When “Type A” Becomes a Problem

For as long as I can remember, I have been a hard-driving, take no prisoners workaholic. My senior year of high school, I was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” and although I have enjoyed some pretty terrific successes in life, I have never trusted them. My current position is fantastic and those who hired me consistently praise my work product, my work ethic and how the serious way I take my position shows in my performance. But, if someone says, “May I see you in my office a moment?” my mind immediately launches into a spinning reel of every recent action to determine why I am in trouble. Note: I have never actually been in trouble when called into a meeting and my boss has consistently said his goal is to help me downshift because my top speed is entirely too fast to be my daily rate.

I have done things like complete law school in two years with two small kids, worked full-time with small kids and a deployed spouse, or worked three jobs when my husband was off work on disability so my kids could eat and stay in their private school. I have faced immense loss that is so personal I do not even discuss it anymore. And NONE of those things have ever precipitated a decline in my general health.

It’s been almost four months since something happened that rocked my entire world. I’m not trying to vagueblog on purpose, but what precipitated the fallout isn’t the point of my post. Sufficed to say, it shattered pretty much any notion I had about life as I knew it and left me reeling.

I suppose the good thing about being a Type A person is that I never felt like I had a ton of time to waste (because I didn’t). So, when anything went wrong or I needed to figure something out, I learned to research better than anyone else. This was no different–I researched the hell out of my current situation and found that one of the most qualified therapists was within driving distance of me. That was a huge plus–I was not an expert in the area [although I have come a long way] and I needed to put my trust in someone to guide me through processing it all.  Like most emotional rollercoasters, you sometimes feel like you are on an even keel and then the bottom falls out when you least expect it. Fortunately, I had enough background information from my research to know that it was, in fact, a rollercoaster.

About a month ago, I realized that I needed additional help. I had started doing things like being overcome with emotion at inopportune and unexpected times. I was not sleeping or eating correctly and my workout schedule became more sporadic than it should have. I was exhausted no matter how much I slept. I had no break–holding it together at work and then holding it together at home for the kids–it was amazingly difficult. I couldn’t always concentrate, even when I really needed to and I think I generally looked a fright–one of those even when you think you are holding it together, your insides and outsides betray you, but your brain tries to soften the blow kind of appearances. You think you are holding it together, but you look a mess. You are impressed that you are even upright, but others look at you like they fear you may fall over any minute.

I figured I should visit my general practitioner and see if there was something I could take short-term to help with the anxiety and depression that seemed to have settled over me. My therapist assured me this was likely and perfectly normal given the circumstances. And not to be surprised if I arrived at a point where my less invasive ways of coping no longer sufficed. When I went to the doctor, my blood pressure was 155/110. I have never had issues with my blood pressure. Ever. And given that over the past year I have changed my lifestyle, lost a bunch of weight and increased my general fitness, this was super unwelcome and shocking news. I had no symptoms–which is also pretty damned scary. But, that’s high blood pressure for you–a silent killer.

Not even a week into taking the medication, I took myself to the emergency room because I felt awful in a way I had never felt. I was not having a heart attack, thank God, but suffering from a side effect of the anxiety medication. It was making me more anxious…is that some BS or what? My blood pressure and pulse were ridiculous. It was a very scary way to spend half a day. But, fast forward to now and that medication seems to be working as it should.

I see my general practitioner this week for a follow-up appointment. The blood pressure meds may need adjusted–I’m not sure what my doctor will decide. My concern is over my lower blood pressure number–the one that measures the pressure when your heart is between beats/at rest. It’s high, especially for someone my age, even when my upper number is relatively normal.

I have been recording my BP several times a day. I’m not a touchy feely kind of person, but I decided that I could at least try some things to help me relax. I’m not good at relaxing–I usually feel guilty when I’m not doing something. And the idea of just hanging out is foreign to me. I find I don’t breathe deeply or exhale fully unless I really concentrate on doing so.

I have tried to stay hydrated. I’ve even cut down on caffeine [gasp!] and have taken my coffee intake down to one medium sized coffee in the morning. And sometimes, I don’t even drink it all. I have not had a drop of alcohol in I don’t even know how long. I am keeping an eye on sodium and trying to plan so that I can eat better meals each day. I have also been a regular attendee at my gym and I’m budgeting so I can enroll in the year-long contract at Pure Barre.

Unfortunately, all those changes really didn’t produce much of a difference in my blood pressure. To help me develop relaxation habits, I have been using guided meditations on YouTube over the past week or so and have been very impressed with how much they lower my blood pressure in the 30 minutes I spend listening. The effects they have before bed seem to carry over to morning as I sleep much better and my first reading has been much lower each day. I have also used the meditations during the afternoon of a particularly stressful day and found it pushed a reset button I didn’t even know I had. My goal is to continue doing this so that I can induce a level of relaxation on my own when I need to so that I can keep my blood pressure in check. My goal is that my blood pressure issue will not be something trailing me the rest of my life.

If you want to try some natural ways of self-regulation of your stress and anxiety, I would highly suggest having an open mind and trying either this guided meditation focused on beach waves, or this one that involves you visualizing a summer meadow.

And if you are someone who runs at full speed all the time and it’s finally catching up to you [or if you have found a way to mitigate it], leave me some ideas or resources in comments. This is going to be a long-time life change so I will be constantly researching and willing to try new things.

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