My 30-Year-Old Life Has Forever Changed Since Being Told I Might Have a Blood Clot on My Lung
You don’t need the same news to change yours.
Steam wrapped me in a cinnamon and ylang-ylang shroud. Epsom salts cradled my muscles in gentle suspension. And water hugged my eardrums from any hindrance of the world beyond my bathroom.
I had been laying here for around an hour and couldn't see myself emerging from this homoeopathic bath for at least another. I find that the horizontal excavations of baths often feel like being suspended in a dream. A brief pause from the mundane and responsibilities that can easily fill up the everyday.
When it eventually came time to change up the rhythm and motion towards the towel, I felt a sharp knife in my left side, between two ribs underneath my breast. I had never felt this sudden jolt of pain before. It caused me to stop my ascent from the tub and temporarily resume my bath time, whilst my right palm automatically clutched my chest.
I should have called the GP that very next day. But I didn't.
This happened 6 months ago whilst staying with family over the Christmas period, where seeing/talking to a doctor felt like too much of an effort and that it would detract too much from the lively spirit of things.
I shouldn't have been so dismissive.
The new year arrived and I was back in my flat in East Sussex. Back to a sedentary lifestyle of sitting at home during the lockdown, glued to a slouched seated position with eyes fixed to a screen, and home-delivered McDonald's only a few taps away.
Now I sit here an entire 5 months later writing this story. So why am I only doing this now, you ask?
Needless to say, I let life get in the way of me taking care of my own health. And when I say "life" I mean the incessant pressure I'm applying to myself every day to try and claw myself out of this rut of living on benefits. It's a slower and more agonising burn than I thought it would be having signed on last August.
I let other things take priority. Sitting there at my desk typing away. Enjoying the outside from a tiny window in my equally tiny flat. Justifying the unhealthy eating habits that have stuck since Christmas time based on how busy I was, perpetually grinding myself into the ground on a daily basis. I saw self-care as an optional weekend activity, and not something that was needed to enable me to work smarter.
I had been contemplating getting out of this unhealthy hamster wheel of a routine for months but couldn't for the life of me find a big enough motivation.
It wasn't until I had a call with the doctor on Thursday the 13th of May that a mammoth amount of motivation found me, pinned me down, and scared me into facing it.
I knew my life was in need of some fine-tuning but I didn't think I'd need hearing that my lifestyle was putting me in line for a pulmonary embolism in my 30's to finally do it for myself.
Factor V Leiden Thrombophilia
I'm currently standing at 13 stone 10 pounds, as per this morning's weigh-in, and I don't appear to be "that big" to most people I know. But what they don't know is that I am living with an inherited blood clotting disorder that is widely affected by weight and lifestyle.
Factor V Leiden is the specific gene mutation that results in thrombophilia, which is an increased tendency to form abnormal blood clots that can block blood vessels, primarily forming in the legs and lungs.
I have been bogged down by research since being diagnosed in 2018, so I will spare you the science lesson. But what I will say is my current lifestyle adopts a pittance of the habits needed for someone with my disorder to live comfortably without soon needing to rely on blood-thinning medication.
Ergo, things must change now.
I'm Finally Changing
Once gathering myself after hearing the news, I found it important to seek out the things in my life that I could control right now. I'm a person who responds well to knowing a course to take when things in life go awry. In this case, it was making small daily changes to steer me into calmer waters.
Until I have my blood tested and receive conclusive results of my upcoming chest x-ray, there is no way of me knowing for certain. So for now I am finally starting to build a lifestyle for myself that will prevent any further risk of pulmonary embolism - and hopefully help me shift a few pounds in the process.
1. No More Sitting Down for Long Periods of Time
My doctor recommended that I get up and spend 5 minutes (at least) every hour in motion, as opposed to spending 3-4 hours being solidly glued to my desk like I always do.
Increasing circulation around my legs through light exercise and massage is crucial in reducing the risk of clotting. And continuing to live the way I have is only endangering my health - and causing me major cramping in my quads.
2. Bye-Bye Takeaways
When I was earning an excess of £2K per month, I was a secret fast-food addict. Some restaurants even had my usual order attached to my saved phone number…
When I would be spending around 9 hours solidly working from home, I would tell myself that having the convenience of getting my fuel delivered straight to my door was a necessity as well as a convenience. I justified it being a productive way to reduce friction between myself and my work. I truly believed that leaving the house to get lunch or breaking concentration to go to my kitchen would have such a devastating impact on my productivity.
But it didn't. It just left me with a belly full of guilty bites that each took me a step closer to developing blood clots inside of me.
Even now with the little money I have, I find myself reaching for my Just Eat app and tapping at that McDonald's icon too many times each week.
I have now deleted my apps and even my accounts with every online meal delivery service I know. This adds to the friction of the "fast food" process and will (hopefully) encourage me to cook more home meals and prepare more snacks for myself.
I oftentimes even have a full pantry when I look toward easy access to junk food for comfort, which is ridiculous now I think of it.
3. Regular Gratitude Journaling
Until quite recently, I kept to gratitude journaling religiously. But we all slip from time to time. It's how we go about getting back to what benefits us that defines our identities.
I usually write 3–4 things I am consciously grateful for that day, each accompanied by at least one reason behind it. I am aiming to keep this up every evening, so I can send myself to sleep on a positive and thoughtful note.
By carrying out this ritual, I am able to be thankful for what I have and right now and take affirming actions to improve my current situations. I'm also able to give myself some perspective: my health could be a lot worse than it is right now, and I have the power to change my own fate.
4. Making Myself Go Outside at Least Once per Day
I would usually make excuses as to put off going outside that day, even if it was running errands that would inevitably help me improve that day. I would justify this laziness by telling myself that I would be better off spending that hour flitting around town buying groceries and essentials indoors working hard…
As you can imagine, this mindset leads me to stay indoors wearing pyjamas and not bothering to showering. Because… why would I need to if I'm not going to be seeing anyone else that day, right?
I want to be the person who perseveres through the rough and sticks to their word, no matter what the weather. By setting myself the task of leaving the house - whether for a short leisurely walk or to run an errand - I would be setting a daily precedent. I will need to shower, get dressed and feel presentable enough to leave the house because that is something I am doing now. It is simply the way my days work.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Build habits.
5. Making Morning Jogs a Thing
I would say "morning runs" but my poor heavy body isn't strong enough to withstand that just yet.
The idea is to at least try to wake up early enough to work at least a 15-minute jog into my morning routine. But listen to my body enough to rest it when it needs it.
I can also make the experience more enjoyable by incorporating some leisurely audiobook time. On the tail end of this morning's jog, I listened to a chapter of Robin Sharma's 'The 5 AM Club', which just so happened to include a powerful quote by the homeless man that seriously rang true to me and my pulsating ears…
"The soreness of growth is so much less expensive than the devastating costs of regret."
My boyfriend and I are getting gym memberships together in a few weeks. So morning jogs may be subject to change depending on the days we go together. I also need to mention how lucky I am to have someone as supportive and understanding as him in my corner right now. He makes health scares less scary.
Eventually, the things you are "making" yourself do will become commonplace. Someone who has helped prove this to me through the practical application of habit building is James Clear. His concept of identity-based habits allowed me to see that by accomplishing small wins (small daily habits), I was collecting evidence that I was being the person I aspired to be; a consistent writer. And as a result, I have already strengthened my daily writing habit.
To be completely honest with you, I am yet to feel this way about these new changes I'm having to make. But with persistence, I can get there.
And so can you.
I've finally woken up to the person I have made and I'm now having to run a tight ship in order to stop things from getting progressively worse over time. You don't need to have reached the same critical point in order to make positive everyday changes to your life.
This is the voice of experience talking and she's here to tell you that sometimes it's better to create your own motivation rather than wait for it to manifest within you.
I'm living proof that small incremental changes add up - and not just for the better.
The ones that often feel like they are doing nothing are actually proving the difference between building a life-threatening illness inside of you and being able to live without being dominated by fear.
At the time, certain actions may not feel like they're making big changes but trust me, they are. Every. Single. Day.
This is the first day of the rest of your life. So, how are you going to spend yours?
Thanks for reading. Connect for creative writing and to join me on my mental health and self-improvement journey. We’re not always Okay… and that’s Okay.
Originally adapted from my Medium article.