Forever, Unless There's a Cure
Make diabetes a natural part of your life rather than making your whole life about the diabetes
with Amy Tenderich
Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for dLife.com and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!
April 2006 —This month's entry is a brief ode to Pacing Yourself. I capitalize to emphasize the importance of these two little words. I'm sure it hasn't escaped you that once you've got the diabetes, it's forever (unless there's a cure, which may well not come in our lifetime). So you've got to find a way to make this disease a natural part of your life rather than making your whole life about the diabetes.
For nearly my entire first year with diabetes, I carefully pre-planned my meals, and ate them at 7am, 12noon, and 6:30pm practically on the dot. I counted carbs with a vengeance (still, not always accurately), and I exercised at the same time of day 3-4 times a week. In short, I was the "perfect diabetic." My BGs ran around 107 to 145 max! (Anything higher would shock and upset me such that I'd run out the door for a strenuous walk up our neighborhood hill.)
But then "real life" began to creep back in. I took on additional projects for work. I started venturing out more, at more irregular intervals, and finally let my kids sign up for those extra gymnastic lessons and other activities they'd been begging to join. Doing everything perfect for the diabetes became not only impractical, but it felt like a prison sentence: can't I ever have flexibility with meal times? Or skip a workout? Or eat dessert again, for God's sake?!
The answer is Yes, with a good background tempo, I've learned.
Pretty Good, with Regularity
First, I learned that it's virtually impossible to be the "perfect diabetic" all of the time. But I also know that you can't treat your diabetes like a crash diet: on-again, off-again, binging in between and all the while torturing yourself with guilt. That's far too hard on a body, and no way to care for a chronic disease whose consequences can be deadly.
So I worked out a new goal — or a new attitude, actually, and that is: being a pretty good diabetic most of the time. This means doing the best that you can for your diabetes in every given situation, and also thoroughly forgiving yourself for slip-ups or bad days. What's key is letting the bad stuff go with enough finality as to start over the very next day doing the best that you can, again. And so on. It means believing that your actions make a positive difference to your health, and not giving up.
This may sound kind of trivial, but I assure you it is not. I get lots of emails from people desperately wrestling with their own inner devils, i.e.:
"I am very well-informed about what I need to do to try and control this illness. One would think that I would have enough sense to stay away from excess carbs. Right now junk food has such a physical and psychological hold on me that I think about cheating morning, noon, and night!"
My guess is we all have a tendency to set ourselves up to fail, especially with something as daunting as diabetes. If you set the bar so high that you can barely even see it, you know you'll never meet those expectations, so why try? It seems to me that the solution is pacing ourselves, and being kind to ourselves even when we make mistakes.
Baby Steps Hope
If there were a magic formula to caring for your diabetes, this would be it: Baby Steps plus Hope. I've written before about the value of taking on your health challenges gradually, one by one. You will be much more successful (and happier) facing one goal at a time rather than trying to "fix" your diet, exercise regime, blood pressure, medications, and A1c all at once.
If you ever reach a point of absolute burn-out where you feel ready to throw in the towel, then do — for a little while. My "safe vacation" from diabetes this year has been a logging boycott: I haven't recorded any BG numbers other than the three days prior to my last endo appointment. That's my small (yet unharmful) way of saying, "Up yours, diabetes!" I feel a little vindicated and relieved, and meanwhile, I'm still doing my best to keep my BG in check as I begin to travel more and spend more hours planted in front of my PC.
Will there be a cure in our lifetime? This is an era of incredibly promising research and advancements. But many long-term patients are tired of hearing the promises. Once upon a time, they were sure there'd be a cure by the year 2000. So it's very likely that we'll get ever-better tools and treatments, but no cure this century.
Still, you've gotta have hope. Hope that you can live a long and healthy life with diabetes, which research shows you can, as long as you pace yourself.
My first year was the hardest because I was so shocked and confused, but also the "easiest" because I achieved ideal results by basically "doing diabetes" all of the time. Now I have a life again. And darn it, I'm hoping it will stay that way.
Read more about Amy Tenderich.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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