One of the wonderful things of having a blog is that, often, people ask you deep questions; deep questions which you may be working towards resolving, yourself... (unbeknownst to the reader) thus, giving one ample opportunities to think "out loud," if one could, on the internet.
I'd like to address one of those questions...
It's a particularly common one. Many people ask me this question, and it's truly one which is bound to come up in a person with diabetes' life sooner or later: "How do I get out of a funk??? Can you point me in a direction to get my eating back on track?"
I think it's safe to say, this question has no easy, or simple answer.
Whenever we get into a funk, we are in many ways, tired of the burden we have to bear. We have to come to grips with that, and acknowledge it, before we can even begin to understand how to fix it.
We have to recognize that we are tired...
In particular, with type 2 diabetes, we are tired of having to guard against an invisible monster -- who much like the boogeyman under the bed, or inside the closet -- seems as a figment of our own imaginations. That's the big problem with pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes -- particularly, at the stages where we have no complications, or can manage with just diet and exercise, or even with some oral medications. How does one keep being a lookout for something that never seems to show up? How can one take it seriously? Why does one need to keep taking pills for something that doesn't seem to show up? It seems a bit hard to believe that the minute we stop being a lookout, something will show up. And then... outsiders don't help. They can't see anything serious, either, so many egg us on to just 'enjoy life,' or to quit being 'melodramatic.' "Come on, it's not like you have cancer."
This particular dynamic makes it hard to commit to making serious changes in one's health, particularly when one has had a lifetime of other choices etched into our internal scripts.
We have to recognize that this is real...
Sometimes, we forget that the point of the exercise is NOT the waiting for something to show up -- but to intimidate the something into NOT showing up. It seems as a futile exercise with no rewards. But... if I shine a light in the closet, well, the monsters never materialize. The child never asks "But what's the point of this flashlight? I never see monsters in the closet, so why should I need it?" No. The child merely reasons "the flashlight scares the monsters away, and keeps them from coming." The things we do... the exercise, the diet, the medications. They all come together, in one big, powerful flashlight.
We can change part of our mindset by simply changing how we ask the question.
Now, how sensible would it be... if a person with HIV decided that all their treatments were pointless, because AIDS was not a real threat (somehow)? And we all understand how nonsensical it is for a person with a deep mental health concern, to forgo medications, because they now feel well... But it is, in essence, the same dynamic. We are all fighting to keep something larger, at bay, which is as real as full blown AIDS, or as real as cancer. In fact, it is so real, that diabetes kills more people than AIDS and breast cancer, COMBINED.
Yet, people like to speak of it as if it were a mere inconvenience -- like some kind of bunion on your foot, that bugs you when you walk... when it's more of a darker, more sinister situation. I'll save you the metaphor... I'm sure you don't need it, right now. But I'm sure we've all been there, and thought deeply about the darker sides of diabetes.
We have to recognize that diabetes is scary...
Especially when people are always gracing us with stories of their Aunt Jenny, who lost her foot, or their Uncle Bob, who had to go on dialysis. Diabetes can instill a serious dose of fear into those who live with it, and who struggle holding up that flashlight into the closet -- often making us feel we're doomed into an uncertain future. We get tired, we don't want to face reality, and we get scared into inaction. And it's probably because diabetes is more like an endless night, and the flashlight eventually needs new batteries.
So we fumble.
We fumble, and we won't eat 'right,' or we won't take the god-awful medications, or we 'fudge' the insulin. We want to pretend normalcy, again. We want to believe we live in a world where we are not the ones with diabetes. Or, perhaps, where we sinned and then got diabetes. But... why shouldn't we be the ones with diabetes? Do you know of anyone else more worthy of having diabetes than you, or I? More deserving, somehow? Who had it coming? What makes someone worthy, or not, of having diabetes? Or of having any disease? The answer is nothing. Both birth, and death... happen to all of us. The number one risk factor for getting ill... is living. And if you enjoyed your living, thus far, make peace with it. Don't somehow, 'forgive yourself',' as if you've erred. You haven't. No. Make peace with it. You lived, you loved... and that's what we ALL do. In our own way. Now it's time to live differently. To enjoy differently.
Diabetes is not a judgment on your previous life; it is merely, a different life. In many ways, coming to terms with accepting diabetes, is coming to terms with our own mortality, for managing one, is preserving the other.
And we have to strive to preserve life, to enjoy life. To take life one step at a time.
We have to recognize that it takes baby steps...
It takes baby steps to accept our life, our mortality, and the things we need to embrace to preserve that life. Managing diabetes is an exercise in self-love. And self love is something that takes a great deal of patience, and self-awareness.
There are a few things one can do, such as:
- Start small: Seek to make one small change a day, and focus on it for an extended period of time. Perhaps that change can be as small as taking your medications as prescribed, until it becomes an innate habit. Or, perhaps that change can be going out for a small walk around the block, every morning... Maybe even just having ONE meal a day in which you have a non-starchy vegetable. You get the idea...
- Work on other projects: Often, when I feel my health life is a mess, I simply go and deep clean the living room, or the bedroom, or the bathroom... or I organize the kitchen. It seems silly, but it often helps give me motivation to take on almost anything -- and put it back in order. Plus, it helps give me some immediate victories to focus on, and not look for the constant 'far away' victory of 'not worsening my diabetes.' In essence, I shift the focus to something else, more immediate. And it's silly, but it helps me feel a bit whole. It's a great big victory when one has cleaned out an entire closet full of junk! So... shift the focus.
- Give yourself time off:
Diabetes is like a job.Diabetes IS a job. It's a 24/7 job in which you get no time off, and constant worry. You're meant to always watch your health, mind what you eat, and test, test, test... always worried the boogeyman is coming through the door. We tend to get very strict with ourselves -- jump on all manner of fad diets, cleanses, and various things -- because we want to fix the problem NOW. (It's a leftover problem from how we deal with weight, and obesity, and they don't work, and they are wrong.) Look... even skinny people let their hair down once in a while. Schedule one day a week, where you let yourself have some kind of fun, with yourself -- or friends and family -- and look forward to it. You can have a slice or two of pizza... if you like. The world will NOT end, and your foot will NOT fall off.
- Do not judge yourself: "I can't believe that wimp's been running that marathon for 10 miles, and he's already tired! Let's berate him until he makes it to the finish line!" -- said no one, ever. Diabetes is a marathon. You're going to get tired, emotional, upset... and sometimes make bad decisions. IT'S OKAY. Tomorrow is another day. Recognize and accept those feelings. DO NOT ABANDON YOURSELF. Simply acknowledge yourself... and see what you learn! Tomorrow is ALWAYS the beginning of a brand new year, not January 1st.
- Don't hide: Find a support system. I know... family, and friends, often don't get what we go through. But if you're reading this blog, you're probably already a bit familiar with the diabetic online community. In it, you can find lots of people who like you, and I, are going through this struggle. You can vent to us! We know, and we can relate. There are a lot of places where you can read through people's sincere journeys of struggle, and hope -- or where you can read others' questions, and learn from the responses they get -- even if you want to remain anonymous.
- Ponder the benefits: Do you like feeling good? Do you like having energy? Do you like feeling confident that you can set, and complete goals? Do you like not getting sick as often? Do you want to have health and energy for your family? I know I take these for granted more than I would like, and when I do... it's easy for me to get into a funk.
- Seek appropriate medical advise: Find a medical team that is willing to work with you, and to educate you. If need be, find a therapist who has experience with patients facing chronic health conditions. Diabetes is very much a psycho-social health condition, as well as a physical ailment. It's very hard to make progress when you work with people who seek to blame you, or leave you off on your own, with few tools to work with. This also goes for managing any side complications you may have, which may add to the burden of diabetes, such as hypothyroidism, depression or carpal tunnel worries. With carpal tunnel, for example, a good doctor can set you up with overnight braces, to keep pain at bay, as well as with a steady Vitamin B6 therapy to help reduce inflammation. Proper hypothyroid medication can also help reduce depression issues. And -- it's important to mention -- that reducing blood glucose levels helps improve ALL of these conditions to some degree, or another.
- Seek to learn about 'the funk': There are quite a few resources, available, from persons going through 'the funk,' which can help you be better prepared the next time you feel you might stumble. The goal isn't so much 'averting' a stumble -- but learning from it, and getting back up!
As a person living through her third year of a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, I am far from being an expert in these topics. I struggle along like a blind man, in a dark room, trying to find a black cat. I have to constantly remind myself that, though I may know how to play the game, I need to actually play the game. I hope that, even with all the things I have said here, just the thought of knowing someone else out there is going through a similar battle... is enough of a wind beneath your wings.
It's certainly given me an excuse to ponder some of these things... a bit more than I would like. :)