I have a friend who’s a lawyer. We went to high school together. She lives in London now, where she works with a big financial corporation that does something she’s tried to explain to me many times, and which I still don’t understand. It has something to do with investing rich people’s money. In any event, I remember a conversation we had when she was still in law school. She said that what they were teaching her in law school wasn’t so much about information or content. Rather, they were teaching her how to view and understand the world through the lens of law.
I’m a musician, as many of you know. And just as my friend has developed a “legal lens” through which to view the world, I’ve developed a musician’s lens. I play improvised music — jazz, rock, soul, R&B, etc. I learned classical music growing up, and I have a deep appreciation for it. But it’s not what speaks to me. I love creating music in the moment, reacting and creating ideas on the fly. I love the spontaneous musical conversations between musicians that happen in a group that’s improvising together. To get to the point where those spontaneous conversations can happen, one has to master a great deal of music theory. Improvising musicians spend YEARS learning scales, chords, theory, and drilling them over and over until they’re so ingrained that the information is almost in the hands themselves. I have immersed myself in music to the point where it has become a lens THROUGH WHICH I view everything else.
Diabetes is also a lens. It is much deeper than simply a collection of tasks, pieces of information and procedures. When I look at a plate of food, the carbohydrate calculation starts pretty much automatically. I might not even be consciously aware I’m doing it. Think about this for a second (particularly for those of you who have lived with this disease for 15+ years): Can you imagine NOT calculating the carbohydrates in a plate of food? Can you even imagine eating something WITHOUT converting it to its numeric value? I know I can’t. I’ve often joked that if Type 1 diabetes were cured tomorrow, I’d have to give myself saline injections for months just to transition back to the “non-Diabetian” world. Insulin is simply part of the meal for me.
My Diabetian lens has a pretty dramatic impact on how I view a lot of the world. I think in terms of balance. I see politics, relationships, even music, in the same way I view my own fluctuating blood glucose. I search for equilibrium in everything, and nothing bothers me more than a lack of that equilibrium. Ask any of my students, and they’ll tell you — I’m always after them about playing music in a way that is balanced, always asking them to listen to each other and only play what the song needs; only play what fits with what else is happening in each moment. I detest overplaying, overshadowing fellow band members, and failing to listen for the balance of the whole group.
Diabetes has given me a strong instinct for practicality. I think living day-to-day with diabetes means always having an eye on the here and now, always managing the little things wisely. I probably still eat more than I should, but I have no ability to just graze in a totally mindless way. Even if I’m snacking on something I don’t particularly need, I still take insulin for it. I can’t eat more than single pretzel without calculating. And that style of thinking plays out all the time for me. I’ve been strategizing over the purchase of a new keyboard for MONTHS now, and ultimately came to a final decision that is imminently practical, cost-effective, and efficient. It wasn’t the most exciting option, but it was option that made the most sense — it was the option that maintained equilibrium in all areas, financial, practical, and musical.
How has living with diabetes influenced you? When you look through your “Diabetian lens,” what do you notice? Where else in your life do you see evidence of the lens? If you look for it, I promise you’ll see it.