Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving Every Day

This Thanksgiving my sister-in-law attempted to nudge a couple of the children into reflection and gratitude as we sat around the supper table.

"What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?" - sister-in-law
"My tractor trophy." - nephew

And of course my other four-year-old nephew echoed this sentiment despite that fact he had no such trophy and was too interested in rides during the local fair to even compete in the pedal tractor race.  It was cute.

The day was by no means perfect--work that morning had sadly prevented me from doing my turkey trot tradition, and I started the binge early in the day with a face-sized jelly donut-- I was repeatedly reminded we were so blessed to have everyone there for supper, even as the young children on either side of me used my cream-colored sweater as a napkin. 

The next day I met a friend from out of town for lunch, a continuation of the Thanksgiving week eating marathon.  We got on the topic of how she was feeling lately and her mindset toward a chronic health condition that causes pain and progressively affects her lifestyle.  With much more sagacity than I can portray she said she is realistic about the chances for a cure in her lifetime, has prepared for what happens if she has to stop working earlier than expected, and has planned for her long-term care as she ages.

I wasn't sure how to respond right away.  I was overwhelmed by admiration for the courage of her honesty and the pragmatism of her approach.  At that moment and for many afterwards I considered sharing my struggle with diabetes, but as usual something held me back.  Instead, as a true Midwesterner, I looked for something comforting to say and came up with the one of the blessings I've found in living with a chronic health condition: that unlike most other people you are given a real reason to take better care of yourself and pay attention to your health; and although it comes with a host of challenges you learn to take it one day at a time and to appreciate everything you have.  Only when something is threatened do we ever seem to really appreciate it, and in some ways people living with chronic disease are more aware and able to experience deeper gratitude for life because they are confronted with challenges to it.  "Yes", my friend replied, "my husband and I talk about how lucky we are all the time."

I'm not saying it's easy, or even possible, to stay in a positive mindset all the time.  With chronic conditions like diabetes there's always new challenges and the build-up of frustrations over a complicated disease that feels more high maintenance and fickle than a needy boy/girlfriend.  But reflecting on our blessings is a good exercise to bring us out of the depths we can find ourselves in. 

It can't be Thanksgiving every day. (Which is a good thing, because pants with zippers would soon be out of the question).  But the essence of it--spending time with people we love and reflecting on what we're grateful for--need not be confined to the holidays.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

On the Malice of Bugs

When I took a walk today tiny gnats swarmed in clouds around me.  They stayed with me for a good clip of my route as if magnetized to my face.  
Annoyed, I tried my best to ignore them, but I soon got amply frustrated.  It seemed as if they were trying to ruin the outing, holding me back as well as they could with their muted buzzing and dangerously close proximity to my eyes.  I imagined they were deriving amusement from it all.

Which, of course, is ridiculous. 

Though my knowledge of biology is shaky, I doubt the the bugs were actively attempting to foil my walk. 

I thought on the way home that I needed a mental reset; I was thinking of things in an unhealthy way.  Not only were the bugs not “out to get me,” but wasn’t it just plausible that the converse was true, that the bugs were swarming me because they wanted to join in and accompany me on my walk?

Feeling beaten down is always a choice.  Stress and frustrations from dealing with diabetes easily brings us to a place where negativity seems the most real, but we have to clean our lenses to see things for what they are.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Things Break, Then a Bigger Surprise

My blood sugar monitor stopped working last week, so I called for a new one to get delivered.  Then something really unexpected happened.
I realized I missed it.  A lot.

My younger self would have rejoiced in a reprieve from checking my BS; heck, I used to go months without it.  Every time my doctor asked to see my numbers I would say I "forgot" to bring the logbook stacked with empty pages.  Checking my BS didn’t just feel like a dreadful obligation that everyone nagged me to do--it was like taking a test I knew I couldn’t pass, an objective reminder of my failure.  

Now it’s incredibly tough to not test.  I simply want to know where I’m at.  The numbers let me know if I need to take action or momentarily celebrate a good result. 

Not being able to check my BS feels like exploring a forest without a map while the thought of misstepping into puma territory constantly looms.  Is it safe to take a walk without knowing where I’m at?  What if I’m too low?  What if I’ve been high all day?

The last time I visited the doc I was told something for the first time in my life:  I was checking my BS enough.  I kept trying to process it as a compliment, but it seemed more like a simple statement of life, like “great job breathing.”  Maybe it’s because it used to feel like there was a test quota from my doctor and that I would be judged for my results.  Now I test for me, because I want to know.  Everything works so much better.

I checked the mail every day this week like it was Christmas, and my new BS monitor finally came.  Reunited, and it felt so good. :)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Remembering to Look Up

With the threat of snow safely past us, it’s safe to say spring has reached Minnesota.  And it’s absolutely glorious.

Like many of my neighbors who seem similarly euphoric to be outside without having to wear a coat, I’ve been taking as many walks as possible.  In an effort to shake things up yesterday I went rollerblading for the first time of the season. 

I love rollerblading, but I’m not good at it.  I am graceless, my balance is non-existent, and when falling I tend to catch myself with my face.  I can only rollerblade on newer, smooth paved trails or there’s no hope of staying upright.  Despite the danger to my limbs, it’s a great workout and it’s pretty fun.

As I rolled along yesterday I enjoyed feeling the breeze, the tranquility of being removed from the noise of traffic or the TV, and the pleasant muscle exertion that made me proud of working out without the panic-related doubt during intense workouts that makes you feel like you may pass out or die at any second. 

But after going along for about twenty minutes, I realized I hadn’t glanced up more than a few times to take in my surroundings.  In fear of tripping over a stick, a crack in the asphalt, or Heaven forbid, a snake, my due diligence was robbing me of enjoying the natural beauty of the wetlands and woods surrounding the trail.  Was it necessary to stay fixated on the ground to prevent myself from ending up on it?

I continually struggle with the same question regarding managing diabetes, and I have yet to answer it.  What is the right balance between living a healthy life and enjoying it? 

More and more I am realizing that the two approaches must be integrated—that you have to discover healthy ways of eating, exercising, and thinking about things in ways that appeal to you.  When I used to separate the two and switch back and forth between the two--controlling diabetes or living a “normal” life—I never did well with either one.  Guilt or doomsday feelings of long-term effects always follow you when you live like a non-diabetic, and when you do try to pay attention to it you feel cheated of the “normal” life you still envision as part of your world. 

I’ve been working to find more ways to live healthy that not only don’t feel like punishment but are actually enjoyable.  I signed up for a couple 5ks to keep me motivated to jog.  I’ve experimented with different salad toppings and dressings that effectively distract me from my constant craving for a cheeseburger.  I joined a new gym (that I hopefully will actually use ;) ). 

I doubt, however, that the search for true balance is over.  It seems even when I am keeping tight control of my B.S. the energy required to do so shifts my focus too far one way and I don’t focus on enjoying every moment, or I start to envision false limitations. 

For now I’ve decided to take the same approach as I did when rollerblading: scan the ground ahead for potential pitfalls, but keep my head up and enjoy the view.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

What's in a Name?

The title of this site was something I toyed with for a while. 

It wasn’t my first choice.  But like other surprises and hurdles life brings, it brought me back to the most fitting place.

By the time I had thoroughly considered every angle, re-examined every possible negative scenario, and finally decided to launch this website, the titles and URLs I had considered were already taken by people just as creative and certainly more prompt.  The title “A Shot in the Dark,” which I imagined would speak to managing diabetes in secrecy and unfamiliarity, was long ago put to better use in a wonderful blog by a mother of a child with diabetes.  The other title I entertained, “the D word,” was meant to allude to how I’d never spell out the full word when I wrote about diabetes in my journal, but it was also already claimed by a community of documentary filmmakers.  (Go figure).

Later on I became very grateful these names were already taken.  After a while I realized they described where I had been, not where I wanted to be.  They embodied the challenges I faced, not the capabilities I had since discovered. 
What this website stands for, beginning with its title, is the empowerment of people living with diabetes.  I hope it serves as a positive way of focusing on what we can do to counteract all the limitations put on us by others and by ourselves.

Like diabetes management, “BS in Check” isn’t just about meds and doctors and treatment plans—it’s about keeping your mentality in line as well.  I’ve found mindset is what guides health, especially with a condition where so much is determined by everyday choices. 

After well over a decade of hiding, denying, lying, and half-trying, I learned that believing in your abilities and the possibilities of your future make all the difference.  It is easy--perhaps even inevitable--to get worn down by the relentless strain of chronic conditions so that you begin to focus more on the obstacles than your own power in controlling them.  But thriving is about keeping your Blood Sugar, as well as your Bull Shit, in check.*

*please excuse the use of expletives and near-dirty words.  I don't want to offend anyone, but it's going to happen here.