Saturday, October 06, 2012

I need some accountability.

I need to make a change in my habits, and it would be nice if someone were standing over me with a whip. Well, maybe not a whip, exactly. A feather duster would do it. I need to start meditating again, or at least do a solid 20-30 minutes a day of progressive relaxation. And I need to pay attention to my breathing throughout the day, and scan for areas of muscle tension.

I did all this, with excellent results, 20 years ago. I was plagued with heart palpitations at the time, and had experienced a few panic attacks. A cardiologist put me on a Holter monitor, and I learned I could trigger the irregular heartbeats by eating candy, drinking milk or coffee, or thinking upsetting thoughts. So I gave up sugar, dairy products (except yogurt), and caffeine, and figured out how to shift my thoughts from the scary to the benign. Then I took myself to the Himalayan Institute, where I learned to breathe.

Diaphragmatic breathing ranks right up there with typing when it comes to usefulness. I have said that giving up smoking (when I was 28) and learning to breathe properly (20 years later) were two of the three healthiest things I ever did for myself. The third was giving up all sorts of foods, but that came later.

At the Institute, I had accountability in spades. It was explained to me that my autonomic nervous system was in overdrive, and the simple acts of breathing awareness and progressive relaxations would calm it down and erase my symptoms. By the time I was ready to put into practice all that I learned there, I was fully aware of how valuable and necessary those practices were for my well being. So I did what I was supposed to do, every day, even though no one was around to beat me with a  block of tofu stick if I slacked off.

But people are funny. When we start to feel good, we're tempted to stop taking our medicine. And somewhere along the line I stopped taking care of my nervous system. Even when my muscles tightened to the point of almost constant pain, I didn't realize what was going on. And then last month, when the irregular heartbeat I'd kept at bay all these years started up big time, my first thought was, I guess I need to stop eating yogurt. 

Yogurt is not my problem. I don't believe my heart is the problem either, but I have an appointment with a cardiologist next week because some of the episodes have felt serious enough to warrant a consultation. At least my doctor thinks so—after another Holter monitor go-around. But in the past few days I've read a lot about the autonomic nervous system, the chronically activated sympathetic nervous system, and the "rest and digest" parasympathetic nervous system, and I'm convinced what I need is a prescription for all the things I used to do for this part of me. It's a prescription I can write myself.

The cardiologist is Indian, so I hope he will understand. Maybe he'll even stand over me with a tandoori chicken leg stethoscope and make me accountable.

17 comments:

crystal said...

Oh Susan, now I'm worried about you!

I know what you mean about forgetting all the good stuff you used to knbow about how to be healthy. I used to exercise all the time, meditate too. Now I'm literally falling apart from lack of both ;) I just don't seem to have the same motivation or determination that I did back then for some reason.

I hope the doc has good news for you.

Susan said...

Thanks, Crystal, but please don't worry. I'm not worried. It's pretty clear that I'm putting out too much adrenalin; maybe he'll have some valuable insight on that. Meanwhile, I'm ordering one or two new relaxation CDs. I have two good ones, but the fun of something new will help get me started.

Dona said...

My daughter tells me that I breathe wrong.

You seem to know your body very well.

Susan said...

Too well, probably, Dona. How old is your daughter? Good for her! Most kids don't think much about breathing, one way or the other. I've read that children instinctively breath properly, but tension creeps in as they get older, causing their breathing to change.

Bridgett said...

I hope you find answers and it's as simple as yogurt (but not yogurt because it can be so good for folks...). I have recently found myself seeking for similar answers...with some success. I hope you do too.

crystal said...

Susan,

Any news from your doctor visit?

Susan said...

Thanks, Bridgett and Crystal! The cardiologist didn't keep our app't, but that might not be a bad thing. I'm doing much better heartwise, but since I'm really tired (literally) of living with fibromyalgia and joint pain all these years/decades, I'm going to invest some time and money in acupuncture. I've been looking for a good practitioner for a long time, and I believe I've found her. Haven't started yet, but when I do I'll blog about it.

Eulalia (Lali) Benejam Cobb said...

Sometimes I feel that I spend my life taking care of my body so I can have a life. It would be wonderful to let go of the meditating and the breathing and the food monitoring and just be...like we used to be.

Susan said...

I couldn't have said it better, Lali. I think that same thought often. And I thought of you when I made the decision to try acupuncture. She said she's had good results with fibromyalgia people. She also said being compliant about things like diet is important. She added, "But some people can't imagine life without pizza." I thought, Crap--I can't remember the last time I ate pizza.

Indigo Bunting said...

I needed to read this today. I need to remember to breathe. I am having some symptoms that I think/hope are stress related and not something more scary!

I need some accountability, too. In other areas. But I don't want to stress out too much more.

Susan said...

IB, stress is unbelievably creative and imaginative in what it can produce in us. I'm betting in your case we can blame stress. I'm counting on it. Yes, breathe....

crystal said...

Life without pizza? Noooo! ;)

Susan, can you say more about what fibromyalgia is like? I'm beginning to wonder if I have something like that, given my joint pains.

Helen said...

Life without coffee? Noooo! ;)

Get thee back to the Himalayan Institute! Or maybe Kripalu (I just went there and feel SO great after a week of 2-3 hours of daily yoga combined with lots of deep breathing and lavish buffets of healthy food.

I do hope the situation if easily resolved with some relaxation techniques (have you tried yoga nidra?) and possibly a tandoori chicken leg. Take care Susan...

Helen said...

Me again: I don't know if you actually do/like yoga, but if so, here's a free online restorative yoga class: http://kripalu.org/be_a_part_of_kripalu/1222?utm_source=compass&utm_medium=email&utm_content=kah&utm_campaign=compassOct2012

Susan said...

Helen, I have a good yoga nidra CD (61 points, maybe?). As for the physical practice of yoga itself, I'm a great believer but not a practitioner. I loved doing it in my 20s, but when I tried again a couple of decades later I found that even the gentlest postures put me in pain the next day. I'm finding this with the physical therapy I'm doing now too.

On Monday I will spend 3 hours being evaluated/treated by an acupuncturist/doctor of oriental medicine. I'm hoping for great things. Meanwhile, the heart symptoms are much better.

Crystal, I'll email you about FMS.

Susan said...

Oh, and I'm interested in that free online restorative yoga class. (The words free, online, and restorative grab me every time. Thanks, Helen!

Indigo Bunting said...

Helen: You were at Kripalu and didn't call me???? Next time I'll drive down and meet you, if only for an hour!