When Things Fall Off Course…

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I was having a great few weeks with my blood sugar! Every time I checked, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, bingo! Right in range! It was great. I was relaxed, happy, and coasting through my days. And then I had a few days of really “wonky” numbers (the term is one I picked up from an old friend — I’m not sure exactly how my friend meant it, but it always sounded like a good adjective to describe irritating, unpredictable blood sugar numbers). My blood sugar seemed to be shooting way up for a few days, and I lost all that happy, carefree, relaxed vibe I had built up.

Now my blood sugar seems to be returning to normal, and falling in line once again. I’m not sure what caused the two-day spike, but I do know that such spikes happen every now and then, for various reasons. Maybe the body is fighting off some virus; maybe carbohydrate calculations aren’t correct; maybe stress is getting to me more than I consciously realize. Regardless, I’ve been living with diabetes long enough to know these swings can and WILL occur, no matter how well controlled the numbers are in general.

It’s not what happens TO you…
Epictetus, a Greek-born slave in early Rome who would go on to become a teacher and respected philosopher, had this to say: “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” That’s a great quote from someone facing a lot more adversity than a few days of wonky blood sugar. And I’ve gotta admit, I didn’t really live up to that quote this past week. When my numbers got weird, I got stressed. I slammed a few doors, huffed around the house, refused to smile, and let the stress and anger build inside. And then I indulged that anger. You know what I mean with that, right? That moment when we realize, “I could take some deep breaths,” or “I could go meditate right now,” or “I could play some music and get my head clear before I get into panic mode” — but we don’t actually do ANY of those things; instead we amp up the anger and slam a few more doors. We indulge anger when we sail right past that point because some part of us just wants to be pissed off.

Of course, getting mad about a high number is understandable. But here’s the thing: It does no good! I should know this better than anyone! I meditate, I deeply agree with the principles of Zen Buddhism that point to attachment and desire as the root of suffering, and I worked for five years as a therapist with many, many angry people. I never told any of them they didn’t have a right to feel angry, but many times I tried to help people see that making decisions from a place of anger, and holding onto anger, feeding it, indulging it, never leads anywhere good.

In my case, feeding that anger increased my stress. And we all know what stress hormones do to insulin, right? They make it less effective. They induce us to flood our system with more sugar, since our bodies respond to stress as if the danger is a tiger and we need the extra energy to run away. Obviously, more sugar was not what my system needed during those two days.

It’s how you react…
And that brings me back to our pal Epictetus. The thing that happened TO me was a few days of wonky numbers. It has happened before, and it WILL happen again. While we have a fair level of control when it comes to diabetes, we all know complete control is impossible. Our bodies are living, complex systems, and no matter how diligent we are, sometimes they’ll “misbehave” on us. What I DO have complete control over is how I choose to react.

Next time I hope to react with a little more wisdom. Next time I hope to catch the indulgence and go meditate instead. Next time I hope to take a few deep breaths, step back from the situation, and remember that these fluctuations are almost always just a few weird days and then a return to normal. I can’t control everything my blood sugar will do, but I can control how I respond to it. We all can.

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