It’s January! It’s time to make resolutions and convince myself that the new wall calendar needs a lot of goal-oriented stuff written on it, in permanent marker … or at least in permanent marker for January, and maybe pen for February, and then very lightly in pencil for the rest of the year so I can erase, erase, erase.
I don’t like making New Year’s resolutions, but I make them anyway. (Peer pressure?) Being honest, the resolutions I actually follow through on are the ones I make randomly, borne from a period of diabetes burnout or a health realization. Rarely does January 1st roll around and I’m all, “You know what? I’m going to change everything and be awesome!” Most of the time, it’s seeing a rough A1C result or noticing that my insulin doses/pants sizes are creeping up because I’m eating more junk food that kicks my resolution-making mindset into high gear.
I don’t resolve to make foolish decisions (“I resolve to avoid seatbelts! And to hug a grizzly bear, at least once a week!”), so most of my goals involve weight management, food philosophies, or exercise achievements. Even when I’m not making diabetes-specific resolutions, they all seem to benefit my diabetes care in some way.
At first, I find resolutions to be stressful. It’s another task added to an already task-heavy day, and usually my resolutions involve extra steps, so it’s not simply “make exercise a part of every day” but more “make exercise a part of every day which means find something you like doing and can stick with, and also coordinate childcare while you’re working out and make sure you keep extra-vigilant watch on blood sugars to keep from bottoming out.” Part of the stress is making the resolution into a habit, and then making that habit blend into “life.”
One thing I resolved to do back in the fall of 2012 was to start running. Always active but never at a fast speed, I wanted to try running as a way of improving my cardiovascular health while helping clear my head and reduce stress. Admittedly, it took a long, long time to feel comfortable running. For starters, I wasn’t very fast, and I remain terribly awkward, so it took some time to feel confident taking my show on the road (literally). But once my body adjusted and I started gaining speed, I had to tackle the hurdle of plummeting blood sugars while on the move. In the last 17 months, I’ve gone from barely being able to trot half of a mile to having the stamina to clock five or six mile runs without feeling like I was going to crumple into a heap of awkward exhaustion on the side of the road. THIS WAS A BIG DEAL, and one of the best resolutions I’ve made for my mental and physical health.
So what made me stick with this one? Why was this resolution easier to follow through on than the one I made several years ago to “lower my A1C?”
I think it’s because that particular resolution was rooted in “I CAN.” I feel like diabetes is a disease that comes with a whole pile of “you can’ts.” For a long time, I resented diabetes for being the reason I couldn’t go backpacking across Europe after college (I needed medical insurance, so I had to go straight to work after graduation). I resented diabetes for making me fear motherhood due to all of the rules and threats that seemed to come along with a diabetic pregnancy. And I resented diabetes for making me feel weak at the moments of severe hypoglycemia, or when my brain dipped into depressive thoughts.
Blargh. That’s way too much negativity towards something that can already be a drag. I needed something positive to serve as a redirect from all the resentment. I needed to focus on “I CANs.” (I like the all caps of CAN … makes it feel potent.)
It’s difficult to make resolutions that hang their hats on diabetes behaving a certain way. Most of my early diabetes-related resolutions feel like throwaway nonsense – “I resolve to lower my A1C!!” – but the problem is that sort of resolution is hard to follow through on because it doesn’t have a hard stop to it, or a specific goal. And when it comes to specificity, I can’t resolve to keep my fasting blood sugars between 70 – 110 mg/dL every morning because there are more variables in play than simply my resolve.
But there is a “CAN.” What I can resolve to do is test my blood sugar every single morning and make solid decisions based on that number, whatever it may be. That’s a resolution I can follow through on. Frequent blood sugar checks keep me aware of my numbers, and give me the information I need to take action, and this is what helps me tighten up my A1C, which lowers my A1C, which helps me hit my goal, which BOO YEAH there’s the resolution being acted upon.
Deciding for myself is powerful, instead of having a doctor impose restrictions or regimens. Just as with the bulk of my diabetes management, I’m most likely to stick with an idea that is organically grown instead of one that’s pushed upon me by my healthcare team, or even by my family. Owning the change and finding the “CANs” is what makes me actually stick with a resolution. So whether I’m making changes in January or in July, maintaining my health remains my responsibility.
Kerri Sparling has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1986 and writes the diabetes blog www.SixUntilMe.com. She believes in diabetes advocacy, patient empowerment, and strong coffee. Kerri lives in Rhode Island with her husband, her daughter, and an unfortunate army of cats.