Diabetes Mirth from Above
By Amy Tenderich
Laura Menninger, a Boston-based former surgical technologist, has a homemade sign on her refrigerator that says, "Accept No Limitations." This must have been what she was thinking last summer when she put on a bright pink cotton-candy wig, a crown made of syringes, and a cape proclaiming her the "Glucose Goddess" and marched straight up to the 7th floor administrative offices of Boston's legendary Joslin Diabetes Center to meet the CEO, Dr. Ronald Kahn.
After Kahn's secretary regained her composure, the Glucose Goddess was greeted warmly, introduced to all of Joslin's top brass, and personally guided by the CEO on the facility's Grand Tour.
Menninger, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 34 in 1998, lives by the motto "Don't Diabetes... Liv-abetes!" She's morphed herself into the world's only known Diabetes Comedienne, and she's given up her day job in the operating room to spread the attitude adjustment she believes is being channeled through her from a higher power. To date, she's performed her wacky diabetes shtick at about two dozen health fairs, support groups, clubs, and diabetes events around New England, including the American Diabetes Association Expos in Boston and Connecticut. And for her recent 41st birthday, she went skydiving – even though she was told people taking insulin could never do such things.
"When I was diagnosed I was so miserable. I cried and cried," Menninger says. "I prayed for a cure. None came. But then all these inspirations on living started coming, one after another, day and night... and I feel like my mission in life is to share them." She hopes to publish a page-a-day humor/inspirational notebook to share the Glucose Goddess gospel for diabetes management, essentially: "Do more of what works and less of what doesn't!"
Mission Possible: Laugh to Good Health
As one of the 23.6 million Americans living with diabetes, Menninger understands only too well how negative forces like sorrow, stress, fear, and lack of social support can wreak havoc with your blood glucose levels. She grew up watching her father, an immunologist and microbiologist and person with type 1 diabetes for 38 years, struggle with primitive treatments and irregular glucose control. Still, he remains "incredibly disciplined" and an excellent role model, she says.
"Laura offers rare comic relief to what is otherwise a very serious disease," says John DeLuca, a leading psychologist at the Colorado Center for Biobehavioral Health in Boulder, CO. "Her humor offers space for a shift in consciousness, for those with diabetes to focus on possibilities rather than limitations."
Clinical evidence confirms that laughter and a positive attitude are good medicine. A study in the May 2003 issue of Diabetes Care reports that laughter lowered postprandial glucose levels. A similar study in the January 2006 issue showed that patients' glucose levels were significantly lower after watching a 40-minute comedy show than after hearing a monotonous lecture. The results "suggest the importance of daily opportunities for laughter in patients with diabetes," the journal concludes.
Researcher Kazuo Murakami from the Foundation for the Advancement of International Science actually claims to have identified 23 genes that may respond to a good giggle, many connected with immune response.
"I try to make it a habit to check my ATTITUDE as often as I check my BG levels," Menninger says. This means: eliminating negative thoughts by exercising every day (tough, but a great mood elevator!); surrounding herself with encouraging people; enjoying inspirational books, movies, and music; collecting inspirational quotes; and practicing stress reduction through meditation/prayer.
So far, Menninger's invested over $10,000 in costumes, props, brochures, a website (www.livabetes.com), legal fees for trademarks, and giveaway items like keychains and bumper stickers. She's also looking at financing a new promotional video. To pay the rent, she now works as a caregiver for an elderly couple. The gentleman suffers from diabetes, and she helps him test his blood glucose and inject his insulin, while caring for her own diabetes as well.
"My friends think I'm crazy. They keep asking why I do this if it's taking up so much money and time, but I feel like this positive energy is being channeled through me for a reason," Menninger says. "I know what it feels like to hit rock bottom, to feel imprisoned and out of control… But then I thought, ‘Screw this! I'm not going to live this way!'"
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