In my almost two years now of living with Type 1 diabetes, I rarely fall into the woe-is-me mode, and I rarely blame circumstances in my day-to-day life on the diabetes. Oh, I’ll blame things on diabetes, on a rare occasion when no other excuse will work quite as well: to get out of events, to arrive a smidge late for work, that sort of stuff.
(Hey, the condition needs to come with some perks!)
But I know that living with a chronic illness has the potential to rear up and strike me down psychologically. At the moment, all’s well, and I’m happy about my ability to deal with diabetes and the demands it makes on me to manage my mental well-being. Making my way through life bitter about something I couldn’t have predicted or prevented from happening would…well, it would make self-management difficult.
Here and there over the last 20 months, I’ve had momentary lapses during which my optimistic diabetes outlook has been less so, but these moments pass before ever really sapping my strength. Luckily they’ve never taken hold, lasting a few hours to half a day at the most.
As I’ve written before, one of the reasons I believe I was able to transition into living with Type 1 diabetes without falling into a depressive episode or suffering some other self-management malaise is because I spent a lot of time in my 20’s learning to live with depression.
It’s full-on winter now in Michigan. Gray days. Ice, snow, dead landscapes and dirty, slushy streets. And cold, often bitter cold, accompanied by swirling winds.
It’s also that four-week, bittersweet interstice between Thanksgiving and the Christmas and New Year holidays.
So there’s heightened awareness on my part these days to nip the funky thoughts and redirect them toward something positive before they get a foothold in my neural network. I deal by knowing I have to actively deal. Passivity on my part is dangerous.
When a nasty thought about my chronic illness leaks into the soundtrack of my consciousness (which has of late been dominated by Moby-esque electronic music, thanks to Pandora Internet Radio; oh, and the plotlines of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus novels), I try to be hypervigilant and trace it back to its source. I’m not always successful at this, but, for example, last night I was driving home from work. It was dark out, traffic was moving at a pace I don’t abide well, and I’d spent a long day at work hampered in my progress by others’ delinquency.
I was not in the best of moods.
About a mile from home, I shifted in my seat and felt my infusion site dig into my side. I cursed the disease. Then, in that dangerous way that a mind can turn on a dime and things can seem insurmountable — when not 10 seconds earlier they were just pissy — I’d played out the next 40 years of my life: Dealing with the daily management of this condition, living with complications, hundreds of doctor visits, watching what I eat more closely than people who do not have diabetes. And on and on.
And at the same time, I was romanticizing my life prior to diabetes, the carefree (or so it seemed) daily routines, the diets free of much concern.
It was self-pity, of course.
But I soon pulled out of it after I realized a block later what had triggered my anger at diabetes. In addition to the vulnerability from the mood I was already in, I’d just driven past Dom’s Bakery. Dom’s pumps out the smell of freshly fried donuts 24 hours a day, and the smell of fresh donuts are my madeleines. It goes way back, from my dad owning a liquor store next to a donut shop when I was 4 years old and me getting to go into the kitchen to see how pastries were made, to my own stint making donuts in the early mornings at the cafeteria in college.
And, of course, the late-night runs to donut shops for apple fritters and coffee, donuts on the counter at work, the special-treat status donuts connote…
These memories were all from the times when a donut was a donut, when it was of course an unhealthy choice, but it was, after all, just a donut (or two, or three). It wasn’t an invitation to contemplate the carbohydrates and adverse effects on my health to the nth degree.
By the time I’d arrived home, I’d veered out of the potential spin into diabetic malaise, backed out of the path that the wafting of the scent of fried dough into the thoroughfare had prompted.
A delicious box of white grape juice and a 45-minute dog-walk later, life was full-on good.