Noy Pullen shares the positive revelations she encountered when she started the journey of ‘getting to know me’.
“Getting to know you
Getting to know all about you
Getting to like you
Getting to hope you like me”–
The King and I by Rodgers and Hammerstein
My father had high cholesterol and high blood pressure. My older brother and sister use blood pressure tablets and statins. In our Agents for Change courses, we always invite the participants (all of whom work in the health sectors in the rural regions of SA) to go for regular check-ups.
As someone who should be walking the talk, I decided, a year ago, to go for the various basic health tests: blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index (BMI). It has been a good journey of getting to know me a lot better, as well as a scary journey where decisions that need commitment and courage were made. I have gotten to know my body and I think it has gotten to like me.
Writing on the wall
Every year medical aids send out SMSes to their members to have their readings checked. So, I went to the local pharmacy clinic for the first time in years. I had to cross the threshold of fear, to pluck up the courage to go. I hate needles. My heart beat faster as I sat on the clinic chair.
The Sister was kind, yet professional, guiding me through the various finger pricks, weighing and measuring techniques. The results were all available in a matter of five minutes. I was in for a shock and had to face some uncomfortable moments. My blood glucose was within the ‘green’ of the medical aid constraints. My BMI was just in the orange and my blood pressure and cholesterol were high.
I went to check my blood pressure later that morning at another clinic. It had come down by 10 points on both systolic and diastolic beats. The first lesson I learnt, was to not to chop and change facilities and for future checks I would stick to one facility.
The advice I got was to take medication to reduce the readings. This seems to be the easiest way. But I remembered that my brother developed a chronic cough after going on to his blood pressure tablets. I also knew the side effects of statins; there has been controversy about them. I considered these facts. This was not the route I wanted to take, even though these medications have added many health benefits to patients. What were my other options? Pamphlets were pressed into my hand by the Sister. My medical aid sent an email and an SMS with a large red alert warning which made my blood pressure rise; I could feel it!
Starting point – trusting my own attitude to life
I have spent my whole life trusting in a natural way of living. Natural childbirth, natural remedies, herbal teas and using doctors’ prescriptions only when the natural method was not serving me. So, I used this as my point of departure. I also knew that my thoughts, the way I feel, and how I do things affect my well-being. I had three paths to walk down at the same time.
A description of my prescription
Can I change my mind-set? One of the pamphlets the Sister gave me spoke about ‘waking up softly’. Not to hit the ground running as I was used to doing. I’ve never been a ‘quiet time’ morning person, but as it would have no bad side effects and it’s free, I decided to look in to it.
If one were so inclined, one could choose a prayer or aphorism (an observation which contains a general truth), or to simply write a few pages about how one was feeling. In Julia Cameron’s excellent book, The Artist’s Way, she writes about this morning discipline which has changed many people’s lives for the better. She says, “The bedrock tool of a creative recovery is a daily practice called Morning Pages. Morning Pages are three pages of handwriting, done first thing in the morning. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind – and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritise and synchronise the day at hand.”1
As I have done this in the past, I decided to try something new and chose a special verse that strengthens me. I say it aloud every morning and then spend a few moments thinking of who I would meet that day, as well as my loved ones.
In the evening, I go through the day backwards, looking for a miracle in the day. For example, an event which delayed me, possibly saving me from an accident, or helping me meet someone I otherwise would not have met, or a surprise telephone call that changed the course of my day. For those who battle to get to sleep, this practice is an excellent sleeping agent. One can hardly finish it before one has fallen asleep.
Can I control my anger, pain or fear that sets my heart pounding? I decided to do some observations to find out what the warning signs are of these feelings.
As soon as I felt the tell-tale symptoms, I pictured myself at a crossroad and asked (if I caught it in time): do I want to go down the same old road of rage and frustration or can I do something different?
Two techniques emerged from this: I have chosen to change the way I speak about difficult issues, and to breathe before reacting. I realised that I can calm myself down if I get there in time.
In Byron Katie’s book, Loving what is, she offers a technique called ‘The Work’. This consists of four questions that, when applied to a specific problem, enables you to see what is troubling you in an entirely different light.
- Is it true?
- Can I absolutely know it’s true in this moment now? (If the answer is a definite yes then move onto another question/belief you have).
- How do I react when I believe this thought?
- Who would I be without this thought?
“Contrary to popular belief, trying to let go of a painful thought never works; instead, once we have done The Work, the thought lets go of us.”2 At that point, we can truly love what is, just as it is. I do this technique any time anywhere in less than two minutes, even on a napkin in a coffee shop.
My physical body
Every morning, for 20 minutes, I practise eurythmy (an art-form of movement and imagination initiated by Rudolf Steiner). It’s gentle, enlivening and brings a positive attitude. When we do this in the Agents for Change courses, the participants become joyful and express their appreciation for its effects.
Nature can bring joy and serenity. So, I’ve prescribed a half an hour walk every day. I walk along Zandvlei’s embankment, amused by the dogs playing with their owners. Conversations happen. Suddenly I am more connected with my neighbours. And I have lost two centimetres around my waist. I notice how valuable this is for my mood as well as the body.
Staying with nature I have spent this year living closer to nature’s rhythms. My logic is that it could change my blood pressure. Call me crazy but my readings have come down substantially.
I go to bed earlier and wake earlier to enable me to have quiet time. I also increased my sleep time by one hour and my partner reads an extract of a story each night aloud. We do not use any screens after 9pm.
A surprising discovery is the joy of growing plants. Recently, I collected some potatoes from my kitchen that had started sprouting and I planted them in my garden. I sowed some bean and chilies seeds into pots. Watching them come up is a mood-lifter and connects me to nature in a very immediate way. It’s good physical activity – bending and stretching – in a meaningful way. And, I get to eat them!
For the past year, I chose to take daily herbal supplements which help lower the effects of high blood pressure and stress levels.
I cut my meat consumption by half and increased my oily fish consumption. Every day I eat a handful of tree nuts to supplement this. I added a daily herbal remedy to lower cholesterol. The cholesterol pamphlet suggested a daily dose of omega oil in various forms which I started taking. Raw salads with fruit nuts and some cheese have become my regular choice for lunch.
I drink at least four large glasses of pure water with infused lemon and cucumber slices, or mint. I have a glass dispenser with a tap and every time I pass it I’m reminded of this delicious refreshing drink.
- Blood pressure is 130/70; a vast change (one of the readings in the past year was 160/101).
- Blood glucose remains in the 5,5 range.
- BMI has decreased by 1 point due to losing 2cm around my waist and the scale tells me I am 2kg lighter.
- Cholesterol is down from 7,4 to 6,3. It’s still in the orange.
The only disappointment I had was that my medical aid sent a red alert message via SMS and email after the huge effort of my experiment, with absolutely no encouragement or reference to the improvement, and although there is not one measurement in the red range on their scale.
Be that as it may, the important thing is that I feel empowered and have managed to change every aspect of my health, and I thoroughly enjoy these new habits I have prescribed. By using salutogenesis (origins of health) as a model for my health rather than pathogenesis (origins of disease), I’m getting to know me, getting to like me, loving my new life, and focusing on factors that support and increase well-being rather than on factors that merely prevent disease.3
The power of this way of working is that: you find out what makes you joyful, and you think about how you got into this state, and how you may overcome these aspects that aren’t having a positive effect. The results take time and a change of attitude to life. You free yourself and your health practitioner as you take responsibility for your own health. It is worth a try and is fun, this, ‘getting to know me’.
Keeping a regular check on my readings will enable me to monitor how effective my own method of maintaining my health is and when intervention is needed.
PLEASE CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE YOU CHOOSE YOUR PREFERRED WAY OF TREATMENT.
AGENTS FOR CHANGE IS A DIABETES SOUTH AFRICA PROJECT