The Health of My Whole Person

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Annual physical: check

Blood tests: check

Mammogram: check

Calcium, Iron, and Vitamin D: check

The school year is over (I’m a college writing teacher), and I have time to take care of more than my diabetes. June comes around and I start catching up on health-related tasks that, I admit, I put off when I’m under pressure from teaching responsibilities and what Catherine Price calls “that loaded backpack we carry through our days” — the constant responsibility of a life with Type 1 diabetes.

From September to May, my focus on work is intense. I take my diabetes seriously, too, and check my blood sugar, count carbs, take insulin, and exercise daily, and I go to the diabetes clinic quarterly. I can’t take a week off from diabetes. There is always something to do. It is not unlike being the parent of a newborn: one that never grows up and gains in self-reliance.

Because the care requirements are so constant, I tend to let other parts of my health slip to the back of my consciousness. I mean, I know I need to have a mammogram, but I’ll get to it. My annual physical? I’ll do that in the summer. Replenish the supply of vitamins my doctor recommends I take for a few identified deficiencies? Those vitamins can wait, and in the meantime I’ll try to eat better.

I do realize that these tasks are slight, and I could get them all done in a couple of hours in one week, even at my busiest time. My avoidance of them, therefore, is probably not about the time. It’s about the mental overhead. I may only have a certain amount allotted to health, and diabetes takes up most of it. When summer comes and work is less demanding, I steal some mental space and time from that allotment to deal with my whole physical person.

Ironically, even though I’m hyper-focused on diabetes, by caring for it I am also caring for other aspects of my health to some degree. (The state of the organism is not terrible.) The diet and exercise help keep cholesterol and blood pressure where they should be. My doctor smiles when she asks me how often I exercise and I truthfully answer: “Every day.”

But my mammogram was long overdue, and I had gotten lazy in taking iron supplements, which I especially need because my hematocrit is often low. My compliance in some areas is very high, and in others they are spotty.

My goal this summer is to have goals, to get beyond the one-day-at-a-time approach to managing my health and look at the bigger picture: a set of healthy behaviors I can establish, monitor, and reflect on. I’ve cleared some space for this. They are particular to me: daily flossing, more nutritious lunches, and compliance with all treatments (not just insulin therapy). More rest — both sleep and the occasional putting up of feet — and attention to flexibility (yoga, stretching) are also priorities.

Still, I can’t (or I won’t) do it all at once. I’ve been taking baby steps: one improvement this week, one the next, and so on. The hope is that over a few months I feel better — stronger, more energetic — and that changes become habits.

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Jen Jacobs

Totally understand, Jane. I’ve got the same problem. Isn’t it funny how it can seem easier to prick our fingers ten time a day and manage an insulin routine than to swallow a daily vitamin! 

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