The beginning of this diabetes life
I woke in my parent’s house screaming in pain. I was having the same excruciating leg cramps I’d been having for almost three months. Home, on a winter break from college, my parents and I bundled into the car for what we thought would be a routine doctor visit. A few simple blood tests later I was told I had a blood sugar level of 750 and juvenile diabetes, now known as type 1 diabetes.
I was 18 then and I’m 56 now. 38 years later there is no cure, but the way I live with diabetes now is completely different than how I lived with it then. My journey to here began with a rocky start – denial, very little information and education, and no meter to test my blood sugar – but today I work helping others with diabetes. I give talks around the country to fellow patients and professionals. I am developing a means for improving diabetes management using positive emotions. I blog on the Huffington Post – you’ll see those blogs here, and I blog on my web site, diabetes stories. I have written two books “50 Diabetes Myths That Can Ruin Your Life: And The 50 Diabetes Truths That Can Save It” and “The ABCs of Loving Yourself with Diabetes.” I coach patients with diabetes, and I have interviewed more than 140 people with diabetes, their loved ones and diabetes professionals, and I learn from them.
Through the years I educated myself on the basics – food, diet, exercise, stress, medicine – and for the last several years I have turned my attention to the emotional side of living with diabetes and our vast ability to influence our health if we focus on what we want and tap into our inner strengths. Personally, diabetes is my teacher; it shows me how fortunate I am that what I have is manageable, especially as many of my peers are leaving me too soon. It has also made me strong, a little more fearless than I would have been, reminds me of all I appreciate in my life, and it has led me to work I love and amazing people who share this work.
The middle years
But like the twenty-year overnight success, I was more a thirty-year overnight arrival to this arena. For many years I didn’t talk about my diabetes to anyone. I didn’t know anyone else who had it and I didn’t want diabetes to be the center of attention. Basically, I didn’t think anyone would understand and certainly what could they do? While through the years I learned the value of eating healthy, not finishing everything on my plate and I began to walk an hour every day, at forty-eight I had a true turning point. I was planning my wedding, my first thank you, seeing a diabetes educator for the first time after thirty- two years with diabetes, and going into the hospital for frozen shoulder surgery. I would lose my job two weeks later.
This confluence of events gave me pause. I’d always wanted to be in a helping profession. Yet, I didn’t want to go back to school for four or six years to earn a degree for the profession I’d always toyed with – psychologist. While I wanted to help people, I wasn’t convinced that listening to their problems was an effective means for helping them change their lives.
In the midst of doing some freelance work, going on exploratory interviews and reading What Color Is Your Parachute for the third time, my husband said, “You’re a writer and you’d like to help others who have diabetes, why don’t you write about what it’s like to live with diabetes?” I looked at him sweetly, rolled my eyes and said, “Honey, who’s going to buy a book about what I think about living with diabetes?!?” Yet, at that point I began my interviews and the rest, as they say, is living history – as it ain’t over yet – far from it.
This month I’m about to fly off to the annual meeting of Patient Mentor Institute, for which I give my peer-mentor talks. In April, my husband and I are going to the U.K. to work with our new partner in health-coaching. In May I’m attending Diabetes Sisters’ “Weekend for Women” event, two days of education and bonding strictly for us gals. In August I’m presenting at the Annual Association of Diabetes Educator’s http://www.diabeteseducator.org/ conference. My topic is: “Watch What Happens When You Catch Someone Doing Something Right.” It’s about the power available to us when we focus on what we want rather than what we want to avoid. In-between there’ll be more talks to patients, riveting Huffington Post posts, which you’ll see here, and squeezing in an ordinary life.
It’s been some journey and I never could have told you long ago that this is where I would end up. Many wise people have said it’s only when you look backward that you can see where all the dots and detours have led you. I still remember in my tenth grade English class discovering I loved to write my thoughts and observations of life, and people. And so here I am. However, I could have no idea two years prior to my diagnosis, it would be about diabetes.
That’s not to say there aren’t ups and downs in this diabetes life, as you well know. But in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” I’m pretty happy these days.
I hope you’ll come back to see where I’m going and what I’m talking about, for you are an important part of this journey. And I hope you derive strength in sharing this journey with me, just as I know I will in sharing it with you.