A few days ago I was on an unplanned hiking trip with friends. I posted some nice pictures on Facebook and mentioned that I had been wearing a T-shirt dring the whole trip. I saw that this post divided my readers into two camps. Those who found my behavior irresponsible and those who quietly agreed with me. I appreciate that you were concerned about me. However, I feel it is also important to publish my perspective and open up a debate on the topic of body perception. Before I begin, however, let me start with a story.
The day I lost my certainties
I was about twenty years old, I wanted to get my driver’s license, and I needed a medical report. I took it as a formality, up to that point I had never had any health problems. With smile on my face, I walked into the doctor’s office. There was an elderly gentleman that day who was filling in as a doctor. We talked and he started my medical examination. There was also a blood pressure measurement. I hadn’t given it much thought until then, and I’d always had a rather lower pressure anyway, 110/70 and so on. However, the doctor no longer looked amused. He made measurement one more time and told me that I had high blood pressure, somewhere around 160/110. At that moment I lost my confidence. I realized that I was not in control of my body at all. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I’m not even overweight, and yet this… I broke out in a cold sweat. When I went home, I was shivering. It took me a while to process it.
There was no reason to delay things any further. The doctor asked me to undergo further tests — ECG, thyroid, blood. And then I started my hypertension treatment. It was only then that I fully realized my helplessness. You wait months for an appointment with a specialist, and until then you have to function somehow. This state of limbo took its toll and showed in my studies at university. My performance deteriorated because I didn’t go to lectures and I didn’t have as much time to study. Nevertheless, I listened to the doctors to the dot. They started medication but it didn’t work. They adjusted the dosage, yet to no avail. They prescribed me another medication, but no luck there either.
One day I went to see my GP for a follow-up appointment and asked him point blank: “Doctor, what could be the reason that I have high blood pressure?” However, I did not get a clear answer. That’s when I realized that doctors are not omnipotent and they are just experimenting themselves. And also that they were not looking for the cause of my problems, but were only extinguishing the effects. The blood pressure was definitely caused by something, but their only concern was to lower it. Not to find out why it was high. Plus, the meds made me feel even worse. I started to suffer from a heart arrhythmia, mostly when I was running.
I asked the doctor: “How long do I have to take this medication?” He replied: “Well, maybe for the rest of your life.”
It took me a while to absorb that, but I told myself that I was not going to be some guinea pig who was going to swallow pills and put my life in the hands of people who themselves didn’t know what was wrong with me. I told myself that I was going to snap out of it and that I was going to look for ways to lower my blood pressure. Without medication. Yes, I was fully aware that I might be gambling with my life. But in retrospect, I see it differently. The gamble is to unquestioningly put my body in the hands of others, without having any control over it. I’ve become more aware of my body. It’s been about thirteen years since then.
At first it was difficult. I got myself a blood pressure monitor and measured my blood pressure several times a day. Gradually I was doing this less and less. Today, I only measure it occasionally. I consider my body my temple. I take care of it. I’m not saying that I do the best job, but I’m certainly not doing too bad. But the main thing is that I have the final say over my health and I decide what I do.
What I took away from the period of these medical examinations was white-coat syndrome. I used to get nervous just at the thought of undergoing a medical check-up. And, to a certain degree, also at the thought of what the doctor would say to me as I was gambling with my life. Today, I still don’t feel comfortable with such a check-up, but I have a different perspective on it now. Doctors are free to tell me anything they deem necessary. I know exactly what I’m doing, and my life is in my hands. I have learned to accept responsibility for my actions, and I regard medical authorities as an advisory voice only, not the sole source of truth or knowledge.
When I first met my friend Erik, we were two strangers in a train station. We struck up a conversation and quickly found common ground. He had been through a similar journey as me. He, too, was being treated for high blood pressure and, like me, had come off his medication. We both started researching on our own. And we have been like this to this day.
Me and hardening
Cold water swimming, ice baths or cold showers have never been my goal, rather a by-product. I know there are people who go to lakes or to get hardened, and of course I’ve heard of Wim Hof. But I didn’t feel the need to practise this kind of therapy. And I thought there was too much fuss about it anyway. Let me tell you what I don’t like about it. Wim Hof may have meant well and showed people something that worked for him. But it became as commercial as a visit to Disneyland. Certified trainers have been introduced, various paid workshops are being done. And most importantly, this method attracts exactly those people who need some kind of authority to tell them what to do and how to do it. I am my own authority and such a commercial method does not attract me at all, although I do not deny that it works. I want to get to know my body on my own, I don’t want to have a pictorial guide showing me how someone else sees my body.
It’s been a while since my friends and I started to go out regularly. Once or twice a week. At first I went in a T-shirt, then later I wore an autumn windbreaker over the T-shirt. Occasionally a sweater. By going out regularly, my body somehow started to adapt itself to the colder temperatures. I used to wear the same autumn windbreaker and T-shirt even when it was -10 degrees Celsius outside and the freezing wind was blowing. However, by adapting gradually, my body learned to cope well. What I remember most are my frostbitten hands and face. But otherwise nothing special. I think if I hadn’t been going for regular walks all winter, the body wouldn’t have handled the impact of a hike in the cold weather so well. I was quite surprised at how quickly my body acclimatised. I consider winter hikes on Sigord, in moonlight only, to be some of the most beautiful and memorable hikes ever. Thanks, in part, to the hardening process I undertook earlier on.
After the winter
Winter is over but we are still going on our trips, the only difference being I don’t need to wear a windbreaker anymore. I realized that my body has gotten used to the cold so much that if someone wears a windbreaker, a sweater is enough for me. And if someone wears a sweater, I’m fine with a T-shirt. And no, I don’t feel that my body is suffering. It’s such a nice, fresh feeling. One of the manifestations of winter is goosebumps. That’s when the body signals that it’s already sick. But I don’t have any such symptoms because my body has adapted.
A trip to Zbojnícky Castle
A few days ago, my brother, friend and I spontaneously agreed to go on a small trip to a nearby village outside the city. I estimated that we wouldn’t be out for more than two or three hours. It was warm enough outside that I went in just a T-shirt. The weather was beautiful. When we got to Ruská Nová Ves, we said we’d also visit a nearby castle. At this point I was assessing the risks. If it weren’t for the winter hikes, I probably would have turned around and gone back. However, I already had an idea of what my body could handle and after some consideration, I decided to give it a whirl.
We arrived at the castle just before sunset. I managed to enjoy the beautiful view. And I enjoyed even more the fact that while everyone around me was in windbreakers, I was just running around in a T-shirt. It’s a strange feeling, but a nice one. On the descent, however, the temperature had already started to drop. The sun had set and it was about 7 degrees Celsius outside. It was still a nice and nippy feeling though.
If I were standing still, I think it would be a problem. But my body was moving. And thus I wasn’t considerably cold. Around half past nine in the evening, although I was a little colder, I still didn’t have goose bumps and I felt comfortable. I can’t say that I suffered in any way. On the contrary, once again I had another unforgettable experience. We arrived home around nine in the evening. I had dinner, rested, and slept well.
I do admit that sometimes I can get carried away and overdo things. After all, I’m only human. But I accept risk as part of my life. I live!
The next day a few people wrote to me saying they were worried about me. I appreciate that they were not indifferent and took interest in my well-being. But it was at this moment that I began to realize the disconnect between us. I can put myself in someone else’s shoes. If I were the one reading about some Vlado who only wears a T-shirt in the winter, when I’m used to walking around in warm coats, I can’t imagine that this Vlado is in his right mind. As the saying goes: “I judge you by myself.” Those who were worried about me, however, did not go through what I did. They weren’t outside that winter, they didn’t go for regular night walks. They don’t know what it’s like to be out there. They just think about it and judge it by their own experiences. Sure, they would be cold and scared for their lives, so they immediately think that it’s the same for others. And that’s where I think it’s not true. Subjective perception prevails.
A very similar thing happened when I wrote about trying cold showers a while ago. Again, I was told by some of my friends not to experiment on my own, but to try under the supervision of experts and some proven methods. However, here too we can see how a subjective perception from the reader’s point of view at the forefront. And they judge according to their own experiences.
I have noticed one more thing. Those who have not had health problems and have not gone through what I have with doctors have complete trust in medical authorities. They feel that by disobey them they would automatically put themselves at risk. I’m not saying this isn’t the case, but my perception is already much broader than that. I have learned to listen to my body. For instance, if I get an acute or sudden facial rash, I try to find out why. I try to change my diet… If I feel fatigue, again, I investigate what’s behind it. I’m learning to observe and diagnose on my own. Most people don’t observe their bodies. If there’s something wrong with them, they put their lives in the hands of doctors without reservation.
When COVID-19 reareed its ugly head, initially our authorities tackled it properly. We didn’t know anything about the virus, so we sealed off the country, which gave us time cushion. But what followed after that was completely beyond common sense. The virus is out there and it will stay this way for a long time, but the solutions that the authorities have put in place are, in my view, devastating. We may see the consequences in a year or two, but they will definitely come to haunt us… I was expecting us to work on how to boost immunity and look for ways to make the majority of the population go through the disease as easily as possible. Instead, we’ve locked down the whole country here with an uncertain plan on how to proceed.
Those who are used to entrusting their lives to authority have given in. And many have been living in fear. I was not afraid. I knew that one day I would probably get infected anyway. And I concentrated on being as mentally well and physically fit as possible. To cope with the disease as best I could. Dr. Bukovsky, who many refer to as a conspirator, posted many videos where he did a lot of good work. He put together studies from prestigious universities and documented all of them in the links below the video. Among other things, he claims that overweight people are statistically more likely to develop more severe illness. Every pound matters. I’ve lost about eight pounds since the beginning of the pandemic. Because I evaluate the available data and make decisions autonomously.
However, many people rely on those who govern us here and do nothing to prepare themselves for the disease in the best possible way. Some of those who were offended that I walked around in a T-shirt are obese and do nothing about it. And I ask: “Who’s taking more risks? Me or them?”
Fear of authorities, fear of responsibility
I think that a tendency to obey authorities comes naturally for most people. It’s not common to go against the tide, to do things your own way. To think that because others trust them implicitly, it’s probably the right thing to do, is a mistake. Doctors used to cure, for example, by bloodletting and letting people bleed white. They cut a vein and let the blood drain into a bowl. That’s supposedly how the bad stuff leaves the body. Nowadays we just laugh at this. But we don’t realize that even today’s doctors are not omnipotent, and often they too are just guessing, according to their limited knowledge and perception of the world. This may be how our descendants will look at them hundred years from now on.
By authorities, however, I also mean politicians. Many of you are aware that some regulations, such as the curfew after eight o’clock in the evening when nobody is out, do not make sense. But we do nothing about it. Why? I think it’s because many of us are scared. We are afraid that you will be seen and that people will point the finger at us. We want to be in our comfort zone and we fail to realise that we are losing more and more of our freedoms every day.
I have learned to take responsibility for myself. I ignore nonsensical orders and if I am confronted by the police, I am mentally prepared for it. While most of us have been slow to do physical activities for a year now, surviving in our apartments and houses, I am in very good shape. I don’t suffer from anxiety, my body is fit, I breathe fresh air. And I am living my life.
The aim of this post was not to tell you how you should live your lives. However, I would like you to start seeing situations from a different angle. And to realize that nothing is black and white. And if you’re interested in how I’m learning to listen to my body, go ahead. It’s an interesting journey. I’m happy to discuss these things with you, so please don’t be afraid to reach out.