Today I had lunch with a very old friend who I hadn’t seen in about 20 years. In fact, the last time we really had a chance to hang out together (back in grade school), I didn’t yet have Type 1 diabetes. We talked about our respective lives during the intervening years, and the trials and tribulations we’d both been through. He had been through some big ones, which I won’t share here. But he concluded with a beautiful quote that I want to share:
“If I imagine I died tomorrow, and then somehow an angel came to me and said I could have one day of being alive again, just one…. but that day would be painful — physically, emotionally, or otherwise…. I would take it. We all would, because life is always a gift, and happiness is always possible, right there in front of us.”
That quote moved me a little, and it got me thinking about the notion of gratitude and what it means to have gratitude and grace in the face of our chronic disease. We might think of being grateful in spite of our diabetes, but I think there is a deeper gratitude that we can reach for. We can reach for a gratitude that includes diabetes. We can reach for a sense of gratitude that doesn’t just mean being thankful for the “good stuff” and ignoring or putting up with the “bad stuff.”
Facing pain and finding happiness
It is very easy to lament the limitations and pain we experience from diabetes. There is the emotional pain of constantly agonizing over our numbers with no respite; there is the worry that complications lurk around the corner; or perhaps you have experienced the physical pain of complications appearing in your life. Diabetes has plenty of ways to cause pain. But does that mean it’s necessarily bad? I don’t think so. I have always maintained a firm belief that diabetes has taught me a great deal, and that the lessons I have learned from living with this disease have deep value. It has been, as my mother would say, a “forced practice” that has helped me understand harmony and balance in a deep and intimate way. It has been a constant reminder that my time on this earth is not guaranteed and that each moment in this world truly is a gift.
Everyone knows the quote from Plato, “an unexamined life is not worth living.” Diabetes forces us to examine ourselves, and not just in the obvious manner of monitoring our physical health. Diabetes is one of those obstacles in life that forces deep examination of the self. Every time I get unnecessarily mad over a high number, I have a chance to learn — do I continue to give in to this anger and lose the peace available in this moment, or do I let go of the anger and accept what is, allowing myself freedom to find the happiness available to me? This is the small version, the moment-to-moment version, of the quote my friend left me with. The moment I read that high number, I have a choice between giving myself away to anger, or letting go of the need for life to be different and finding the happiness available right then and there.
This same lesson applies if you’re facing complications. I’m not suggesting the pain isn’t real, or that it’s easy to take the high road. It’s not. Nor am I suggesting that we should simply pretend everything is happy all the time. But I am suggesting that in the midst of the pain involved in facing a complication, there is happiness. Maybe that happiness is found in the fact that you have a loving spouse who is by your side. Maybe that happiness is found in your children. Maybe you have a career that you love. The point is that we often allow pain, and the anger that comes with it, to become all-encompassing. But pain is always simply a PART of our life, not the whole of it. And that’s a lesson ALL people must learn. And so I find myself thankful for diabetes, not because it’s easy, but because it’s NOT easy. I find myself grateful for my life WITH diabetes because it forces me to live an examined life, and that is a gift.
Want to learn more about maintaining your emotional health with diabetes? Read “Reducing Diabetes Stress: Alternative Treatments” and “Relaxation Techniques for Stressful Times.”