What I’ve Learned

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It’s the end of the year, and instead of making a list of resolutions for what I’ll do differently next year (which never works, by the way), I thought I’d take the time to write down everything I’ve learned from the past 20 years of living with Type 1 diabetes. Yep, that’s right, it’s my 20-year anniversary with this sucker, and so I thought I’d wrap up this milestone year with a recap of everything I’ve learned so far.

Lesson #1: You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you might find you get what you need.

Mick Jagger was right. Diabetes is certainly not something that fits in the “want” category. Nobody would “want” to have diabetes. But more often than not, it has fit into the “need” category. Let me explain.

You see, diabetes has been a pretty profound teacher for me. It’s taught me about balance, it’s taught me how to pay attention to my physical body, and it’s given me a pretty ingrained understanding of how to manage complex systems. And at the end of the day, learning how to live well with this disease has made me into a better person.

Lesson #2: Kicking, screaming, yelling, ranting, resenting, etc. does very little good.

I’ve spent my share of time kicking the wall, yelling, fuming, getting mad, and beating myself up for bad numbers. I’ve gotten plenty frustrated when my blood glucose goes into a “wonky” spell and misbehaves on me. And I’ve spent some time resenting the burden of having diabetes. But after 20 years, I can say one thing for sure: none of that has EVER done me any good. Diabetes doesn’t care how we feel, and whether we roll with the punches and let go of our anger, or hold onto our anger and let it fester, diabetes will do what it does.

Diabetes is a bit like a Zen teacher in this way — it’s harsh in its methods, but if we learn to live with it well, we may be able to truly see the frivolity of anger and resentment. I think when it comes to diabetes, I have learned this lesson. For the next 20 years, I’ll see if I can translate it to the rest of my life. I may never learn how to handle traffic jams, though.

Lesson #3: What you can’t see CAN AND WILL HURT YOU!

Lesson #2 is all well and good — we shouldn’t let our blood glucose levels and our level of control dictate our emotional state. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore our day-to-day management, either. There are risks associated with diabetes, very real and very painful risks. And we need to be dedicated in our management of those risks. Just like yelling and screaming and ranting and raving about high numbers doesn’t do much good, ignoring them doesn’t help, either.

To live with diabetes, we need to be able to see what’s in front of our faces with a clear head, with logic, and with an inner calm. No freaking out, no hiding our heads in the sand. Nope, diabetes means looking at what is right in front of us, doing our absolute best, and letting the rest go.

Lesson #4: There is no “perfect.”

Managing diabetes requires plenty of frustration tolerance, patience, and self-forgiveness. We talk about tight control, ideal blood glucose ranges, etc., etc. But we will never be “perfect” in our control. And that’s a very important lesson for me. In my early years, every single high number was cause for self-defeating, self-blaming, and over-emotional responses. But after 20 years, I’ve learned to let go of the idea that my control will ever be “perfect.” High numbers happen. It’s the big picture that counts.

Lesson #5: Diabetes is only a part.

The last lesson I’ll share is this: Diabetes isn’t who we are; it’s part of what makes us who we are. Diabetes is only a part of our lives. And even that part of ourselves that DOES come from diabetes comes from how we relate to it, not from diabetes itself. In other words, diabetes has no power over us, even though it may not always feel that way. We get to decide how we relate to it.

So enjoy 2014, everyone! Enjoy every minute of this wonderful life, and here’s to many more years to come!

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