I remember the summer of my sixteenth year. I was still fairly new to diabetes (having been diagnosed with Type 1 at 15), but it had been with me long enough to sink in — there was no longer any part of my brain convinced that I would wake up one day and find out this whole diabetes thing was just a dream. Living with diabetes for the rest of my life was a reality. And while the day-to-day maintenance wasn’t overwhelming to me, there was a persistent thought that drove me absolutely up the wall. It was the notion that I was no longer “independent.” I was now tied to insulin. I was tied to medical care. I was tied to an entire modern infrastructure of manufacturing and technology, without which I could not be alive.
For a teenager, such thoughts were simply infuriating. Never mind that NONE of my friends could survive without modern supports — thrown into the wilderness, it’s doubtful that any of us would make it very long. But it was the IDEA that drove me so crazy, this idea of dependence.
As I have grown older, I’ve let go of this need to be fundamentally independent. In fact, on an intellectual level, I have come to embrace the notion that interdependence is one of the fundamental laws of the universe. Independence is a myth. Nothing exists independent of the world around it. Science has given us the theory of relativity. Buddhism has given us the law of interdependence. We are all part of an interconnected web, and not a single one of us can ever say “I did it completely by myself.” Unseen assistance and connections exist in every life, whether we choose to acknowledge them or not. The idea of a “self-made man” is sewn into the narrative of American life on a very deep level, but that doesn’t negate the even deeper truth of interdependence.
Older, and (slightly) wiser
So, fast-forward to yesterday. I’m not 16 anymore — I’m 34. I’ve realized intellectually the fallibility of my 16-year-old self’s need for independence. But I’m not sure just how deeply that lesson has sunk in. Let me explain.
I’m in the midst of starting a new music project. Starting a new project in music is a monumental, rather thankless task. It involves massive amounts of effort, a lot of rejection from multiple club owners who have no interest in booking an unknown commodity, and a lot of work for minimal payment as you “build an audience.” I have been trying to shoulder the entire burden myself, as the project was initially my idea. I have been the sole organizer, booking contact, media creator, networker, and composer.
Yesterday, the frustration finally crystalized, and I realized something: I was acting as if I didn’t need any help. I was, once again, trying to prove my independence, trying not to “bother” my bandmates, and forgetting that fundamental law of interdependence. And so, after two futile months of over-working myself, I finally let my bandmates know that things need to shift. I finally uttered those three crucial words: I need help. And unlike my old 16-year-old self, saying those three words didn’t depress me. They didn’t make me feel “tied” to anything, or “unable” to do anything. Saying those words made me feel better. They freed me to stop trying to move the mountain, and instead focus on those tasks and goals in front of me that are achievable.
The miraculous thing here is that acknowledging my interdependence doesn’t make me feel LESS capable; it doesn’t take AWAY my freedom. It gives me freedom. Knowing we can’t do it all by ourselves means we stop trying to do it all by ourselves, and instead we free ourselves to do what IS in our power to do.
We need help
We need help managing diabetes. I have needed help along the way, from educators to doctors, from friends to my wife. I have been in situations that could have been life-threatening if not for the awareness of those around me. And I have generally maintained tight control. But no one can go through life with this condition without needing help somewhere along the line.
It’s OK to need help. It’s OK to slip up every now and then. I used to avoid telling people about my diabetes. Now, I tell fellow musicians before any tour exactly what to do if they notice me acting a little out of it. I tell them what to do in an emergency. And I let them know that while it might work for them to skip breakfast and wait until 2 PM to eat, it doesn’t work for me. If that means we need to stop along the way for a few minutes, I let them know we need to stop.
We Diabetians are very capable people, capable of incredible levels of self-care and independence. But we are not islands, and asking for help and asking for what we need does not make us weak. It makes us human. There is no shame in it, and there is nothing unique about it.