Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Memento mori

The knowledge that we will die burns out our attachments to the dignified madness of our socially constructed existence. Death is an ally that helps us to release our clinging to social position, material accumulation, and superficial desires as a source of ultimate security.
~ Duane Elgin, 1943- ~

Last year this time i was beset with a series of aches and pains which gave me cause for concern. Indeterminate chest pains triggered anxiety which fed on itself bringing me squarely face-to-face with my mortality. Having a family history of cardiovascular disease and hypertension only increased my dread. I lost my sister Lily just last May and have only one sibling left. Was my time coming up?

Then i seemed to recall these symptoms recurring each year at about this time and wondered if i might be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). However, i was not depressed, depression being a classic sign of SADness — but somehow less sunlight seemed to be implicated. Further research on the internet led me to believe i was suffering instead from Vitamin D deficiency which is characterized by chest pain, particularly a tenderness in the area of the breast bone, bone pain even, and other symptoms that can mimic and exacerbate heart condition and hypertension.

Long story short, my lab results showed severe hypovitaminosis D which was treated with a megadose - 50,000 units per week for 4 weeks - of Vitamin D supplement. The symptoms all but disappeared. The cycle has started again this winter so i'm on another megadose. The cardiologist wanted to put me on statins because of a high LDL reading but i declined, prefering to use diet to address it. I increased intake of flax seed oil and meal, hemp seed meal and walnuts, all high in Omega-3s, combined with oats. My LDL level dropped back to normal limits. Now i only contend with pain related to arthritis and a frozen shoulder.

Ingredients for a tasty cholesterol-lowering holiday treat. For variations, use hemp seed meal in place of flax seed meal. A splash of rum with nutmeg gives it that festive taste.

If you live in temperate zones and/or do not spend much time outdoors, i suggest you have your Vitamin D level checked. The amount you may absorb from fortified milk is hardly adequate. Your physician may also not be up to speed on the latest Vitamin D research, so you may have some skepticism to contend with. It's your life, your body, you choose.

Rather than a morbid sense, these creeping signs of ageing and decrepitude are a memento mori that heightens my appreciation of life, of waking up to another day. It reinforces my resolve not to waste time on distractions and trivialities, but to make each moment count. This must be what they call the fierce urgency of now, knowing that there is so much to be done and little time to do it.

Death gives value, and in a sense almost infinite value, to our lives, and makes more urgent and attractive the task of using our lives to achieve something for others … which apparently embodies more or less what is called the meaning of life.
~ Karl R. Popper, 1902-1994 ~