Diabetes and a Life: Is It Possible to Have Both?


We’re currently having work done on our house — we’re renovating our bathrooms — and I’m finding that the vocabulary of home improvement has begun to take over my life. I can’t look at our walls without thinking of the names of the paint colors (Clay Pebble, Seattle Mist). I sit at my desk in the library and notice architectural details that I previously didn’t know even had words to describe them, like double-hung windows, or the plinths at the bottom of pedestals. Even my analogies have begun to take on construction-related undertones — editing a paper requires “removing scaffolding.” And I’m spending a lot of time thinking about grout. 

I bring this up because between the home renovation, book-writing, article-writing, diabetes management, and keeping up with my exercise routine, I’ve been feeling extremely stressed. It reminds me of a mistyped comment my husband once got on a work evaluation: he was doing a great job at keeping “a lot of balls in the area.” The idea seems applicable to my life as well, except that I don’t feel like I’m succeeding.

Which gets me back to my home improvement analogies: I’ve recently been thinking about something a contractor told us when we were first starting on this renovation project.

“There are three main variables to any construction project: speed, money and quality,” he said. “You can get what you want for two of those things, but probably not all three.”

And I think he’s right: if you want a low price and quick turn-around, you’ll  sacrifice quality. If you want it to be super fast and high quality, it’ll cost more. If you want quality and a low price, it’ll take more time. You need to prioritize. 

The same is true, I’ve decided, with diabetes management and the rest of my life. I can pack my own meals and spend eight hours a day on my book, but that doesn’t leave much time or energy for exercising. I can work more and exercise more, but it doesn’t leave much time or energy (or willpower) for carefully thought out meals. And I can devote my life totally to diabetes management — by which I mean carefully controlling all exercise and food — but doing so would take time away from work. (Please note that “leisure” is not even included in this calculation.)

So if I can’t have it all, which two are the most important? Frankly, I don’t know — I am a person whose natural response is, “I want all three — and then some.” I want to eat good, healthy food for every meal and no blood sugar highs or lows. I want to spend eight productive hours a day cranking out my book and return home with enough energy to enjoy time with Peter. I want to get eight hours of sleep a night (at least!) and exercise hard for at least an hour four to five times a week. Oh, and I’d also like to practice the piano more and, in my spare time, join a choir and learn to play the accordion. 

The obvious answer here is that I need to learn to accept that I can’t do everything in my life at 100 percent (I used to teach math — I know that equation doesn’t work). But I really don’t know how not to try. I have a contract for my book — it needs to get done. I have a chronic, serious disease that requires me to eat the right foods and exercise as close to every day as possible. If the three variables were external (for example, three work projects), I could see how I could allow myself to slack off a bit on one. But because diabetes is internal and constant, I need to be doing all three. I feel that I can’t afford to make sacrifices (especially when I’m also trying to pay for home renovations!). So how the hell does that math work out? 

This is one of the reason I’m terrified of having kids. Sure, the idea of pregnancy itself sounds horrible. But I have no idea how I’d add such a big responsibility to my life and have any chance of taking care of my child, my relationships, my work, and my health with any degree of success. I guess I’d probably figure out how to do it – but at what cost? 

For now, I just feel constantly exhausted — I’m frustrated when I’m not as productive on the book as I’d like to be. I’m frustrated when my blood sugar goes too high or too low. I’m frustrated when I don’t have a chance to exercise. And yet is an extremely rare day when I am able to accomplish all three. 

What do you all think? Have you figured out a way to responsibly live with diabetes  and succeed professionally while still cutting yourself some slack?


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Steve Gilbert
9 years ago

My wife and I used to be that kind of people to, the ones trying to fit it all in according to the Way We’d Always Done Things, which for us meant up at 4:30am to get in a full hour of exercise before we had to wake the kids for school and start all THAT mess. Like you, we struggled with priorities, because getting up at 4:30 does not exactly leave much energy at the end of the day. Add in middle-of-the-night BG checks, home cooking every night, and full work days, we were just too pooped to pop,… Read more »

michelle s
michelle s
9 years ago

It is a lot to juggle… but maybe sometimes you can think in less absolute terms …. look at everything as being on a continuum.  If you exercise 20 minutes, it is still exercise, even if you normally aim for an hour.  If you have a productive day of work and finish early so you have time to cook a great dinner, those 6 or 7 hours of work are not negated.  i think that is how diabetic women fit in having kids.  Its a flexible approach.  I just bought a treadmill because most of my cardio happens pushing my twins’… Read more »

Deborah Kanter
9 years ago

Great post. There are no easy answers here. Part of my attempt to balance responsibilities and to take care of my health has been make clear boundaries. I have told supervisors not to expect me for after-hours events. My (teen) son knows not to assume I will drive him places.  Taking care of my health mas meant putting my needs first–getting the sleep, having healthy meals, exercising. If I feel well, then I’m more ready to handle work & family stuff. I have actually been more productive as a scholar since my dx, I think, because my priorities have become… Read more »

Michelle Sorensen
9 years ago

Beautifully written, Catherine. My intuition is that your work can probably stand a few less hours. It’s hard to write well, eight hours a day. In any case, your health is what you’ll really care about in 30 years; the book will also be important, but less so.  

Scott K. Johnson
9 years ago

I love this post.

I have always thought that we need to find a good balance between satisfactory diabetes management and good quality of life.  

For the record, I’ve yet to do that (find the balance). 

9 years ago

I don’t have an answer at all but can definitely relate! Fitting in work, exercise, diabetes management, a life… I have no idea how people with children do it! 

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