A momento mori…

Picture taken a few days before this story begins. (Thanks, Jay.)

Well, I found out I was going to die.

Not so much in the urgent sense, like you would see in a movie or a viral tear-jerker Youtube video. It dawned on me much more eloquently than that. Stay with me here, it’s a bit of a journey. But for those of you who don’t want to commit to a 5-10 minute read, here’s the clif notes:

Clif Notes

  1. Started training harder than ever before (August 2016).
  2. Something going wrong, not sure what (Fall 2016).
  3. Crap gets scary with a minor incident during competition (Jan 2017).
  4. Medical whirlwind ensues (Feb 2017+).
  5. New blood pressure PR of 221/114 mmHg at complete rest for no apparent reason. Gotta get those PR’s where you can, you know? (May 2017).
  6. Reassess life (ongoing).
  7. Reestablish existential imperative (you’re participating by reading this blog).
  8. Continue in the dark, medically (ongoing).
  9. Finally get my tush in gear and start this website (August 2017)

I have lived my life, how do you say, demandingly. I have put strong demands on my time, my skills, my relationships, and most notably my body. Having been involved in half the sports you could think of, and spending all of my spare minutes solo-adventuring in ways some would deem extreme, I have accumulated a few miles. And when it comes to health, it’s not the year, it’s the mileage. Along the way, I have had a few pretty close brushes with death. Broken this. Ruptured that. Altitude here. Depths-of-hell there. You get the point. Heck, one of my earliest memories was being buried alive under 10 feet of snow while a kid in the neighbourhood frantically searched for me. That one still gives me nightmares. I started breaking bones in Grade 2 (right calcaneus, for reference) and haven’t slowed down since.

They have all left their emotional mark, especially the particularly life-threatening ones and injury-free near-misses. But this time it’s different. This brush with death tastes insidious, feels pernicious, and is slowly grinding on me. I realize that this near-death experience is not going away with time. It’s not going to heal on it’s own. In fact, left to it’s own devices, it has gotten nothing but worse.

This all came crashing in on me in the fall of 2016. I was going about my day, working in the business I had started 5 years earlier (side note: I had grown to detest the amount of work that was required in this business…didn’t I start a business to chase my dream of financial independence and time freedom? Ha…if only). A nurse showed up to my office in between clients to collect blood samples and take my vitals; I had applied for new health insurance.

She takes some blood. I stand on a scale. She takes my pulse (which is revving, by the way). But then she takes my blood pressure…139/95.

Me – “Wait a second…can you repeat that please? I  hadn’t really calmed down and I was still standing up.”

Nurse – “Don’t worry, we always do three measurements to make sure. And not to worry, that’s in the range that’s considered normal.”

Me – “Not for me it’s not, I’ve always had low blood pressure, like, substantially lower.”

Her – “Well, for insurance purposes, you’re in the normal range.”

Me – *stares blankly, nods slowly, sits down, retakes BP reading*

Her – “Now we’re at 137/95, so it did come down a little.”

Me – “Maybe it’s because I’m in between patients, running around, and I’ve had a cup of coffee already today.”

Her – “Yeah…maybe.” *retakes blood pressure a third time*

Me – “How’s it looking now? Any better?”

Her – “We’re back at 139/97. We’ll just chalk it up to your being anxious about having higher blood pressure.” *packs up and leaves*

That was the start of what has been, to say the least, one exhausting time in my life. At the time I was 31 years old, standing 5’11 and marginally athletic at around 175 lbs.  Since that time, and especially in the proceeding few months, things got worse…

  • In the gym, I found it getting harder and harder to “get up and go”. On my worst days, I literally found myself unable to run 100m without feeling as though my heart would explode.
  • I was competing in a CrossFit competition (not previously a Crossfitter, but decided to give it a whirlybird…that crap is fun!) and had what I would describe as a cardiovascular “event”, forcing me outside into the Canadian winter where I had to lay down for 2 hours in nothing but shorts in order to calm the thumping in my chest. This happened from a workout that lasted less than 5 minutes.
  • Back in normal strength and conditioning mode after this Crossfit incident, things were still getting worse. I found myself not able to finish a “normal” workout either. In fact, the last time I was in the gym was in March of 2017, where I stopped in the middle of an easy set of RFESS…after 4 reps, because I almost passed out.
  • Since the time, I have essentially become a weak and mushy human being.

I have had dozens of rounds of lab tests, urine samples, EKGs, Chest Xrays, and everything in between. A specialist here, a doctor there. All tests revealing…nothing definitive, and yet my blood pressure continued to rise. For all other medical purposes…I was (am) extremely healthy. Next on the list was a 24 hour blood pressure monitor that I got to wear around like a medically-bedazzled baus. Now THAT was when things got REAL scary.

Me – (returning the 24 hour BP monitor in exchange for a read-out) “You’re sure this thing is working, right?”

Nurse – “It was working when I gave it to you yesterday…” (perusing the read-out) “Holy Shizza! I’d be asking the same thing if I were you.”

Me – “I know right? I don’t exactly look like those numbers.”

Nurse – (giving me the quick once over) “’re not 500 lbs.”

Me –  (Standing there at 173 lbs) “No shit.”

What that nurse was gawking at was readouts in the realm of 209/128 and 221/104 and 196/86 and on and on…all for no apparent reason while sitting in a chair at work. With no history of any sort of thing in my family, I got this creepy sense…

My life was slowly killing me

Bit by bit. Bite by bite. Day by day. Stressor by stressor. In a matter of 5 years (time between blood pressure checks), my life resting blood pressure had dealt me a spike of 60 mmhg, not to mention the completely incapacitating dizziness and near passing out on the daily.

Existentially speaking, this was a symptom. Physically and metabolically speaking, I have yet to figure out if it is a symptom of something more serious. So, this is where I am for now.

As I alluded to a minute ago, this whole experience has been a momento mori in my life. It has shaken me like other things never have before. At this rate, it still feels like I could keel over any day now. Is that true? It’s highly unlikely at this point. But, it has called into question the differences between who I’ve fancied myself to be, and who I actually am. It has shoved all my inadequacies in my face, leaving me feeling “littler” than ever before.

Never before has a question like this hit so close to home: If I walk into the gym tomorrow, pick up a 45 lb plate, and my heart stops…how wide will the gap have been between who I wanted to be and who I actually was? There’s really only one logical action that will arise from any answer to the question. It’s time to start narrowing the gap. It’s time to step into each role in my life in a magnificent fashion. It’s time to help other people do the same.

It’s time to turn this shit ship around.

…and welcome to the Benjamin J Stevens blog.

19 thoughts on “A momento mori…

  1. Thanks for sharing Benjamin! I like the way you write – the way you tell your story. It’s engaging and real. Sounds like quite the shock. I look forward to reading more as your explore the new course your ship is on.

  2. Ahh no fun man. Always have this momento mori every couple months. But not quite like yours… more of a I’m getting older so this is getting harder and I’m losing time. The fun of am I moving towards my goals or am I doing things making it harder to achieve my goals. Ever look into pericarditis? Had a couple instances show up lately in relatively normally people with zero history. Symptoms listed are quite similar. Anyways thanks for read !! Need to spend more time with you as I do find that you have a wealth of knowledge I want to tap into. You and Lars haha.

  3. Good post Ben! Thanks for sharing brother. Ive had a few clients with similar stories – slowly getting better for them but still no pure resolution.

    While not to the potential consequences of what your going through I have had double emergency eye surgery on both eyes inside the past 3 years for for detached retinas and bleeding behind the eyes…having a few issues again and they are stumped…all my vitals are spot on – the type of stuff you go blind from. I dont want to make this about me – rather, I can relate to some of the things you wrote – your not alone my man – just want to reach out and send good vibrational energy to you.

    Be well

    1. Thanks Greg! You’re not the only one who has reached out with something similar. I think sometimes we forget that everyone is hiding the crappy aspects of their existence in an attempt to control perceptions and emotions, when in fact we just do a great job of alienating people. Glad you connected.

  4. Thank you for sharing! While I knew that you had legitimate experience and insight when we talked after my disappointing Provincials, reading this shines a brighter light on the truth of those words. And welcome to the world of blogging!

    1. If only you knew the full gamut of experiences I have had, you would probably wonder how I am still alive and walking in a straight line, haha.

    1. It’ll be coming along indeed. and hey! I’ll be in NB for the first time in 3 years in 2 weeks! Sep 6-13!

    1. Thanks Stu! It was actually our conversation that pushed me to finally put it out there. You were one of about a dozen people in the last year to strike up a conversation about similar ideals; it just didn’t feel right being secretive about the darker sides when everyone is always asking me about the fantastic stuff I get to do in my life. So thanks for the inadvertent nudge.

  5. Thanks for sharing Mr Benjamin! I always enjoy reading your posts but this one sure hits close to home for me too! Good on ya for doing something about the forced recognition. Looking forward to seeing how you close the gap!

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