It Is Amazing How Much We Know!

I’m about to make the switch from daily injections to an insulin pump. After 23 years of managing my diabetes the “old-fashioned way,” I am making the change. In getting ready for this transition, I’ve looked up about a thousand different articles and blog entries detailing everything about living with an insulin pump. I’ve looked up articles on costs for pumps versus multiple daily injections, outcomes for pumps versus multiple daily injections, and so on. I have tracked news on the ongoing development plans for closed-loop systems among researchers and insulin pump manufacturers, a shift that seems to be taking hold and promises to bring about major changes to diabetes management over the next 5–10 years. In fact, this was one of the trends that finally convinced me to take the plunge.

I’ve also been drilling down even deeper than usual into my own blood sugar patterns to get a sense of where it is that daily injections fall short, and where it is that the pump might be particularly useful to me. Of course this is partially conjecture for me, since I haven’t started on the pump yet. But 23 years of living with this disease has given me enough of an education to have a pretty good idea of what to expect, and, if nothing else, what aspects of my regimen will be impacted by changing away from daily injections.

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While the transition has yet to occur and I certainly can’t predict with certainty what the results will be, the lead-up has given me a profound appreciation for one thing: just how much we know! We Diabetians are scholars, researchers, technicians, and tacticians rolled into a single person! We have a breadth of knowledge and a finely developed skill set that is quite extraordinary. And there is real value in that, a value that goes beyond the confines of our chronic condition.

It’s not just WHAT we know
Our knowledge bank is very specific, and it might be hard to see how it has any bearing on the world outside of diabetes. But it’s not just WHAT we know that’s so important, it’s the processes we master and the understanding of complex systems we cultivate that strikes me as so profound. In dealing with diabetes, a complex condition operating within a complex, living system (our own physiological body), we are tasked with confronting dynamic and multivariable challenges on a daily basis. While this is often frustrating (sometimes downright infuriating), it is also incredible training for the mind.

Just think about the skills we (have to) develop. We obviously develop patience, or we simply drive ourselves crazy. Along with that, we develop a capacity to see long-term trends and patterns instead of overreacting to constant short-term deviations. We train ourselves to see correlations and interactions (between stress, activity, insulin levels, food intake, sleep patterns, overall health, etc.). We learn how to maintain a level head in the midst of emotionally taxing and triggering events (calmly seeing that data when our blood sugar is soaring, rather than punching the wall — or maybe punching the pillow a few times, but then moving over to calmly look at the data if we’re really facing squirrely numbers…). We learn how to sit with ambiguity and competing variables patiently until a pattern can emerge.

What we learn, in short, is how to work with a living system. And that gives us a chance to practice a highly evolved thinking style, known as “general systems.” I know this from growing up with my mother, who holds a PhD in neurological development. General systems is a style of thinking that understands how to work with exactly what I was just describing — dynamic, multivariable, living systems that require a very wide view, a capacity for complex thought, and an ability to hold a number of views or competing variables at one time.

This way of thinking, and this way of seeing the world, is invaluable. It is, in fact, what the world will require of us as a species if we are to survive, in my humble opinion. We simply can’t keep living with a mindset that fails to understand or appreciate living systems. And so this maddening disease, this albatross on all our backs, is also teaching us something incredibly valuable.

Beginning on January 1, 2017, Eli Lilly and Company plans to offer discounts to reduce the cost of insulin by as much as 40% . Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more.