I’d never heard the term before last year when I made a new friend named Joe. Joe’s a diabetes educator and therapist who works with families with diabetes. Joe was the first to acquaint me with the “diabetes wannabee” talking about a colleague of his whom he respects enormously who doesn’t have diabetes but is so totally supportive you’d think she did. I found it a strange notion–after all why would anyone want to have diabetes? Then surprisingly soon after, I began wondering if my husband was exhibiting “diabetes wannabee” tendencies.
A recent blood test he had taken revealed a fasting glucose of 102 and he was immediately alarmed. The doctor reassured him that 2 points above the cut off was nothing to be concerned about, but it did concern him and living with me he had the opportunity to measure his blood glucose whenever he wanted so I gave him his own meter and lancing device.
He approached the task with what appeared to be unnatural gusto and glee deciding he would measure his glucose four times a day for three days. Like clockwork the first day at the appropriate hour he walked into the kitchen where we keep the meters, pulled out a test strip, inserted strip into meter, secured an appropriate finger and ample drop of blood and recorded his number. I would watch withholding a smile, yet after his third test I began to notice some uncomfortable feelings within myself: Was I jealous? Was he encroaching on my territory? Were we both now worthy of sympathy, not just me? I went so far as to wonder what would life be like if we both had diabetes? Midway through the second day, however, whatever novelty motivated his initial burst of enthusiasm wore off, the testing stopped, I got my fair share of, “I don’t know how you do it!” and my “diabetes wannabee” was a “diabetes don’twannabeeanymore.” Also, his numbers confirmed no diabetes.
I guess you could see having diabetes as membership in an exclusive club, like getting picked to play on a sports team without having had to wait embarrassedly while the team captain decided whether or not he’d pick you. Maybe that is the allure to the “diabetes wannabee,” but whatever it be now that my “diabetes wannabee” has run off the field I get to reclaim the star position on this turf and I’m truly happy for a host of reasons that I’m the only one on the field.
The aerial route inside my park
Most days I walk around, sometimes inside, my local park two blocks away which takes me just about an hour door to door. I’ve worn a pedometer enough times to know it’s about 7,200 steps. I also know approximately 2,000 steps make a mile, so this walk is slightly more than 3.5 miles. And if I cared to spend even more brain cells on it, this would tell me I walk about a sixteen-minute mile.
Well, this summer my husband made a commitment to exercise and was out the door every day at 7 AM to do his walk/run and Chi Gong in the park. Of course, being a techno-guy, he was not content merely to strap on a pedometer, but strapped something on around his chest to measure his heart beat, something else on his sneaker to measure his footstep, something that surveyed his walk from the air (thus the photo) so he could come home and look at where he’d been on his computer–as if he didn’t know–and a watch that told him how far he’d gone both in miles and kilometers, at what speed and probably who he passed. Somewhere in his enthusiastic sharing, I stopped listening. Sorry, bad wife.
One day we walked together and wanting to share his toys he demonstrated how each worked, making them available to me out of his deep love and generosity. By time he showed me how I’d know from his watch (rather than my head) that my 3.5 mile/hour walk was about a 16 minute mile I said, “That’s nice, but who cares?” Bad, bad wife.
I know everything I need to know having worn a pedometer a few times: like that I have 2,800 steps left to cover to fulfill the 10,000 steps a day recommendation for health and that the ordinary running around I do every day typically has me fulfill that target. I don’t need to see where I went when I get home, thank goodness my memory isn’t yet that faulty, and I don’t need to confirm that my heart was beating while I was walking, thank god for that. Or, how many beats my heart makes per footfall. If I can put one foot in front of the other at a good pace without falling over I figure I’m doing more than fine.
I walked out of my weekly grocery shop the other day looking at my cash receipt and it struck me: this is why at 55 years old (yes, you know that now) and 36 years living with diabetes, I’m in the shape I am. This list is how I eat, and it’s one of the sides that forms my diabetes Teepee: half my diet is vegetables, then whole grains, fruits, fish, low-fat dairy, nuts, dark chocolate and red wine. Yes, there’s a cup or two of coffee a day and the odd treats, but my basic diet never wavers and hasn’t for nearly the last decade. And, I’ve learned to love it. There is no sense of sacrifice here.
My daily hour walk constitutes the second side upon which my diabetes house leans and the third is being responsible with my medication: testing, calculating and correcting. At times a pain in the royal butt, ’tis true, but I prefer to know where I am most of the time to keep myself on course.
The fourth side of my teepee is more like a small deck–and that’s managing my mind. When it all gets too much, when I can’t bear the little red dots all over my abdomen, when I resent I have them because I’ve taken so many injections for so many years, when I’m merely walking to meet a friend or from the subway and I’m going low–before my thoughts scramble completely–I think, “Why do I have to live like this???” And then I just accept that I do, and that I can handle this.
I can’t say it’s ever fun, I can’t say there aren’t times I don’t throw a pity-party (usually I’m the only guest) because I work like a dog maintaining my health on top of the work the rest of my life takes. But I can say at 55 almost everyone I know has something: cancer, parkinsons, obesity, aphasia, and I wouldn’t trade “mine” for “theirs.” Over the years, diabetes has helped me become even healthier than I would have been without it–and not many people with an illness can say that. Look, it’s written all over my grocery receipt.
It was my birthday this week, September 2 to be exact. My husband told me when we got married 7 years ago that, although I was amazing then, when I was 55 I’d be utterly amazing. I’m thinking he was pretty accurate.
Here’s what 55 looks like so far: This week I flew to Bangor Maine to deliver a diabetes presentation to a roomful of patients at the local diabetes clinic and I gave the diabetes educator there my book,The ABCs Of Loving Yourself With Diabetes. She couldn’t stop telling me how much she loved it.
Later that day a young man drove me in the hotel van downtown to have a walk and some dinner riverside. He was wearing a medic alert bracelet and it turned out it was for diabetes. When I asked how long, he said since July. When I told him I’ve had it 36 years he couldn’t ask enough questions and I couldn’t enjoy more sharing my golden wisdom.
When I got home I had two emails from Australian diabetes organizations wanting to meet me when I’m in Sydney this December and would I agree to be a lunchtime speaker? Well, one has to eat.
Today I had a conversation with Fran Carpentier, senior editor of Parade magazine. She’s lived with type 1 diabetes for 39 years and is quite an advocate. I’ve long had her on my list of people I want to interview but it would have been a cold contact. As it turned out one of my dear friends bumped into her last week at her hairdressers, mentioned me, and Fran said, “I’d love to talk to riva, I know very well who she is.” I thought my friend was joking and I told her so, she wasn’t.
I’ve hit the 3/4 mark on the book I’m writing this year debunking diabetes myths due out next spring, and for one, my van driver in Bangor promises to buy a copy.
I adore my husband, my friends, my family and my life. Not a day goes by I wonder what to do with myself, although to be honest some days I think I wish I did. Three days into 55, things are looking pretty amazing. Wonder what a whole year will look like? Better hold onto that psychic husband.