For my entire life, I had strangely low blood pressure.
It was so low, in fact, that nurses would always take it twice when I went for a check up, believing the initial numbers must have been wrong. They would often tell me it was a wonder I was conscious.
I guess I was some kind of medical marvel because not only did I have super low blood pressure, I did so while eating salt on nearly everything I put in my mouth (not a small amount of salt, either) and drinking massive amounts of coffee.
I should have had super high blood pressure. But I didn't.
Until I did.
I have chronic migraines. Initially they were treated with migraine medications. Seems reasonable enough, right? But there's this problem with medications like Imitrex; they're notorious for raising your blood pressure with long term use. Without the Imitrex I was living in constant agony. I would have at least 25-28 migraines per month. My head hurt more often than it didn't. Here's where things get super interesting... high blood pressure causes migraines. Migraine medicine causes high blood pressure. It's called the rebound effect, and it sucks.
Switch to Vicodin. They gave it to me like candy. I would get 90 per month and was told I could take three per day. Of a highly addictive opioid. It didn't actually stop the headaches, but I cared slightly less about the pain.
Severe addiction set in within a couple of months. I started taking more than I should. The culmination was when I took the entire bottle of 90 pills in only three days. I couldn't get more and the withdrawal was three days of pure hell I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.
Back to the drawing board. Several other medications were tried to stop the headaches. All of them failed until I was given Nortriptyline. Nortriptyline is actually an anti-depressant but it's used off label in low doses to treat chronic migraines. It worked, and now I only get maybe one or two really bad migraines per month. Hallelujah!
Unfortunately, however, my blood pressure never returned to normal. It was later discovered that I also have tachycardia. My heart beats way too fast. My resting heart rate is generally somewhere around 120-140. This did nothing to help lower my blood pressure and the medication for the tachycardia made me really sick. So instead of treating that, they started treating me for high blood pressure. Took four different meds till we found the right one for that as well.
The tachycardia remains, but the doctor told me I could live with it. I was also put on anxiety meds because while I am diagnosed with anxiety disorder, it was never treated. The racing pulse plus the preexisting anxiety caused severe panic attacks.
The blood pressure meds and the anxiety meds would help with the symptoms but I also had to make some lifestyle changes. Cut out the salt completely and only one cup of coffee per day.
Coffee is life. I love coffee. I stuck to the one per day rule... but there were four shots of espresso in that one cup. Not quite what the doctor had in mind, but I gave up my salt so I figured it would even itself out.
Giving up salt made nearly everything I ate, suddenly brand new to me. I had to discover if I actually liked the things I was used to eating, or if I liked the taste of salt on those things.
I'm a picky eater so there are exceedingly few things that I ate without salt. Cereal would be one example because... gross. Who would put salt on cereal? Most things however, I would eat covered in salt, then re-salt it as the top layer was removed, then add a little more for good measure.
Ironically, if I get a sore throat, I absolutely refuse to gargle with salt water because I find it absolutely disgusting. Go figure.
I eat very few meats. Chicken, turkey, beef and pork. That's it. I do not eat seafood, I won't eat Bambi or Mary's little lamb (or any baby animals for that matter, veal is cruelty, end of story) or goat or rabbit or organ meats... and of the things I actually do eat, chicken is the main staple.
But did I actually like chicken?
Steak, prime rib or filet mignon to be more specific, was always my favorite food (other than my mom's chocolate cake, which no, I did not put salt on).
No matter how well seasoned, marinated or perfectly cooked... I would salt it. Steak is expensive so it's rare that I eat it but when I do...
Did I really like it?
Cheese has a high salt content to begin with, but yeah... I put salt on pizza.
In fact I would typically make a small salt pile on the plate to dip my crusts into when I got to them.
I'm from New York so I know good pizza. It does not exist in Florida, in case you're wondering.
But did I really like it?
I absolutely hate pesto sauce but pasta is a massive staple in my diet because it's cheap, quick and easy to make after working a long shift at the animal hospital.
Whether it's covered in tomato sauce, alfredo sauce, cheese sauce or butter, in my mind the correct way to eat pasta is smothered in parmesan and romano cheese and of course... add salt.
So... did I really like it?
At least not at first. In the beginning of my journey into a salt free life, I discovered I did not like most foods. They all tasted weird to me because I was essentially experiencing food for the first time.
Giving up salt made me realize how addicted to it I truly was. I really didn't like food. I liked salt on food.
It probably won't surprise you that my favorite snack is a warm soft pretzel. Covered. In. Salt. Though, another part of my weirdness, I always scrape the salt off. It leaves the flavor behind but I don't like big chunks of course salt. I like the taste of salt but if it's not table salt, and it's big and chunky, I will scrape it away to leave behind only it's shadow of deliciousness without the crunch.
It took months for me to start actually enjoying food again. Steak took the longest. The first time that I had steak without salt, I wanted to cry because something I always loved was weird to me suddenly. It didn't taste right.
Well, technically, it did, just not to me.
Today, I eat all the foods I've always enjoyed, salt free, and I like them again. I lost weight in giving up salt because of the water retention it caused and my blood pressure has stabilized, though because of my tachycardia and caffeine habits, I still have to take meds to keep it that way.
It's really, really hard to give up something that's been part of your eating habits for your entire life. This wasn't like going off carbs or giving up junk food, it changed how I ate nearly all foods.
I've been salt free now for five years and I don't even miss it anymore. But other than the Vicodin withdrawal from hell, I can honestly say it was the hardest thing I've ever done.