It was midnight on Monday, November 8, 2021. I was a little too amped up to sleep after the Pittsburgh Steelers squeaked out a win against the Chicago Bears in the closing seconds of Monday Night Football. I reached down and rubbed my knee. It was starting to feel a little sore. I would like to say that it was from a day spent saving orphan kittens from Ninjas: however, it was more than likely because I had been sitting awkwardly during the game. I didn’t really think anything of it. I just shrugged and limped my way up the stairs and called it a night.

The next day, I couldn’t put much weight on my leg. I was unable to straighten it completely nor was I able to bend it. Not going to lie, it’s kind of embarrassing to hurt yourself sitting and have it subsequently get worse sleeping. I spent the rest of my workday icing my knee and trying to avoid the stairs.

When it didn’t get better on Wednesday, I decided to call it. I dropped the kids off at school and hobbled my way to the local urgent care.

As is the norm with any doctor’s visit, they took my vital signs. I was engaging in polite banter with the nurse as she took my blood pressure. After her second reading, she paused, looked me in the eye and then took it again. Her face registered a look of my surprise and concern.

The doctor came in a few minutes later. She told me that my blood pressure reading was 146/123. They would get to my knee in second, but that had now become a secondary issue. They proceeded to do an EKG. After a scene reminiscent of Steve Carell getting his chest waxed in “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” they had removed all of the electrodes, and we waited for the results.

Everything came back clean, fast, but clean. The rest of the exam went as I had originally expected. They poked and prodded at my knee, took some x-rays and sent me on my way with a knee brace and the numbers for some orthopedic specialists in the area. What really threw me though was what the physician’s assistant told me as he helped me with the knee brace.

“If you feel dizzy, have chest pains, anything like that, you go to the emergency room, immediately. Don’t mess around with this.”

Yikes! I’m 37 years old, how did things get this bad?

But I knew how it had gotten this bad.

In April of 2020 I had been furloughed from my career. A few months later, I had officially been laid off. After the initial shock, I hadn’t been too worried about it. I figured for sure that we would be back on the job by the time the Christmas season rolled around. That turned out to be misplaced optimism.

Even though I had found another job, I felt myself spiraling. I had so much of who I was wrapped up in that career that losing it had left me with this unbelievable feeling of emptiness. As I’d done so many other times in my life, I sought comfort in food. I spent the next two years giving zero thought to what I was eating or how much of it. Multiple bags of potato chips and various other salty snacks made their way into the shopping cart during the weekly shopping trips. I increased the amount of times per week that we were eating out. Each night, after the kids went to bed, there was now a veritable buffet of salt and sugar. My soda addiction was back in full swing. My morning Starbucks run began to include pastries.  I jumped two shirt sizes and a pants size (probably would have been two pants sizes if it weren’t for the miracle of elastic waistbands). I had put on at least 40 pounds since being laid off.

That wasn’t the only thing. My medications, including the mild blood pressure medicine I had been on before, ran out of refills. My doctor wouldn’t refill the prescriptions unless I came into the office. I never made the appointment.

Why didn’t I make the appointment? For one, the doctor’s office was far away. We had moved years before but with the mobility of freedom of my previous job as well as my tendency to only go to the doctor once a year, it never seemed like a big deal to drive 45 minutes each way for a doctor visit. Secondly, who has the time? I now had a mentally exhausting, stressful new job. I have a pair of rambunctious twin boys who require a lot of attention. I picked up a second side gig that was satisfying but requires a lot of creative energy to do well. Who has time to make a doctor’s appointment? Sound like bull sh*t excuses? Yeah, you’re right.

When other health issues stemming from my poor diet had me feeling unwell, my wife urged me to contact a doctor and get my prescriptions. I told her I’d make an appointment. I didn’t. For months we would play this game. I’d not feel well, my wife would tell me to find a new doctor and make an appointment and for whatever reason, I’d push it back. There was always too much to do. There was always an excuse. I was “too busy” to make a 5-minute phone call.

It was all part of my downward spiral. It was all part of not feeling complete. It was all a part of no longer liking who I was. It wasn’t that I thought I wasn’t important enough to take care of myself. It was more that I didn’t have the desire or physical energy. In addition, it just didn’t seem to fit into my schedule. I didn’t have time to exercise. I didn’t have time to make doctor’s appointments. What I did have time for though was Netflix binges and potato chips.

The day after my visit to urgent care, I went back to work. My heart and blood pressure were the only thing on my mind. My knee was still killing me, but I knew it wouldn’t kill me. Not taking care of my heart would. I had so much to be here for. I have a wife that I love. I have two twins that I love more than anything in this world. The Penguins could win more Stanley Cups. I couldn’t believe I put that all in jeopardy. I was not only risking my future, but the futures of my wife and children. I broke down at my desk. I had to fix this. 

At my follow up appointment with my new doctor, I did something I had never done before. I talked to a medical professional about my depression and anxiety.

We are now working on a course of action to get my blood pressure back under control. We are now working on a plan to help with my depression and anxiety. I am doing my best to eat better. I’m going to start taking better care of myself…because I’m worth it.

And so are you.

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