To pursue early retirement is to deny death.
Think about it. Since the ego abhors contemplating its own annihilation, what we say is, “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in an office,” when what we mean is that we want to fill our lives with as much fun as we can before we die.
I’ve certainly shot for that much fun. Jesus, have I ever. But certain kinds of fun are good for one’s health. Others aren’t.
You see that picture? That’s a CT scan of my heart from ten days ago. Got the results last Thursday. The little white dot is an arterial calcification in my left anterior descending (LAD) artery. It means the artery is partially blocked by plaque.
Which is DANGEROUS AS SHIT.
The LAD is the most critical blood-pipe of the entire ticker. A heart attack arising from LAD blockage is nicknamed the “widowmaker” for its high fatality risk. When it happens you feel your heart die in your chest. Fortunately my blockage is at the very low end of moderate,1 but nevertheless I have an undesirably high risk factor for the good ol’ Crushing Chest Pain.
How’d that calcification get there? In short: I put it there. I’ve just turned fifty and I’ve had high cholesterol my whole life; and furthermore, an imbalance between the bad and good kinds. This imbalance arises from a combination of genetics and a diet that’s too high in unhealthy oils and
delicious cheeseburgers fatty meat and processed carbs. The thing is, though, that my cholesterol’s been borderline enough to where my active lifestyle in theory could’ve kept my arteries washed clean.
It hasn’t. Conventional wisdom might be that if you’re thin and healthy and you exercise a lot you can eat whatever you want, but plaque has slowly built up in my LAD anyway. Plaque deposits calcify over time. So there you have it.
I fucked up by turning down an important preventive option: cholesterol-lowering statins. My doctors and I have discussed them throughout the years, but since I don’t like taking drugs2 and since statins can have unwanted side effects, I’ve refrained. Now, in hindsight, it’s clear I should’ve been on statins all along.
Two days ago when I got my scan results I mentioned to my doc that I’ve known I have high cholesterol since my early twenties. He nodded and said, “OK, it’s probably been a slow burn.” Which despite the word “burn” I found…heartening. I interpreted what he said as meaning: if this blockage has taken my whole life to get to this size, then I feel good about my chances of slowing it down or even halting its growth.
But that begs a question: how bad would it be if I hadn’t been such a cardio junkie for so many years?
Bad enough. I could very well be dead.
Now: why in the gargoyle group-fuck would I say having heart disease is good? To answer that I oughtta get why it sucks out of the way first.
What sucks is that I could die relatively young and in an abrupt and terribly painful and embarrassing way that, worst of all, would traumatize my wife and kid. And between now and whenever I kick off, my quality of life could suffer.
That’s reality; that’s what I have no control over. Every ramification, though, is mine to use to actually IMPROVE my life, but only IF I have the self-discipline to carry out my intentions.
And do I? You gotta admit my scan is a hell of an inspiration. Heart blockages are treatable and possibly reversible to a degree as long as dramatic lifestyle changes are made. If the pursuit and achievement of FIRE has taught me one thing, it’s that I’m capable of dramatic lifestyle changes.
Which leads us to the good stuff.
I’m finally motivated enough to shuck shitty food.
Junk food is engineered to be addictive. I’m no fiend for the stuff, yet I continue to eat more than’s good for me despite knowing I shouldn’t…which is why every time I reach for something unhealthy I feel guilty about it. Every single time. Hallmark of addiction, man, which I won’t have to carry around anymore. Might sound trite, but it’s gonna be an enormous load off.
Switching to a Mediterranean-style diet via a method like this one will help me feel even more fit.3 Don’t get me wrong…I don’t feel UNFIT. I feel HEALTHY, in fact. Eating healthier should increase my sense of well-being even though being asymptomatic doesn’t mean I’m out of danger. And there’s no reason it can’t be delicious. I just ordered a big recipe book.
Gonna go pretty much vegetarian, in fact, with maybe a monthly cheat meal. And given my horrid streak of self-righteousness, I’ll use that as further justification for feeling smug.
Cutting back on my alcohol intake is probably a good idea.
Yeah…it seems sensible for me to go from a few tiki drinks a week to a glass or two of Cabernet every so often and a Dark & Stormy when I really have something to celebrate.
And hell, I LIKE Cabernet. Big bold Chilean stuff that marches up and announces its intentions and knocks your palate on its ass. Or knocks your ass on its palate. Or whatever.
Getting high = no problem.
Smoking is definitely out, but I never liked that anyway. Cannabutter is out too, as is CBD oil, but vaping every so often is fine–the heavier the concentrate the better.4 Edibles have always been my go-to, so the ideal thing is to switch over to eating THC as CBD-free as possible in tablets or what have you.5 Reason for all this being: that various of the oils and non-THC compounds in weed/hemp have been shown to interfere with the actions of statins.
I get to run and road bike even more.
Boo-ya! I’m one those freaks to whom running feels good. A few minutes into a run and my sense of self disappears and I’m GONE. It’s meditative and head-clearing and I enjoy the pleasant tightness in my legs afterwards.
Cliche: this is a wake-up call to focus more on love and less on silly insignificant shit.
An example. Once a year an old friend and I head out to Four Corners and spend a couple of weeks exploring the desert. Yesterday I called him and gave him the news and told him that now our friendship and these trips are more important to me than ever. He, of course, agreed.
And there are my family relationships. Won’t belabor that one; it’s obvious.
I get to learn not to give a fuck about aging.
Big difference between aging and getting old. You hear all the time that you oughtta act your old age, but that’s BULLSHIT. Let me hammer that in:
BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT.
It’s bullshit. Because:
I’m a case study in how youth can be a function of performance.
Hypothesis: if you used it yesterday, you can probably use it today. Viz., when I’m on my daily run at an 8:30/mile pace and I go bombing past people half my age who are straining, at that moment age ceases to matter.
I’ve got mentor cred now, or at least of a sort.
Case in point: you’re reading this, and I hope it proves cautionary enough to convince you to take better care of your heart than I have.
When I’m exercising with young’uns they occasionally say, “I hope I’m as active as you are when I’m your age.” Until I got this diagnosis my answer was always, “You little bastard, watch out…because I’m about to steamroller your infantile ass.” But now it’s, “You little bastard…you better get started now, because if you wait til you’re fifty it’ll be fifty times more difficult. Let me explain why.”
I also get to pass this knowledge to my kid. I haven’t done a good job educating her about nutrition. Or about the importance of structured meals, for that matter…dinner is usually an hour-long process of each of us grazing out of the fridge while we do things that take us to separate parts of the house. I hope I can change that.
I have a legitimate excuse to cram in more sex than ever.
“Cram in.” Ha-ha. But in stark contrast:
This cements my end-of-life plan.
I mentioned the desert. When I can barely do anything anymore I’m gonna write a few letters and crush my cell phone and make one last drive across the country to a certain canyon I know of that from the looks and archaeology of it has seldom seen people in the last seven hundred years.
Grottoes of seep and hanging fern lie under the canyon rim. There’s one such grotto, although I haven’t found it yet, that opens itself to the clear light of evening. Swallows emerge from hives of mud and thatch to flit among their kin in the sunset shadow. On the wall, etchings of game and dead gods. In the dust, zigzagged potsherds.
The sun erodes to nothing. A shotgun pops. The birds wheel away. All falls dark and silent.
Right. And how do I follow THAT?
With something mundane, I suppose.
I’ve long known that being financially independent means I can afford nicer food, even if I haven’t bought it as much as I should. Loading up on nuts and veggies and heart-healthy supplements is clearly more expensive than loading up on the cheap carbohydrates that dominate the shelves, and I’m thinking my grocery bill just doubled. But that’s no problem.
Another cliche: the five steps of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
Seems to me there’s a sixth one the cliche stupidly omits: DEALING. As you can see from everything I’ve written here, I’m hoping to skip straight past the first five stages and devote all my energy to the sixth: i.e., dealing with this bitch on my terms.
But that said, maybe everything I’ve written here is only a manifestation of denial. Telling myself stuff I wish I could believe. A doctor would know; I imagine they’ve seen long lists of confident resolutions a million times. Does anybody ever stick to them?
OK. Well, hold my Cabernet. Watch this.
I’ve been extremely healthy my entire life. Extremely.
Am I still?
It’s unpleasant to look down at my chest and think, “Two inches under that skin lives an ant-sized nodule of calcium that’s trying to kill me.”
It is REAL. There is NO DENYING IT.
What’s also real is this: I have a good outlook if I stick to the plan. My grandfather, for instance, had two massive heart attacks in his mid-forties.6 This was in the late seventies, mind you. They cracked his chest and grafted some new arteries in from somewhere—his ass, judging from his post-op behavior—and he started eating clean and walking eighteen holes of golf a day and lived until his mid-eighties, when the Alzheimer’s finally got him.
Death may be inevitable, but it doesn’t have to happen NOW. So fuck that ant-sized nodule of calcium that’s trying to kill me. I should come up with a name for it. Something that’ll help me put it in its place.
Hmm. A final cliche comes to mind: “That which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.”
So I guess I’ll call it “Nietzche.”
Edit: Summary of measures I’m taking.
- Brazilian jiujitsu.
- 99.9% plant-based diet.
- Pravastatin — 40mg daily.
- Psyllium husk — two tablespoons daily.
- Apple cider vinegar — two tablespoons daily.
- Vitamin D3 — 5000 IU/daily
- Vitamin K2 — 180mcg/daily.
- Probiotic — have taken regularly for quite a while.
- Kombucha — same. Typically one bottle/day.
- Turmeric/cucurmin — same. 1000mg daily.
- Glucosamine sulfate — same. 1000mg daily.
- A calcium score of 103 on a scale of zero to >400 where >400 is extremely severe.
- OK, OK, OK…I know what you’re thinking.
- For those who don’t know, a Mediterranean diet rich in veggies and healthy oils and sparing of meat is infinitely better for you than a US-style diet of ground extruded lips and assholes.
- Which, I’ve got some Apothecary Clementine Ambrosia right now that’s a flat-out elephant stomp.
- Which I happen to have in stock as well. Be Prepared.
- Why are heart attacks always massive? Is there any such thing as a small one?