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Health concerns

It started almost a year ago. At first it was a rather vague sensation, a bit like skin crawling - only that it was floating just a bit above sternum. Something like a mild electric current being applied on your skin, so that the exact location of the sensation isn't clear, and there is this somewhat eerie sensation outside the boundaries of your body. I wrote about it to a friend, describing it as how I would imagine it to feel if there was a 'battery low' -signal built in the human body. I associated the feeling with being exhausted because of working too much.

Objectively speaking, I honestly do think that I haven't been working that much. And from my earlier years I remember how a full-blown burn-out feels like. But that strange feeling somewhere about my sternum, that was something different. I noticed it reacted to social situations, especially the role-based situations which my work is mostly about. When communicating with my customers, I show them only a very little of my own emotions, but I present them a polite, friendly, good-spirited professional role. Too much of that kind of role-based interaction, and I start to feel myself somehow hollow and autistically disconnected from the external reality.

Well, I thought to myself that what ever the physical cause behind the 'battery low' -sensation was, I'd probably better react to it. So, the first thing I did was to record a new message to my phone answering machine. Basically, the message says that my calendar is fully booked and I can't take new customers for massage, and that I seldom answer my phone and it is not guaranteed that I'll listen to voice messages, so if people really need to contact me better use e-mail or sms. That message has been a good stress-reduction method. Anyway, since my phone number is registered to a business, half of the calls are salespersons trying to sell me something I really don't need, about a quarter is new customers asking for times I don't have, and the rest know how to contact me - so not answering the phone already reduces the amount of unnecessary, awkward and energy-consuming social interaction. (I've always found written correspondence a lot easier than talking face to face or on phone.)

One aspect of this is the awareness of how different kind of social situations wear down my energies. And, instead of trying to fix myself, or to find ways to better cope with role-based interaction, I just accept that this is the way my personality is, so better adapt my work and routines to suit my personality (instead of trying to bend my personality to meet the requirements of the world.) Another aspect is chronic issues - despite my working hours for year 2017 have been rather reasonable, it might just be that I still carry cumulative baggage of exhaustion from my earlier years, which makes me less tolerant to stress. And that might be something I'd like to get fixed; to discharge more of the old load of cumulative stress and anxiety.

For the first few months of this year I was slowly saving some money, aiming to build a reserve which would allow me to have a relaxed summer, renovating the house and generally speaking just concentrating on things of my own for a good while. Then the car broke down, and I was saved by friends. My budget got knocked off balance, and I had to reconsider my plans. All the time I was optimistic and felt that things will work out. But the 'battery low' -sensation grew stronger and became more localised. In the spring it was like a dense ball size of thumbnail, somewhere in the middle of my sternum. Sometimes it sent electric shock -like sensations to my right arm, or the right leg all the way down to toe tips.

At that point I didn't talk about it with my friends. My mind was running in circles - at a moment I thought that I'd better go see a doctor to get it checked, then I told myself that it is nothing and I just need to have that summer holiday, and then I thought that maybe it is a cancer tumor causing pressure inside my chest, and I instantly felt stupid for imagining such stuff especially when I read Astrid Swan's real stories of cancer treatments and associated feelings, and then I thought all the people I know who have died of cancer and how many of them were of my age and I felt sad thinking that maybe I have an undiagnosed cancer which will kill me in which case my cause of death would be my ignorance and failing to take care of myself - at the same time I was aware that this feels like a symptom of depression; a feeling that a catastrophe looms, a feeling that it doesn't make difference if I'm alive or not so there's no motivation to check if I have serious health issues or not as I anyway just passively wait to fade away - and that this whole 'then-I-die-and-no-one-cares-neither-do-I' -feeling also is a cause of depression, a deeply learnt sense of isolation. Soon I didn't know that if I were to see a doctor what should I talk about; report my vague physical sensations, or complain about being exhausted for working too much, or focus on having persistent depressive thoughts about being better off dead? Or, if I were to discuss the whole issue with my friends, what should I say? Maybe it is just better not to bother my friends with my stupid small circular thoughts which I very well know to be not-so-serious-or-wait-how-do-I-know-maybe-they-are-serious-but-it-is-hard-to-judge-as-I-am-trapped-inside-my-mind-and-lack-any-external-reflection. To put it short; I felt sad and isolated.

Then came two of my friends, to visit me for a few days. They were sunny lovely days of early summer, and we had good time together. Before my friends arrived both the physical and emotional sense of pressure had grown to be about too much for me to contain. So when we were driving home from the railway station I described my friends my health concerns, also openly expressing that I'm not sure if I'm just imagining it all, or if there are some undiagnosed physical issues which should be taken care of. Well, sharing with my friends involved moments of laughing and crying together, acupuncture, and generally just relaxing. After my friends left I noticed the pain in my chest all gone, and I concluded it was all just psychosomatic.

Let me be clear. When I say 'psychosomatic' I don't mean it derogative in any way. Strictly speaking, I don't see such a sharp boundary separating mental and physical issues. Philosophically speaking, it seems like the old 'standard' dualist model of 'material body' and 'nonmaterial soul' sees the relation like that of a car and a driver; if the car breaks down it doesn't affect the mind of the driver in any way, and thoughts coming and going inside the mind of the driver have no effect whatsoever on the mechanical parts of the car (unless the driver operates the controls, that is). But that kind of dualism isn't so plausible given the empirical evidence of body-mind interaction. What we experience in our conscious mind, and what goes on in our physical body - these appear to be deeply intertwined with numerous parallel feedback loops. Well, but I won't go into scientific details in this post.

There is a phenomenon which I've seen so many times with my own customers; Prolonged stress and anxiety often cause tension and stiffness on the muscles of chest and shoulders area. A muscle spasm near the spine can disturb the neural signals, causing all kinds of vague yet very physical symptoms on the areas connected to the nerves affected. Dysrhythmia, loss of grip, or vertigo can all be caused by a muscular spasm. Find a way to make the problematic muscles relaxed, and the other symptoms disappear just like that. I suspected that something like that could've been behind my symptoms. Then, on the other hand, I rationalized that if I had a customer describing the symptoms I experienced, I'd suggest him/her to have a physical examination just to be sure there aren't any contraindications for massage.

And did I go see a doctor myself? No. Why? Well, my excuse always was that since 1990's our (right-wing) governments have systematically been eroding the public health-care system, and especially at my municipality the health-care system has gone through several organizational changes - actually, several years ago I called them to book an appointment, but they had to cancel and to re-schedule it twice, until it was the end of the year and they said they can't reserve any times for the next calendar year as there is another major organizational reshuffle taking place... So I gave up and concluded that given the turbulence of the more market-oriented model of producing health-care services sometimes means that non-urgent cases are left untreated. But, all of that is just an external manifestation of my inner feeling that there simply isn't a bridge connecting my inner self with the mainstream society. As far as the public healthcare is a part of the 'system', the 'system' considers me invisible and non-existent, and I'm mostly happy with that as I'll anyway prefer my semi-hermit solitude. But, take that solitude too far and it becomes a self-imposed prison, greatly hindering my ability to communicate with other people. It should be noted that no matter how much I feel alienated from the system, I don't think it is healthy to be totally alienated from 'the other people'. I think the ideal state would be to have social structures which don't feel like 'a cold non-personal system', but more like a 'stable network of social relationships based on mutual appreciation'. Oh well. With this kind of thoughts I found myself just postponing my attempts to book a time for a general health check-up.

In the summer there were few weeks without those pressure-like symptoms in my chest. And, as I got the discussion initiated with my friends, there was more talking about health problems, both the emotional and practical side of dealing with them. I noticed that dissolved my sense of isolation. So, when my symptoms returned, it was easier to actually book that time. This time our health care system also worked better, I got a time reserved for a general check-up. After the check-up I called a nurse for the results. All the blood samples showed optimal figures, but there was something slightly off in the EKG. And since I was already talking with the nurse, I also mentioned that I've noticed there is nevus or two which have slowly grown bigger and I don't know if they are anything to be concerned about. The nurse agreed to book me a time to see a doctor.

The doctor was far from a disinterested and alienated part-of-the-machine -kind of a professional. It was easy to make an eye-contact with him, he paid attention and listened carefully, his questions were always on the spot, and he also understood my sillyish sense of humour, flashing a friendly smile. He took a look at the nevus I mentioned, saying that most likely they are nothing to worry about, but if I book another time he will remove them and have a specialist analyse them. He examined my EKG, and said it looks typical for a person who has a high blood pressure. But I can't remember when was the last time my blood pressure was measured. He measured my blood pressure right away. Just to check, he re-measured the pressure. My diastolic pressure was almost 110 (which is on the border of hypertensive urgency, the ideal value being in the range of 60-79). He suggested me to borrow a meter and to keep a record of my blood pressure readings for four weeks or so. That would give us a longer term average so that we see if today's readings is just an occasional spike or more like a constant state.

After seeing the doctor I sent a message to a friend who lives nearby. He said he has a meter and that I can borrow it. I thought it would be interesting to keep track of my blood pressure. That would also show me if there is a trend, or if makes a difference if I work long days. Also, before I went to see the doctor I had felt a sense of pressure in my chest, each and every day. After the doctor, after talking with my friends, and after having an agreed plan with the doctor I noticed the symptoms fading away. So, when I started measuring the blood pressure at home, the reading was 127/83 - which is almost normal. A weekend morning reading was 134/82, and later on the same day after a sauna bath 121/74, and then again an ordinary day at work 131/88. Nothing to be alarmed of, and an interesting variation depending on the daily activities. Also, seems more like signs of not getting enough physical exercise.

So this is where I'm today. I've seen my vague yet persistent physical symptoms disappear twice, because of sharing with friends and having a meaningful personal interaction. And experiencing my stress levels being reduced, because of spending more time with friends, also dancing. It is still several weeks until the next time I'll see the doctor. At this point I feel like sharing the story with you - it no more feels like a semi-neurotic product of a depressed mind, but more like a real story which some other people probably can relate to.

Measuring my blood pressure
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depression
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Comments

Yeah, I had some problems like that when I was in my teens. I did not know if I really feel something in the chest or this is just my mind playing tricks on me. Doctor did not believe me, I felt like a liar.

It seems that it was all connected to some kind of stress. Well, I had some of those for sure. :)

Hope for the best for you!

I was happy to hear that my doctor listed a wide array of possible reasons causing chest pain. Like stress. And muscular tension pulling a vertebra to a wrong position, causing pressure on the brachial plexus. (I mean, for him these other causes were not 'lies', but just realistic causes of felt pain.)

So, the medical plan is to rule out other potential causes of my symptoms. If nothing seems to be wrong, then I can safely concentrate on softer treatments, like massage, sauna, stretching and meditation.

I had/have from time to time something similar. In my case it feels like a claw is grabbing my heart and squeezing it, and it is very phisical and hurts. In my case I think it is some kind of anxiety mixed with buried feelings of sadness that I never dealt. There were a time I tought it could be cancer also or some kind of heart disease :) I hate doctores, don't like to feel in need of others and sharing personal stuff with them, and I use to make excuses like that if I die, it is becasue it needs to be and it is inevitable no point running away from it, etc. (but already made the main exams and doctors say there is nothing phisically wrong with me) So I understand very well what you shared in your text. And well, the truth is that you matter, a ton of people would miss you, and you make a difference in other peoples lifes (^^,) Just reading posts like this makes one feel more "normal", like "ah aha, afterall this feelings and experiences are something very human, very natural, others fight and live this kind of stuff too", and it is like reading a friend saying hi and positive stuff that no one shares. We need you healthy so you can continue to write tons of posts and pictures, the world would never be the same without the Erkka in it, the world would be less. So take good care of yourself and recharge yourself! All the best! ^^,

I remember reading a book by a Swedish author Ann Heberlein. She suffers a bi-polar disorder, and describes the depressive period feeling like a falcon sat on her chest, pecking her hearth and ripping it off piece by piece with it's beak. That's some pretty damn physical pain! (At that passage Heberlein was argumenting against some thinkers who've said that mental diseases are mere cultural constructions, defined by what the culture considers 'normal' or 'abnormal'. Heberlein's point was that this kind of pain hurts, no matter what kind of concepts one uses to desribe the pain.)

Oh well =) Personally, I see this blog post as a part of a continuum which started with my early posts about Finnish lyrics-writer and singer Mariska. At first it was hearing some radio interviews, where Mariska happened to say some personal things which made such an impact on me - in the very sense of 'wow, so good to hear someone else describe about the same kind of vague yet deeply personal things I've also been going through but I just never learnt to share with anyone'. Some of the posts I wrote literally made me shiver with fear, but I posted them anyway. And nowadays there is no more fear - also, there wasn't an inner urge to get this story told - I rather just consciously decided to share the story, as I had a feeling that reading this kind of personal story might have an encouraging effect on someone out there reading (bit like the effect hearing Mariska's interview once had on me).

Hehe, yes, making my plans on how to take better care of myself =)

Oh, and I wish you fresh winds on the mountain slopes, little birds chirping in the bushes, and all those subtle little things which might help to melt away buried feelings of sadness!

It's not about what's in others lives. That's their thing to deal with, we all have our own to deal with. It comes down to; what makes me glad to be alive? And whatever is on that list, try to make it a part of your life. Of course, there is the physical, our bodies. Our mind separate from our bodies? Ha! Funny thought that one. No, sorry. Our brain is as much a part of our body as is a leg. If our body is unhealthy in some way, then it affects our brain which yes of course changes our moods, feelings, ability to learn and make memories etc etc etc. Erkka I tend to clench my stomach muscles when stressed out and filled with anxiety. I don't even notice it most of the time. Just get this bad feeling just under my ribs where the stomach muscles connect on the left side. I have to consciously relax the muscles and at the worst times they are clenching again right away, against my will. The muscles get tired after days of it. There can be some interesting feelings (not a good thing ha). I've worried it was cancer (my Dad is fighting multiple varieties), heart issue (my Opa had like a triple bypass done and lived for 10 years or so) and even got my wife to call 911 (Canada..) because I was nearly passing out and felt like I was having a hearth attack, fucking heart pounding in my chest, breathing heavy. Ambulance trip and a bunch of tests... It was an anxiety attack. Happened around christmas time. Two kids, wife, crazy busy at work and was losing weight, fucking mother in law was in our small apartment for 2 months or so... anyway. These thoughts about life in general, the feelings after pondering the state of corrupt government and the meaninglessness of so much of our lives. It's the corrupt state which is meaningless, not us. We are what is important. Without us they have nothing. We have the real power, I'm sure you see it. I wonder Erkka, if booze is connected in some way to your physical sensations and mental state? I find green stuff to be a better option as long is it has it's time and place. Not 24/7, first thing in the morning etc etc. We must be present in order to do something positive. Anyway, once I found out what was going on... it nearly went away. The clenching comes back if I lack sleep, don't eat good or deal with stress for too long. I know it's my bodies reaction to what's going on externally, also diet and sleep. Should have mentioned that already.. sleep. We need it. Can't avoid that.. damn shame but hell what can we do? Seems to me my friend, is that you should give your mind the best chance at functioning properly and go from there. Not sure how much gardening you do, I know you grow some veggies, anyway check out permaculture. A way forward is possible if we choose to eat differently. Tis what I've found. And hey, I've been there, done that with the rabbit hole thought streams which result in "why not just die and be done with it? what's the point of being here?". Well it's to live this life as best we can, being healthy and taking care to be happy. After all, we are fucking lucky to be the ones that were born and are alive to witness this world. Could have been billions of others, but it is us here. Food for thought. Positive thought. cya bud

Never tried the 'green stuff', for a variety of reasons. But I'd guess it is mostly just what ever way each person feels suitable to help oneself to relax and recharge. Hehe, I know my pictures might give an immpression of my booze consumption being more heavy than it actually is =) I very rarely drink so much that I'd actually be drunk. Which I'm happy about, as alcoholism is a rather common problem in Finland, and I can kind of a understand where it stems from.

Ah yes, sleep and diet, they are important, too! Luckily enough, I like both cooking and sleeping =) Most of the days I cook using fresh locally grown organic ingredients, not eating too much sugar and trying too avoid heavily processed industrial food. So I'd guess my diet is mostly OK. But irregular sleeping patterns and slowly accumulating lack of sleep have been my persistent problems. This year has been better in that regard - I've been paying more attention to that, going to bed earlier to get a proper sleep almost every night.

All in all, thanks for your response. As said in the blog post, I feel it is honest and open communication which helps so much. So, having this feeling that there are real people out there reading and replying, even when I write about my vague uncertain inner feelings - that helps me to feel that after all, my inner world isn't that isolated island, as I can share and feel connected with people around the world =)

Psychosomatic is very real, it accounts for almost a third of visits to psychiatrists, so nothing to be ashamed off. It's why placebo's are so used finally. About the blood pressure, there are the usual suspects, and those are smoking, drinking, obesity and lack of physical activity. Smoking and drinking can have a very strong temporary effect, so take them in consideration when measuring. And finally, med. doctors are just normal people, trying to do a job. My parents worked in the paramedics for about 40+ years, and one of them quit it for a more normal med. job after 30, when I asked why... "You can have a person's brain run out from his ear on your hand (car-accidents) only so many times before you burn out."

Indeed. I repsect the people working in health-care. It is just the 'system'-part of it which I've had a little problems dealing with. (And when I've discussed the organizational things with health-care professionals when they are off-duty, they also often complain about the organizational re-shuffles of past decades, saying that because of strange management-level decisions they find it increasingly difficult to do their job in the best possible way.)

And sometimes it has just been my general introvertedness, and occasional funny dissociation-kind of symptoms I get in places with many halls, corridors and doors. I get the feeling of "maybe I'm in the wrong place, where did I come from, am I supposed to wait here or go someplace else, can I go home and where's the toilet?". Also, to book a time one has to call them at 8.30 - 9.30 am or at 14.00 -14.30 pm. Bascially, each day has a 90 minutes period when you can call to reserve a time. That doesn't always go well with my introvert habit of feeling alien with making phone calls =)

What comes to my blood pressure; I've never smoked, and both my alcohol consumption and over-weight are down to mild-reasonable level. So I suspect the lack of physical excercise, combined with subconscious stress reactions.

HI Erkka,
Thanks for sharing so much with us. I can relate with many things too.
It all reminded of the Open Dialogue program that Finland is famous for. Have you tried it?
http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/open-dialogue:...

This is the first time I hear of the Open Dialogue method. Although, based on the article you linked, seems like my own thoughts and insights are pretty much in line with the Open Dialogue -principles. Like, I believe that a lot of healing begins with total acceptance - and a lot of problems have their origins in people having to cope with the sense of not being accepted the way they are.

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