It’s American Diabetes Month and I Feel Fine

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November is Diabetes Month. I suppose, like with any National Something Month, the goal is to raise awareness and money to fight the Something. October has Breast Cancer Awareness; February owns Heart Health; April is a double-whammy with Irritable Bowel Awareness and Distracted Driving Prevention. For every health concern, there’s a month, and Diabetics have November.

A Life With Diabetes

A moment alone checking levels

I rarely mention that I have Type 1 Diabetes; it doesn’t define me. But it is a regular part of my day. It comes up so often in my memoir that I probably should have given Diabetes her own book. But I’m not sure I wanted to give the disease her own stage. We have a rocky relationship, Diabetes and me. I would much rather write a book about my husband’s illness, giving Diabetes only a bit part in the narrative. And I had thought I succeeded until readers reacted with such horror at my near-death low blood sugar reactions. I guess I didn’t realize it was such a big deal.

So, okay. Fine. Diabetes is challenging. Insulin is a fickle mistress. And yes, far too often I go into diabetic shock, which is, for lack of a better word, a full-blown seizure.

Why is that so hard to admit?

Coming to Terms

Summit of Mt. Baker, WA

For many years after I was diagnosed, I pretended to be invincible and unflappable. I wasn’t going to let this two-bit, penny-ante, no-count, nothing of a so-called disease get the better of me. I would climb mountains, I would kayak big rivers, I would spend weeks in the backcountry. And I didn’t care what Diabetes said; she wasn’t going to stop me.

I remember waking up one night in a remote cabin in British Columbia. Ten of us were sleeping in our bags, batting the mice from our pillows and dreaming of the powder-filled glaciers we’d skied that day. But I wasn’t dreaming exactly. It was more like a drugged reverie. The age-dark beams of the roof bowed up and down. Bats flew around my head, lifting the light fabric of my down bag and threatening to carry me away. I almost tapped into the darkest truths that skiing and remote mountains and a blood sugar-addled brain could reach before I delved into a full-on seizure.

Predictably I started sweating and shaking. I screamed and cried. I closed my eyes and moved my head from side to side. My body reared up a few feet off the ground and slammed down.

My friends knew what to do: feed me glucose tablets and orange juice until I came around. And when I woke up, I laughed. Oops. Sorry guys. Didn’t mean to wake you. But their stares were full of fear. We were remote, at least a day’s ski to a phone. What if they couldn’t wake me? What if a helicopter couldn’t pick me up? The look of responsibility weighed heavily on all of us, and I realized I had to strike a peace accord with my sworn enemy.

Balancing Act

After carrying this disease around with me for over 20 years, I’ve had a few scares. Most often it’s not the disease that kills you, but all the complications. Diabetes is hard on your body. The American Diabetes Association has a sobering statistic:

Diabetes kills more people each year than breast cancer and AIDS combined.

Diabetes affects every organ, every blood vessel, every brain cell. If I eat too many carbohydrates without enough insulin, or have too much stress, or get sick, my blood turns to 30 weight car oil, bursting blood vessels and nerves. If I eat too little, or exercise too much, or give myself too much insulin, I can have a low-blood sugar seizure.

Diabetics can do anything

Diabetes is a balancing act between exercise, food, insulin, stress, illness and other factors. But it is also a window into my health. Since I check my blood sugar levels several times a day, I can watch with a transparency unavailable to non-diabetics how my lifestyle affects my body.

The Upside

I can be healthier seeing the fruits of my exercise and the effects of my transgressions. A Chinese proverb claims, “No disease short life; one disease long life.” Because when you have a disease like Diabetes, you have to pay attention. You have to manage your stress and exercise even when your husband is dying. You can’t drink too much, or eat too much or push yourself too hard. Nor can you take a day off and eat a bag of Fritos while watching television.

Hail National Diabetes Month! This is our month and I’m going to celebrate. And by “celebrate” I mean drinking a diet soda, sucking on a sugar-free candy and climbing a peak. What did you think I meant?

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14 responses »

  1. High-five coming atcha, my friend!

    “The look of responsibility weighed heavily on all of us, and I realized I had to strike a peace accord with my sworn enemy.”

    Congratulations on that accord… sounds like you have done an amazing job gaining a deep understanding of how Diabetes affects your body and that all-too-delicate balance of when to push and when to let go. And I’d imagine it’s translated from the disease to the rest of your life, as well.

  2. The passage from the book that you referred WAS frightening. I was tested recently, and am not at risk for developing it right now. My consciousness was raised in recent months because I started getting a freebie magazine which discusses a variety of topics on the subject. I wouldn’t be surprised to see you profiled in it one of these days, Kim, last issue focused on a young woman who learned how to integrate her health needs with her outdoorsy-athletic passions. 🙂

    • Thanks Vicki. It’s funny. I’ve never identified myself as a diabetic. It wasn’t something I wore on my sleeve. But I suppose I’m embracing it now. The message I hope others are hearing is that it’s not that bad. Having diabetes isn’t a death sentence. Anyone can manage it.

  3. You just keep on kicking ass Kim! You are amazing you bright shining star! Much love to you and much strength. I am so glad to know you and your husband, I can’t imagine not knowing you two. You have had such an impact on my life and in a great way. Thank you dearly. You are right! You can do anything! And life is just that more precious now because of everything that you have gone through/ are going through. Many blessings to you and John.

  4. Damn, Kim – this is a wonderful piece. I definitely get that it wasn’t an easy one to write, the struggle between honestly acknowledging the role a disease plays in our life, and not wanting it to be something that owns us. I’m so glad that you stopped by Hooked and introduced yourself; I’m fascinated by your blog!

  5. You are a force of nature, Kim. You live life with grace and confidence and, yes, balance. We can learn a lot from you. I needed to read this today. Great, great post.
    Thanks again for sharing your story on my blog today. It is, you are inspiring.

  6. Wow! You have mentioned diabetes before, but I didn’t know the extent of it. I know some type 1 diabetics in their 60s and 70s and see how careful they are to maintain their fragile health. On my Bhutan trip I became buddies with a type-1 diabetic guy in my group who was 65 and had just retired as CFO of Stanford University – and on his second or third Himalayan trek – and he’s gone back twice since 2007. He did have to have open heart surgery a couple years ago due to complications, but has been back trekking in the Himalayas again since then. He’s an inspiration, but well, you sure as heck are too! Anyway, I like the part about being forced to take such good care of yourself and knowing how your body reacts to things so closely. That’s a good lesson for all of us. I make attempts to do this but I have too many careless days not exercising, eating chocolate, pastries, etc. In the last year my body has forced me to be more careful with G-I issues, but as soon as symptoms ease up I get lax again. Thanks for this inspirational reminder to care for this temple that is our body.

  7. Pingback: Your Questions About I Feel Fine : Dealing with Stress and Anxiety

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