Being Kind to Ourselves

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Being Kind to Ourselves

My wife and I have four cats, and we’re also caring for a stray that showed up one cold February day with a hurt paw. That means we have five cats in our house. So yeah, we’re nuts. But you’ve got to understand, my wife is a special education teacher and I’m a music teacher and former social worker — we’re both hardwired to rescue the world whenever possible. We started with two cats, adopted from a neighbor. That was the end of the plan. But then the next two were discovered as stray kittens behind our house. The original plan was to care for them for a while and then bring them to a shelter, but by the time they were old enough for a shelter, we had grown so attached that I doubt ANY potential adoptive home would have met our standards, and so we kept them. And now that same cycle may be in motion again. Only time will tell, but everyday we get a little closer to admitting that we have five cats now.

As you might imagine, introducing a fifth cat personality into the firmly established social order of our house is not easy. Tension is high around here these days, as we patiently wait for the distrust to subside and peace and harmony to return amongst our four-legged companions. And it’s easy to get impatient and irritated when every other minute we overhear another growl-hiss-yowl, followed by a quick “rumble” between two amped up felines. Vases are knocked over, papers scatter across the floor, and the house feels like a cartoon!

I have to keep reminding myself, “They’re cats — this is the process. Getting mad at them is like getting mad at winter for the cold weather, or blaming a three-year-old for getting some food on himself when he eats.” The irritation is understandable, but ultimately doesn’t serve any useful purpose. And in fact, it’s harmful. I’m adding to the hostility; I’m letting myself beam that irritation and anger straight at the little guys. And while I have a natural aversion to overly sappy New Age thinking, I do believe that animals can and do sense emotions, and that our feelings about things have direct physiological and social impacts. In the spooky world of quantum physics, it’s becoming more and more clear that separating the observer from the outcome is impossible, and that we have a far more profound impact on the world around us than we might have ever thought. It is becoming apparent that not only do our thoughts condition how we experience events; our thoughts and expectations may even influence outcomes.

Given this profound influence, it becomes clear that being kind to ourselves is a much more important practice than we might have ever thought. I was thinking about this the other week when I had a moment of irritation with my numbers, and I started to slip into that old habit of getting pissed off at my body’s refusal to respond properly. Not coincidentally, it was also during the first week that our stray was venturing out of the back room he was being kept in and meeting the rest of the cats. So the turf war was just starting and the tension was palpable. My tension was already rising a little bit, which probably influenced those numbers. And then I got mad at my body for those numbers, which made me more irritated with the cats, and “so on and so forth,” as my dad used to say. And I realized the whole thing was just a cumulative set of pretty predictable patterns. Of course the cats are fighting it out a little — that’s how nature programmed them! And of course my numbers were up a little — that’s how nature programmed ME!

The whole thing was just life being life, and the moment I realized that, I was able to stop being “mad at my body” (as if there is a difference between the “me” part and the “body” part), and relax. This understanding is crucial for living with diabetes! It is SO easy to shame ourselves with this condition. We can make every high number a reflection of how “bad” we are at managing our condition. We can make every low an example of how careless we are. We can turn every poor outcome into a personal failure. And every time we do, we’re sending anger into ourselves. We’re sending anger and irritation and blame, and we are influencing our reality trillions of times over within every single atom of our being! And we can do it to each other, too. I’ve had some great dietitians, but I had one (who shall remain nameless and location-less) who just loved to nitpick and had this habit of bypassing and ignoring all of the progress I might be making and spending all of her time shaming me for the mistakes I was making. This was in the early days after my diagnosis, and it just killed me. I remember feeling just awful about myself every time I left the office. And I can guarantee you that shame inspired more mistakes and more instability as I took in that judgment and beamed it straight into my body.

So remember to be kind to yourself. If you talk to other people with diabetes, or if you care for someone with diabetes, remember to be kind to them. Blame doesn’t accomplish anything, whether it’s self-directed or thrown at someone else. It only compounds whatever problem inspired the feeling to arise. Let go of anger and blame and instead, see diabetes for what it is — a poor stray cat doing his best to adapt. He’s not perfect, he needs a bath, and it takes some time for him to adjust. Yelling at him or shaming him won’t make things move faster — it’ll just add more tension to the air. Help him, support him, correct him when he needs correcting, but make every move one of love and compassion.

Metformin may reduce cancer risk in older women with diabetes, according to a new study. Bookmark and tune in tomorrow to learn more.

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