I am staring out the staff lounge window at the Cumberland Hospital in Fort Greene Brooklyn. I’m standing just outside the auditorium where I am about to speak to a group of fellow diabetics. And I am critically aware in this moment that you never know what life has in store.
A little more than five years ago I could not have guessed that I’d be standing here hoping to inspire, a few, maybe just one person, that better health is possible – and that they could have it.
Ten years ago my diabetes was a very quiet affair.
As a teenager I too was very quiet, spending more time observing people than interacting with them. Yet I had almost a compulsion. I wanted to share with them the magic I knew. The universal principle that I have always believed: that our lives are, to a great degree, the projection of our thoughts. That we tend to create what we expect. So be mindful and plant the thoughts you truly want to reap.
Those who expect great things and put their focus and energy behind realizing them, are among the lucky few. Most of us expect less, and far less than we deserve. We unconsciously put our energy behind that. Soon expecting less becomes our comfort zone. And most of us spend our lives there unless we are inspired out.
So when I talk to fellow patients I shift their focus from the work diabetes demands to the rewards of the work. For while diabetes education centers largely around achieving health target numbers, our lives center around, and are driven by, what’s meaningful to us. Good target numbers are a means to enjoy what’s meaningful, but on their own they are not inspiring like the thought of feeling well enough to play with your grandkids or writing your soon-to-be best-selling novel.
When the questions came at the end of my talk at Cumberland Hospital, a woman raised her hand. After apologizing for coming late she said, “Maybe I missed this but how do you do it? How do you manage your diabetes so well?” The side conversations stopped and the room quieted. Everyone is fixed on me. I begin by listing all my tricks: my daily one hour power-walk, using smaller plates, choosing more veggies and fiberous foods, sweeping most of the carbs out of my diet. But then I move to what resides beneath all that. My commitment to having the best health I can for as long as possible. Because I love my husband. Because I cherish my friends and family. Because I am having too good a time doing this work. Because I have too much yet to do and share.
18 pairs of eyes hold mine and then I am overwhelmed. Because the next thing that happens is this group of African-Americans with type 2 diabetes – who are having trouble managing their condition and suffering from complications – who when I began my talk seemed to only half listen, now they applaud this slim white woman. Now I am not as unlike them as they first thought.
There’s something else that often colors our expectations of the world. In diabetes, I hear it all the time. Many people are weighted down by the loss of family members who have died from diabetes. They fear and expect the same.
I was actually, unknown to me until last year, protected from this not knowing my family legacy.
I was seated at my parent’s kitchen table interviewing them to understand what it was like for them when I got diabetes at 18. My mother quietly told me something I never knew. “When you were diagnosed,” she said, “my heart broke.” Your father’s mother died in her fifties of a heart attack from diabetes and just before it happened they were going to cut off her leg. All I could think was that this would be your future.”
I was shocked to hear her say this, both because it was a revelation and by the information itself. But now that I’ve addressed enough audiences where diabetes is rampant in their families, I am grateful I didn’t know.
Maybe if I had known what happened to my grandmother, who died before I was born, I would not have believed I could be as healthy as I am. Maybe I would have believed my grandmother’s fate would be my own. Maybe not knowing allowed me to manage my diabetes and expect that if I did it well I’d be well.
In fact I believe diabetes can be a wake-up call to create a healthier and happier life than you had before. But maybe I would have been derailed on my way to these thoughts if I’d known what happened to my grandmother. I am pretty healthy after 38 years living with type 1 diabetes and I am resolute that I will continue to control what I can to have the best health that I can.
It’s never been a secret to me that we tend to create what we expect. That’s the good news and the bad. If you catch your thoughts more often and plant the ones you want to sow, I believe you can weight your fate for the better. What do you think or know?
Originally published in The Huffington Post