My Key to Improving Diabetes Mindset
Daily life with diabetes is tough. I don't like thinking about it all the time, but it sure beats the alternative. But lately my diabetes has taken a back seat to other concerns and priorities. It doesn't go away, of course, but it's not taking center stage (except when it throws a fit and demands all the attention). Because of this, I've not had much to say here. Or so I felt. I've struggled with feeling like anything but an expert when it comes to managing an admirable life with diabetes. I've also gone through one of the toughest years of my life. The good news is I'm orchestrating a comeback. Don't get me wrong-I know people have it much worse than I do, but that doesn't really make me feel any better on days I want to crawl and hide away. I bolus. I test. I correct. But I haven't done much beyond that lately.
And while these haven't been terrible days of misery due to extreme illness, war, divorce, death, or anything like that, they've been incredibly challenging to my sense of self and my place in the world. It's been a long series of small setbacks that added up to me feeling like a big failure. It felt like despite my intentions and hard work, nothing was changing. Diabetes can often feel this way, too.
Who hasn't felt that despite your best intentions and putting in the effort, it just doesn't pay off in the ways you'd like? That the best you can hope for is steadiness and a warding off of complications down the line. Maybe you won't lose a limb. Maybe you won't go blind. Maybe "if you're good," you can live a long healthy life. Maybe, maybe maybe. There's no maybe about it, it's definitely not too encouraging. Yes, I believe most of us have had moments like this. 2010 has been filled with them.
In my career as a teacher and writer and my life with type one diabetes, it felt like despite taking action what I felt were the appropriate actions to change things, I watched as the proverbial wrecking ball flung its way through my life, hitting the most tender of spots-diabetes, heart, and bank account included. No need to give you all the details. A few words will do the trick: Broke. Broken. Jobless. Depression. Loved ones. Betrayal. Discovery. Heart-break. Break-Up. Disillusionment. Rinse. Repeat. You get the picture...
Surely anyone who has had a major set-back in life-and a diagnosis of diabetes is surely one of them--can relate. You want to be positive and get moving again. You want to be proactive and make things happen instead of waiting around. But there's a deeper, more important (albeit hidden) yearning there, too. If it had the words, mine would say something like this:
"I want to stop feeling like I don't have control of my life or my body or my bloodsugars. I want to stop feeling this sadness and pain. To not feel scared. To stop thinking all the time. To get out of my head. I want my heart to stop hurting. I want to feel like myself again. And damn it, having diabetes sucks. I want to forget about it, but it won't let me!"
This is tender territory, and I've been steeped in it for a while. I've taken a step back from writing online and "putting myself out there." Mostly because I felt like a fraud. It's hard to feel like you have anything of value to say when you've struggled with a low all night only to land at 354 mg/dl upon waking. When you found it hard just to get out of bed that day, say nothing about changing out of your pajamas. Have you ever been there?
I felt like a cautionary tale at best. After all, one can know they're ready for a comeback, but still feel drained and haunted by mistakes, heightened emotions, shame and guilt for not doing a better job at this thing we call life. I've been there. And this is what I know:
Using your imagination helps.
It sounds simple, but what helps me manage my emotions and therefore my diabetes, as well, is making a point to take time every day to imagine feeling the way I'd like to feel. To do this even if you're not there yet. No, especially if you're not there yet. Sometimes I write it down. This helps. But when that feels like too much of a chore, just picture it in you mind's eye or recall what it has felt like in the past to experience something similar. I'm a visual person, so I like to just conjure up the images and scenarios I most want to experience whether it's feeling strong in my body, confident as I walk through the streets of my life, or happy upon waking each day. Something like that.
That being said, there's no use trying to force yourself into positivity via mantras or "should feels" or feeling like you must think that this (or any other advice or directives) are what you're "supposed to believe." Doing that only gives you another thing to beat yourself up about when you can't stay grounded in positivity all the time. Or, if you're like me and are too much of a realist to buy into you own bullshit.
So no--I can't do that (and hey, more power to you if you can!). But I can believe having a good imagination (and knowing how to use it) can help. Not delusion, mind you. Not being fake. Just imagining and setting the intent to experience things you yearn for from that deep place within. To feel for a moment what it'd be like to be in that space. To know it so well you can describe it in vivid detail. I can't focus on my life without type one diabetes, but I can imagine what it'd feel like to have a steady stream of bloodsugars and a strong, reliable body as I go through my days. It helps. One need only look at the faces of children playing to see the results. We are not so different, really. Adults are just big kids who've forgotten what they once intuitively knew.
So please try this, silly as it may feel at first: After finishing this article, test your bloodsugar if you need to before focusing, and then take two minutes to imagine (with details) being where you'd like to be (and with whom), feeling how you'd like to feel (in your body and mind), and go there--experiencing moments you crave. Just two minutes of imagining being engaged in exactly what you'd most love to be doing, and how that would feel in your body, mind, and heart. How it would be reflected in the faces and responses of those around you.
One caveat: Don't focus on the "how" of it for now-just focus on what you want to feel, how you want to show up in your life. Not so much things as the feelings and doings and the details of being that person. And know that for me, even this simple act of imagining has been met with much resistance from my own head and psyche. It has been hard for me to imagine those feelings when faced with days where my bloodsugars resemble a ride at Six-Flags, or when my inbox is flooded with rejections from potential employers or publishers, or when I just had a disagreement with a loved one.
But even when my bloodsugar is high or I'm tired from the see-saw of life, I can remember what it feels like to laugh from the gut or have that tingly feeling that comes from feeling loved or connected or appreciated by another. I can think back to small and not so small moments when life seemed to go my way moment after moment and how great it felt to be "in the flow" and spread my happiness to others through small gestures.
This isn't living in the past or in some fantasy world-it's harnessing the power of you deepest intentions and the power of focused imagination. In a way, it's a form of prayer. And like the old adage goes, "When you pray, move you feet!" Start small. Think about what your deepest intention is for your life and then imagine what it'd feel like to be the person experiencing those intentions coming to fruition. If nothing else, doing so helps improve your mood in that very moment.
I've done this for months now and I can very clearly feel how it could be to truly be that woman, and to step into that life, and live it every day. I'm getting closer. Some of the things like finding a wonderful, funny N.P. to serve as my "go-to" person for my diabetes have already happened. And even with all my foibles and flaws and imperfections, I can honestly say know I deserve those good feeling and wonderful moments I imagine, and am finally ready to claim them.
P.S. Thank you for your patience as I figured these things out and stepped back from my online life for a while. I am now post M.F.A. and filled with a sense of hope of what is possible--AND armed with tons of research and exciting topics for future shareposts. Stay tuned!