Getting Back to Basics When Life Gets In the Way

One day as I was multi-tasking (making dinner, washing dishes, supervising my daughter, returning phone calls), I suddenly grew very annoyed at the music we were listening to. I had recently purchased a children’s CD for my daughter, and it hit me that all the songs sounded the same.  What a waste of twelve dollars, I thought, as I headed toward the CD player to shut it off.   As I reached down to hit the “off” button, I noticed a small, unfamiliar icon on the display screen. I crouched down to further examine and then laughed aloud.

The repeat button had been pushed. We were, in fact, listening to the same song over and over and over. In the midst of my preoccupation with everyday tasks, I had subjected myself to nearly an hour of the same tune.

This incident reminds me of the commonly understood definition of insanity: doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. And although I generally consider myself to be an educated and dedicated patient, I realize that I am not immune to the mundane, everyday routine of managing my diabetes.

The problem, of course, is that average diabetes management is hardly enough. Over time, elevated blood sugars lead to a myriad of issues, including kidney failure, blindness, neuropathy, depression, heart disease, fatigue, sexual dysfunction, infertility, dental problems, and many, many more.  These complications are life-altering and sometimes, life-ending. 

I remember a few months after my type 1 diabetes diagnosis, when my first endocrinologist told me that in a year or so, diabetes would become normal to me. I didn’t believe him. In fact, I had to hold myself back from laughing aloud. How could vials of insulin, needles, test strips, carbohydrate counting, and calculated exercise become normal? 

He was right. Four years later, diabetes is normal to me. But it’s also never ceased to be difficult and tiring.  When everyone else around the dinner table can dive into the steaming meal, I’m checking my blood sugar, taking insulin, and carefully choosing each food and the amount of food I’m putting on my plate. Instead of having a piece of each dessert, I’m choosing a small serving of one or two. I’m drinking water instead of a tall glass of sweetened tea or lemonade.  Every dining experience is a chore and the practice of self-denial. 

People with diabetes are told to attempt normal, average lives, yet at the same time we are told that we must follow a gazillion rules every waking minute of the day. And, in fact, many of us set our alarms in the middle of the night (sometimes multiple times) to check our blood sugars. We don’t get a break or a time out.

Because of the demands of our disease, most of us, or perhaps all of us, slip into what we want to be our normal lives. This might mean checking our sugars less often, skipping medications, eating too much of the wrong foods, neglecting workouts, putting off a doctor’s appointment, sleeping too little, and letting stress govern our decisions. Unfortunately, these choices mean that something has got to give. That something, of course, is our health.

If you, like me, have found yourself slipping into the belief that diabetes can be paused while life continues, consider the following tips on how you can recommit to healthy diabetes management:

1:  Get in to see your doctor.   Tell him or her that you are losing your motivation and give specific reasons. Sometimes all it takes for me to get back into the game is to call my dietitian and tell her what is holding me back.  Encouraging words, some simple reminders, and a few fresh ideas from a medical professional can be helpful.

2:  Keep records. I haven’t met a person with diabetes who hasn’t told me how time-consuming and tedious it is to follow the doctor’s orders to record blood sugars, exercise, and food intake. I do not keep records every day, but when I find myself in a serious and neglectful rut, I pull out a notebook and start writing. A few days or weeks of record-keeping can reveal trends that are easily correctable.You might be consistently eating too many carbohydrates at your afternoon snack, for example, or seeing high blood sugars at ten in the morning. You can then take corrective action.

3:  Do what you love. Whatever it is that’s taking your focus off your diabetes is probably also taking your focus off the activities you most enjoy. What is a healthy outlet for you?  I enjoy writing, reading, and working out.  Each of these activities eases my mind, helps me escape from everyday stresses, and rejuvenates me. Consider physical activities (swimming, hiking, golfing, yoga) or hobbies (woodworking, photography, knitting). Perhaps you’ve stopped being as social as you once were, so call a friend and get a lunch date on the calendar.

4:  Get and give support. Depending on where I am with my diabetes, I need different types of support. Sometimes I seek answers to my questions or confer with other diabetes patients. Other times, I find ways to give to the diabetes community. For example, I recently started volunteering at a local hospital where I communicate with diabetes patients. Both of these give-and-take methods, seeking advice from others and volunteering, keep me focused on my disease and encourage me to model good diabetes management for others. 

5:  Stop and focus.  Silence is precious in today’s society, and the only way a person finds it is if he or she creates it. Take some time to be by yourself and reflect on your life. What is going well?  What is frustrating you?  And, most importantly, what practical steps can you take to make your life better?  Some ideas include eliminating activities that aren’t bringing you fulfillment, changing jobs if the one you have is too stressful, distancing yourself from toxic individuals, and scheduling time for yourself.

6:  Finally, remind yourself that going through seasons of hardship is normal, but that lingering in those seasons is not acceptable or healthy. You must choose to be worthy of good health. Sometimes I find myself weighed down by guilt because I neglected my disease for a few days or slacked off for a few weeks, but then I realize that each day and really, each minute, I have the choice in what I will do next.   May you choose health and, in doing so, happiness.