When I turned 40 in July 2014, my brother Jason came across to New Zealand from Melbourne to celebrate this milestone with me and we got talking about what it means to turn 40 and the things that are important to our wellbeing. Jason is 3.5 years older than me and has a few years experience being in the 40s. We shared many things that we had learned over the years, discussing topics such as health and fitness, food, mental wellbeing, family and raising kids. We enjoyed discussing these topics so much that we thought it would be great to start a blog and share what we have learned with other guys – especially guys who are in their 40s that can relate to what we are talking about. These guys have a unique set of opportunities and issues and we thought a great way to share and learn was via a website that was dedicated to guys just like us. So awesome40s.com was born!
Fast forward a few weeks, and here we were about to launch this new website when my body or mind or both decided that it wasn’t so great being 40 after all. It began on August 12th, 2014. I work in IT as a self employed consultant and I had spent about a week driving around the New Zealand countryside visiting client sites doing some software installations when here I am driving along and suddenly I feel a bit dizzy and my heart starts racing! I am thinking ‘what the hell!’ so I pull the car over and just sit on the side of the road. I am in the middle of nowhere with no cellphone reception wondering if I am about to have a heart attack or something similar. So 10 minutes go by and my heart finally settles down but I feel like a nervous wreck. I decide to cautiously carry on driving to where I was heading which was about a half hour down the road. Because I had to stop in at the local hospital for a business visit anyway, I decide to pop into the ED to get some checks done around 4pm. After waiting an hour and watching all these sick kids come in I started to feel guilty that I was perhaps taking someones spot who needed the care more. And I thought that I could be sitting here for hours and I would like to get home tonight and home was about 3 hours away.
So I went up to the counter and told the nurse that I have decided to go. She looks at me all concerned and asks if someone can drive me home. I said no, but asked if I could have a quick blood pressure check done. So she agrees and the BP is perfect. I drive home wondering the whole time what just happened to me. That night I went to bed and I woke up at 1am – my left arm was numb and my heart started racing. I sat up and felt dizzy and after a while said to my wife ‘I think I need an ambulance’. So the ambulance came, off I went to ED. I had blood tests and an ECG done – all perfectly normal. The ED doctor said there wasn’t much more he could do and referred me to the outpatient waiting list for a holter monitor test.
So over the course of the next few weeks I worried and worried and tried to convince myself not to worry, that everything was fine and it was all in my head. But I couldn’t help but worry. I began reading up on my symptoms (racing heart, palpitations, feelings of nervousness and anxiety, tightness in my arms, legs and chest, tingling feelings in my head and probably more that I can’t think of right now). The more I read, the more I slowly came to the realisation that perhaps I was STRESSED and suffering from ANXIETY which was causing PANIC ATTACKS. My biggest fear was that I was going to have a heart attack so I went to see my doctor. She did some complete bloods and again they were all fine. I asked for a referral to a heart specialist as I didn’t want to have to wait months for my hospital referral to come through. Thankfully I have medical insurance so the cost of seeing the heart specialist ($750) was 100% covered by my insurance. I can’t stress highly enough the importance of having comprehensive health insurance. Yes it’s expensive, but when you need it (which you likely will), you will be glad you have it. Why is it people insure their house and car but not their body? I pay about $2100 per annum to insure my family’s health.
When I realised that the symptoms I was having might be stress related, I put immediate steps in place to change my lifestyle and behaviours. These included:
- Reducing cups of coffee from around 3 per day to 1 cup per day (I tried a day with no coffee at all and got a bad headache so decided I didn’t want to fight that battle right now – my body and I seemed to agree that 1 cup a day in the morning is ok). Coffee directly affects the nervous system and causes all sorts of issues – I will be writing a blog post on that soon
- Increasing water consumption to 2L (67 oz) of water per day – I don’t achieve this every day but it is a good target to aim for. This is the amount of water recommended for daily consumption. I will be writing a post about how critical water is to our body.
- Getting more sleep – this meant no more staying up till midnight on a ‘school’ night playing Grand Theft Auto 5 online on my PS3 with my brother! This was one of the hardest changes to make actually as I consider this time good bonding time with my brother and an ‘out’ from my busy life. I will have a lot of info to write about the importance of sleep.
- Starting an online course to work through how to beat the anxiety monster
- Increasing exercise
- Yoga – read about how yoga is going for me here
- Taking breaks at work – I never used to take breaks, thinking I didn’t need to, perhaps justifying to myself that as a contractor I should be working harder than the permanent staff and didn’t want to be seen taking breaks
- Going for a walk on my lunch break
After making these incremental changes, I started to see positive results after about a week. But I still was a nervous wreck. I played in a casual football game one afternoon and my heart was pounding to the point it worried me – that hadn’t happened before. I would go for a run, worried that I had a heart condition and that I might drop dead mid run. It didn’t help that I had just heard of this scenario happening to another 40 year guy who was a personal trainer! I would lie in bed at night with tension in my body so bad I struggled to get to sleep. In fact. one night I went to bed and didn’t get ANY sleep. I had sore muscles and tension in my arms and tossed and turned all night and was so frustrated. Feeling like a zombie the next morning, I attended my 4 year ol son’s pre school ‘Dads breakfast’ at 7:30am, went into work for a couple of meetings and then I went to see the doctor to beg for sleeping tablets. She had me do a couple of quick tests on her computer – one for anxiety and another for depression. The anxiety one returned the result ‘Severe Anxiety’. The depression one came back as ‘not applicable’ which was something positive I guess. She said that rather than go on a sleeping tablet, she suggested I take an anxiety / anti-depressant pill called Nortripyline. I hated the idea of taking a pill like this every day and when I read the side affects I was more against it – dry mouth, sedation, constipation, and increased appetite, mild blurred vision, tinnitus, often euphoria and mania. An occasional side effect is a rapid or irregular heartbeat. Alcohol may exacerbate some of its side effects and should be avoided. Avoid alcohol? I don’t think so! So I came to a bit of agreement with the doc. I asked if I could have the sleeping tables and the Nortripyline. I said I would leave the Nortripyline in case I absolutely felt I needed it, and would only take the sleeping pills also if I absolutely needed them because I couldn’t fall asleep naturally. She agreed to this and prescribed a 10mg dose of Nortripyline and a 7.5ml dose of Zopiclone for sleeping. A week went by and I’m pleased to say I’ve only had to take a Zopiclone tablet one night because by 2am I wasn’t asleep. I felt great the next day even though I’d only had 4 hours sleep. I haven’t touched the Nortripyline.
The next Monday I went to the private cardiologist. He set me up with a holter monitor which I wore for 24 hours and returned to see him the next day for the results. Incidentally the night I wore the holter monitor was the night I had to take the sleeping tablet so perhaps the monitor was annoying me. The cardiologist reviewed my holter results and he said they were perfect. He told me I was a ‘healthy young man’. I then did an ECG test – again, perfect. He then had me do a treadmill test. My heartbeat started at about 60 and he said the goal was to get up to 150 at a fast walk. I couldn’t break 110. He told me I was very healthy and fit and that my heart is in great condition. He thanked me for coming and said he would have my info on file if I have to see him again in the future. I really hope not. $750 thank-you for a one hour consultation. I’m in the wrong profession – I should have become a heart specialist. So off I went thinking, WHAT NOW?…
Well two weeks later I felt pretty good. Why was this? Well the changes I made outlined above made a massive difference. And then I also removed a major source of the anxiety which was to convince myself that my heart was in A1 working order. YES! The result of this realisation? No more heart pounding playing sport. No more sleepless nights. No more freaking out and having my heart race when I felt tension in my body. I now knew that I wasn’t going to have a heart attack and that I could just keep working on the anxiety and stress reduction. That would have been the best $750 I ever spent if I had to spend it (thanks health insurance).
So here I am. My symptoms are settling. As I type this, I don’t fell tension in my chest. I haven’t had the urge to get up and go for a walk but I did anyway. Day by day, I’m getting better and better. Keeping my mind focused on what I need to do to beat this monster. Striving to become more awesome.
And so begins awesome40s.com. Now more than ever, I feel compelled to write articles that help guys like me and you. I know for a fact I’m not alone in this. I know my brother Jason also had similar issues a couple of years ago with anxiety and depression and he worked through them too. He will be writing about his experiences too. Having him to talk to when I’ve had bad days has been ‘awesome’. Now, I feel compelled to become the best I can be. And in doing that I will learn and write. And I hope that what you read will help you to become the best that you can be too.
Welcome to awesome40s.com – We’re genuinely pleased that you are here and I hope you find lots of gold nuggets to help you in your journey. Please write to us about anything you feel you need help with. We will keep what you send confidential. Or if you feel up to it, please share on the site so that others can help too. A problem shared is a problem halved. Be Awesome!