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I Get By With a Little Help From the 19th Century

Eric Lagergren

January 3, 2008

The last time I visited Ralph Waldo Emerson’s and Walt Whitman’s writings with anything close to serious study was back in college, over a decade ago. In the intervening years, I’ve read through Emerson’s "Self-Reliance" a few times and paged through Whitman’s "Song of Myself" every few years, often reading the poem aloud for its music. Therefore, due to my neglect and the time since I’ve studied it, you’ll forgive me for possibly bastardizing American Transcendentalism when I quote both authors in this week’s entry.

You see, I was preparing a snack in the kitchen last night when my wife walked by and asked what was wrong. I said I was sad. (Kathryn has that partner’s ability to glean my emotional state simply through a one-word answer to a question, or, as was the case last evening, by the sounds of my pouring a bowl of cereal.) I said the reason for my mood was that I was feeling the slight pressure of writing a blog entry in this holiday-shortened week. But she wasn’t buying it. She knows I enjoy writing, enjoy working on these entries. So I confessed. I was brooding about diabetes. My diabetes.

The typical post-holiday letdown I’ve experienced most of my adult life had, this year, focused its sharp bright light on that one not-so-little thing that became part of who I am in 2007: Type 1 diabetes. The holidays were great. We put 2,000 miles on my wife’s Honda hybrid during a whirlwind eight days of good friends, family, conversation, and food. I maintained good control of my blood glucose over these eight days, with very little if any difficulty.

Although…one night I woke up in our pitch-black St. Louis hotel room and found my way into the bathroom to check my blood glucose. It was near 250 mg/dl. I changed my infusion site because I thought that maybe the current site was faulty and then issued a correction bolus. I stayed awake for three more hours, worried that I might fall asleep and go low if indeed it was a new site I needed and I’d somehow given myself too much insulin. Luckily, I was engrossed in a novel most of that time, but I didn’t get back to sleep until 4 AM.

I knew that sadness was on the horizon, actually, as the melancholy bubbled up throughout a slow, lazy New Year’s Day. I’d vowed to do nothing on Tuesday, and during my marathon of sloth on the basement couch in front of the television (college football bowl games), late morning turned into late afternoon turned into evening. As the sun began to set on 10 inches of snow, and returning to work loomed just 12 hours away, I heard the “pop, pop” of depression’s unrefreshing effervescence. It released that faint stench of what experience has taught me will be some difficult days ahead. (And, I hope, only a few, since I do have a pretty good handle on managing my depression.)

So what I wanted to do with this week’s blog entry, I told Kathryn, was write about my post–”’tis-the-season” sadness. But I didn’t know how. Scratch that. I didn’t want to. I have friends who read these entries. Family. Colleagues. This isn’t fiction and I can’t mask something by saying, “Oh, that isn’t me; I just kind of made that up.” I was a bit self-conscious about coming out with things feeling less than great.

“But I think people would like to see you write about your sadness with diabetes,” Kathryn said. “So much of what you write about is how well you’ve transitioned to dealing with Type 1…which is, of course, great. But you can show them that this isn’t always the case.”

And I knew she was right. In fact, I knew I’d probably end up doing what I’ve been doing for most of this entry: writing about writing about the sadness. As I took a few notes in preparation for this week’s entry, my mind kept wandering back to Emerson and Whitman (Thoreau popped in there quite a bit as well, but I’m eschewing him for now. Sorry, Henry).

I’ll do you the favor of not overexplaining why I’m picking these two quotations. Yes, over the past six months I’ve written about my overwhelmingly positive transition to living with Type 1 diabetes. But I’d be naive to think you think I’m doing well all of the time. You understand. You’re human, too. So I take comfort in that fact, and I take comfort in Emerson, in his essay “Self-Reliance,” when he writes, “Speak what you think now in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today.”

And Uncle Walt, of course, is one of the masters of flip-flopping. Near the end of “Song of Myself” is the oft-quoted but always awesome:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)



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