn't do any dance or Zumba in the evenings, and I was so tired that even walks were almost impossible. I got so out of shape. However, getting rid of the sleep apnea did bring my blood pressure down.
It didn't matter that fighting my blood pressure had become not only my major focus over the last five years, it also dominated our family life. The doctors and nurses still gave me guilt trips, which I didn't need on top of everything else. It gave me the feeling that my not being successful gave them the right to emotionally beat me up. It also made me feel constantly tense, which, SURPRISE, makes blood pressure go up.
That's one way in which my discipline in not showing my emotions is bad for me.** If I discussed blood pressure calmly with a medical professional, they thought that I wasn't taking it seriously, and they gave me a big guilt lecture. Maybe I should have made myself panic so that they would have had to calm me down instead.
I can't even picture doing that.
Anyway, I had stopped myself from enjoying more than just Zumba. Because of the guilt, I wasn't enjoying music, reading, movies, blogging, photography - pretty much anything creative. I'd made my life pretty flat and grey in response to the guilt.
The wonderful thing is that, once I realized that I had turned these things off, I was able to start turning them on again. I was too tired to enjoy things while I was getting used to the CPAP this spring and early summer, but, beside that, I've started enjoying all these things again! It's been wonderful. There are so many intersting things to photograph, so many wonderful books (recent post), great movies (just added a bunch to the Netflix queue), so many interesting places to go, a wide variety of food to try at Sunday's Food Truck Rodeo in Durham...
...and so much beautiful music!
Which, of course, is where I'm ending - with a song.
I've loved folk music for years, and losing that the last year or two has been really difficult for me. I've been listening to lots of it lately. Here's a current favorite song, Brighter from Here, by the folk duo, Martha's Trouble:
* I can do just about everything else after my second knee surgery - hiking, Zumba, dance, etc. - (Duke Sports Medicine is fantastic!), but I still can't sit cross-legged for more than a minute or two which knocks out most yoga classes.
** I've also read that women who don't display their own emotions and try to take care of everyone else's are more likely to have high blood pressure.