A lifetime ago, well literally half my life ago when I was in my twenties, I quit my advertising copywriting job to design and write inspirational greeting cards. I was taking some personal growth trainings at the time and wanted to share my newfound key insights with the world. I actually did create the cards, get them printed, get them sold and four years later, still a starving artist, get a “real” job.
But what I wanted to teach others has never gone away. What I learned during that time of training and years of reading are life principles that affect the quality of our lives, and as Oprah says, “When we know better we do better.” So, here is what I know for sure:
1. There’s a pay-off to everything we do. You may not think so when you’re miserable but whatever you’re doing, crying in your beer, moaning on someone’s shoulder, letting guilt fill your day, playing the victim with diabetes, it’s comforting to you in some way.
2. You will tend to get what you expect. If you want more, raise your expectations. If fear of failure is paralyzing you, lower your expectations.
3. “Act as if.” When you don’t feel it, act as if you do: happy, confident, strong, whatever. Who’s to know that’s not really you? Certainly you’ve been these things at various times before. By pretending you feel a certain way, you will begin to. The world then responds to you in kind, as it does all the time, actually.
4. What is, is. You may not like what is, but it’s what you’ve got in your deck to play with. All you can control is how you play your cards. You can always add to your deck of course.
I am coaching a young woman in her early twenties who has type 1 diabetes. She has had diabetes for about 10 years and is going through an emotional storm: a bad break up with her boyfriend, a death in the family, financial strife and more. The immediate ramifications for her have been a loss of interest in her studies and future, which she was so enthusiastic about previously and out of control blood sugars. Due to months of stress her blood sugars have been consistently high causing her to lose 20 pounds with no effort – her body is not absorbing the calories she eats. Her emotional storm has unmoored her from her good diabetes habits – she is eating erratically, missing meals and not covering her snacks or correcting her high blood sugars, all of which she used to do.
During our coaching session my job is to ask her questions to spark her thinking in a way other than she has been thinking. When we are stuck in a problem it’s very hard to think outside our usual box. And, as much as I want to give her the answers I think I see for her, they are not her answers. She needs to delve down and come up with what will work for her. Trust me, this is hard work. Both for her and for me. Real thinking takes time and effort. Much of her thinking will actually happen after she leaves me because I have stimulated it and it will continue. Holding my tongue while she searches for her own answers is hard work for me. But I know that she must remember what she already knows, reflect back on what she’s done in the past that’s worked and determine what she truly believes she’s capable of doing and willing to do. In short, only she knows what will work for her in her life. In this scenario she is the expert, I am only a tool.
At the end of our time, however, I do, with her permission, share a few of my own thoughts and suggestions. And as I look back now on what I told her, I see it is very much based on the four principles above.
I pointed out to her that while it’s hard to see it, there’s a pay-off for this unbearable sadness she is nursing. Maybe it reinforces her sense of herself as not being a very good person and it is always comforting to be right about what we believe. As for expectations, she is already talking about likely failing this semester as she is not paying attention in class. I reminded her that the expectations she plants she will likely create. Alternatively, I suggested she “Act as if” she is fine, her old self, confident, an interested student, for instance, while in class. At least for the periods of time she can sustain it. They will grow longer.
I suggested she spend up to 30-60 minutes a day obsessing about her worries. And when blue thoughts roll in, in as they will, save them for that period when she will indulge them. Sometimes you just have to cut off non-constructive behavior. The rest of the time I suggested she be as fully present as possible wherever she is and employ the “act as if” principle. Lastly, I reinforced that she move forward with the small steps she identified that she could take to move in the direction of the life she once dreamed of and still wants. Covering her emotional eating with insulin is a step she identified that she can and will take. The results of this will likely be a little better blood sugars, a little less stress, a little more ease and a little light streaming into her world that now looks so dark. Each step we take creates a ripple effect: one positive step puts you in a more positive upward spiral.
It’s not rocket science, but when the world is on tilt it’s hard to see where you stand. I learn a lot when I coach someone. I learn to listen harder and more openly. I learn myself to be more present in the moment and not finish someone else’s sentences, not even in my mind. I learn we each see the world differently, operate in the world differently and prioritize differently. And, her emotional storm has reminded me just how dependent good diabetes care is on how the rest of our life is going. So along with the four principles I’d like to add this one specific to diabetes: Don’t just tend to your diabetes, also tend to your life. And don’t just tend to your life, also tend to your diabetes. They are intertwined.