Your true love with diabetes

A love story that gets better with time

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When I got engaged at the ripe old age of 47 in the year 2000, I said to my husband-to-be, who knew I had diabetes but more in the figurative sense than actually seeing it close-up and on the ground, “If you want to rethink this, I won’t hold it against you. I don’t know what’s in store for my future and I would never want to be a burden to you.” 

He wrapped his arms around me, just as I’d hoped, and said, “You’re with me now and I’m with you and we will do this together.” 

And we have. He’s my partner in life and in my diabetes and at times in my work. He’s prouder of me than anyone has a right to be and I don’t know where I’d be without him. 

I’m reminded of that early moment in our history because in the current American Diabetes Association’s Forecast magazine, March 2011, the reflection column brought it all back. “A Life Together” expresses very much the same sentiments of a husband who married a woman with type 1 diabetes and took it on. And that was back in 1951. He’s now 80 and they’ve been married 57 years. She is blessedly complication-free, and yes she’s worked at it, and he says “our love is far stronger today than it was when we got married.”

Remember, when they got married meters didn’t exist, which came out in the early 1980’s, no insulin pumps, and a guaranteed uncertain future.

But here’s to love! I found myself tearing up reading the article and want to thank the author, Myron Schultz, for drawing such a beautifully woven and warm wrap around us all while baring his soul. May a thousand mitzvahs land on your doorstep Myron.

The Power of our health possibility

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 9.15.24 PMListen more closely to your body and your thoughts

I’m reading a great book, Ellen Langer’s Counter Clockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility. It’s about being more mindful in everything we do and how that breaks through many of our assumptions and beliefs and can help us maintain and attain greater health, and happiness. 

It’s about thinking about our health, and aging, differently, turning our own stereotypes on their head, and taking back much of our power.

It’s about how language either empowers or disempowers us, and sets us down a path of expectation, and how we then tend to create what we expect. 

For instance when you go to get a “second opinion” don’t those two words already make you feel it can’t be quite as credible as the first doctor’s diagnosis? After all now you’re going for “second” and it’s only an “opinion.”

Langer, a social psychologist and teacher, has written a book, this is actually her fourth on mindfulness but first on health, that is philosophical in part, and practical throughout. It is based on many of her studies and those conducted with her students. One classic study Langer conducted had senior citizens, some of whom were in nursing type facilities spend a week living as though it was 1959 again, wearing the type of clothes they wore then, doing things like carrying their own suitcases, which they hadn’t done in years, bringing photos of who they were then and “acting as if” they were their younger version, again. A week later, most were actually livelier, stronger and healthier, they expressed more vitality and took more interest in life than they had in years.  

Langer pokes through our routine thinking as in where did these thoughts come from? Do they make sense? And she beseeches us to be mindful, to notice new things. And she reminds us that our routine thinking may indeed be deteriorating our health rather than vitalizing it. 

For instance she proposes that maybe older people are thought to have poor memories not because they lose their faculty to remember but because they’re not much interested in what’s going on in a world geared for younger people. So they don’t pay attention. What looks like memory loss may be a case of older people never having listened to something to begin with because it doesn’t interest them. 

Or maybe older people seem weaker because we’ve been socialized to see them that way, and they’ve been socialized to expect they will become that way. Maybe 80 year olds have trouble getting out of a car not because they’re feeble. Maybe cars just aren’t built for 80 year old bodies.

Langer and her students’ experiments will offer you lots to reconsider that may change how you think which may impact your health more positively. 

Counter clockwise tests many of our assumptions about healthfulness and reading it would be a very healthy choice. 

If you want to be happy…

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 9.18.25 PMGiving is better than getting

I found this passage that I wrote down months ago on a slip of paper while finally clearing the clutter near my computer. Doesn’t matter, though, because it’s timeless. 

This is from Martin Seligman’s book, Authentic Happiness.

“If you want to be happy 

for an hour, take a nap

for a day, go fishing

for a month, get married

for a year, get an inheritance

for a lifetime, help someone”

What more is there to say?

Aimee Mullins and her 12 pairs of legs

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If you don’t know who Aimee Mullins is, you should. She’s an athlete, fashion model and inspiration on two prosthetic legs that often graces theTED stage.

Born with missing fibula bones, she had both her legs amputated below the knee when she was one year old. 

But Aimee has risen so far above her perceived handicap that she’s redefining how we see disability. 

She talks of the empowerment that can come from a perceived deficit and how we can, if we chose, be the architect of our lives, and identity. How the conversation is shifting from overcoming “deficiencies” and “disabilities” to having them augment us and our potential. And, she redefines “adversity” along the way.

In her quiet, unpretentious way, and with humor, she opens your mind to think differently and see your condition, whatever it be – for most of us it’s diabetes, as a launch pad for doing greater things.

This 10-minute video is, as are all her TED videos, smashing – for the places your mind will go and its visual richness, as she shares her dozen legs. In her tallest pair of legs, Mullins says she stands six feet one inch high. I think she stands far taller no matter which pair she may be wearing.  

Kitchen Table Wisdom

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 9.42.33 PMPhysicians learning to be human

I’ve just finished a book of stories I learned so much from. Particularly how medical training wipes the humanity out of our health care providers. You may not be surprised, except for how strategic and intentional it is.

 

Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen is full of small stories that include her own experiences as a physician for more than 30 years and observations of fellow physicians, and, as a patient suffering with Crohn’s disease since her teenage years. 

 

Her stories illustrate how most medical training depletes physicians of their humanity by actually outlawing any show of emotion or authentic aspect of themselves. Physicians are judged weak to by these standards and strong if they share nothing but their medical expertise; no heart, no humanity. Her stories also reflect the courage and grace as patients find their courage to live, and often die, with illness. 

 

You cannot come away from these stories without having a new understanding of our medical system. And the healing power of being with patients in a sacred space that does not judge, but allows frailties to just be. You will better understand why most doctors treat us like interchangeable parts and how far we have to go till this changes. Especially treating chronic illness.

 

Today, though, maybe there is a movement afoot. I just read Amy’s post over on DiabetesMine about a new ideal for treating the whole patient with a dedicated team. Perhaps it is happening, somewhere. Perhaps it will happen, someday.

 

In the meantime, pick up a copy of Kitchen Table Wisdom. Your soul will thank you.

Be your own Valentine. Here’s how.

The best gift is the one you give yourself every day

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O.K., let’s declare a moratorium on fretting over what your significant other is going to get you for Valentine’s Day. Or whether he or she will, or what it will mean. 

The best Valentine’s Day gift you’re ever going to get is the one only youcan give to yourself. That doesn’t mean you still wouldn’t mind a dozen red roses and chocolate truffles.

But it does mean that it’s time to start keeping different company with actually something, not someone, you hold most dear — your emotions. 

It’s time to cuddle up with more of your inspiring, positive emotions and less with your nagging, negative ones. How? By simply asking yourself a few questions that get you focused on the good news in your life. For instance:

·      What do I appreciate in my life?

·      Who am I grateful for in my life?

·      What did I learn this week from a mistake I made?

·      What do I truly love about myself?

·      What can I do today for someone to make them feel good?

·      What am I most proud of?

Now, isn’t this a Valentine’s Day gift truly worthy of you?

Typically any discussion of emotions around diabetes are always negative ones: Depression, denial, guilt, shame, worry and fear. I’ve watched this conversation lead people straight into their “unhappy place” where they yearn for pity or consolation.

But one Valentine’s Day, standing on the brink of such an event, I conducted an experiment. I was at a monthly diabetes support group meeting (Divabetic). I’d been invited to discuss the power of positive emotions, the basis of my book, The ABCs Of Loving Yourself With Diabetes. That evening, instead of the women there introducing themselves by telling everyone what they were struggling with, I asked them to say one thing they love about themselves and one positive thing diabetes has given them. I since use this in workshops.

Here are some of the answers I got:

“Even though I’ve lost some of my vision from diabetes, I have so much more compassion for other people with a disability.”

“I feel very humble. I know I could have something much worse.”

“I got diabetes at ten and really like how it’s made me strong and responsible”

“I feel really valuable and worthwhile being able to help my family members who have diabetes”

“I eat healthier now and have lost almost fifteen pounds!”

“I love the friends I’ve made in this group.”

Each remark brightened the energy in the room. They laughed and smiled, they reached out hands to each other, not to console but to connect, and to celebrate the good news they heard ‘round the room. Only two of the women had to search for an answer, but even their search was an opening for something positive to fly in that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

It’s a universal law, we tend to attract what we focus on. Spend more time with your positive emotions like joy, hope, curiosity, passion, kindness, forgiveness and pride, and you will have more of these in your life.

Barbara Fredricksonpositivity expert and author, along with many positive psychologists like Martin Seligman, has conducted research that reveals positive emotions open our hearts and our minds making us more creative, flexible and resilient. They broaden our outlook, helping us to see more options. When engaged in positive emotions, our thoughts and actions surface more spontaneously, and we forgive our mistakes and let things roll off our shoulders more easily. Above all, they make us happier and healthier.

Sounds like an ideal prescription for managing diabetes, and life. Now if only we could get doctors to prescribe it!

That Valentine’s Day, when 27 women and I spent a few moments together loving ourselves (nothing kinky mind you), was one of the best Valentine’s Day gifts I’ve ever given or gotten, and I suspect my Valentinas would say the same.

Today, indulge yourself in a few of your own positive emotions, alongside anything else. Ask yourself one or two questions like: “What am I doing in my life that I like?” and “Who can I thank for what they mean to me?” 

Then every day let this be more of the company you keep.

A new year with resolution, rather than resolutions

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As this new year begins I have not made any New Year’s resolutions. Actually I never do. Not since turning old enough to realize they’re a cruel joke we play on ourselves. If I don’t keep them I’ll feel like a failure and if there’s something I really want to do, I’ll do it.  

 

One thing I have been doing these past few weeks, however, is re-reading the slew of posts that I’ve now written here over the last two years. Truth be told, I would barely change a word. What a nice feeling that’s been, and so has re-reading my own lessons been, which, yes, I benefit from as well as anyone. 

 

Here’s one that struck my fancy again especially because it reminds me to look for the good and believe in myself especially starting a new year. 

 

Posted November 18, 2008

What if we had to purchase happiness and self esteem the way we purchase most things? Would you value it more? Would you feel it more? Would you recognize it as a tangible commodity you owned? Would our lives be happier, easier, more joyful overall? It’s an interesting notion I think.

 

Somehow it seems negative emotions:  anger, fear, guilt, worry get more of our attention and feel more at home in our lives than positive emotions like happiness, hope, pride and success. Is it just fear of failure or something else at work? I don’t know, but if you had to pay for simple pleasures –  a sunny day and a clear blue sky, a field of flowers, to have the loved ones in your life that you do, the satisfaction of a job well done, a fun dinner with friends, coming home after an arduous trip, having your kids put an arm around you – would you enjoy these things more? 

 

I try these days, as too many of my contemporaries are getting ill and passing away, to recognize how fortunate I am and cherish the day and all it brings. 

 

Time passes much faster than it used to so I’m trying more and more to follow the words of a very wise man, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” These were Ghandi’s words. So, if you want to have love, be love. If you want to enjoy peace, be peace. If you want to find joy, be joy. If you want to see yourself live well with diabetes, live well with diabetes. 

 

And I think the way to appreciating things more is while not necessarily easy, pretty much as simple as what Christopher Robin said to Pooh: “You must remember this: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Hmmm…that’s a lot to take in, and yet, some pretty good stuff to live by.

 

So as I start this new year and it stretches in front of me now pretty much a blank canvas, I’m going to try and remember my own words and those of Christopher Robin. After all, one of my true blessings is the company I keep – around the corner, virtually and in storybook form.

The day of thanks

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We’ve tried it once, I think, instigated by my sister-in-law’s sister a few years back when she was pregnant with her first child at 40. We went around the table of 12 each saying what we’re thankful for. We got through about three and a half people before it all caved in and other conversations looped us elsewhere so that we never returned to the affair. 

So, in this space, I will say what I’m thankful for before anyone has a chance to divert me: 

The fact that each day I wake up to another day

My beloved husband, who has to remind me that rather than take a picture of something on a piece of paper and then drop it digitally onto my computer, that I can just scan it

My immediate family who still allow me to feel protected in the world

My dear friends who send me those annoying, trite emails because they care

My work which leaves me to never question what to do with my life – the single question that haunted me for years and years

My little home, that while I bemoan its size, I have one – and I love the leafy neighborhood it occupies

Seeing the world from Cleveland to Copenhagen, meeting new people who feel like old friends, and escaping New York City and coming home again

Great nights out discussing the world over good food and great wine

Books that take me away and films that bring me home, and vice versa

Adventures and surprises that show up now on a regular basis since I’m never quite sure where this life is taking me

That I still look relatively OK at 56 due to moderate living and my parents’ gene pool

My health, which outside of a few nicks and dents is pretty good

My ability to stay positive in a negative world

That I could come up with another bunch of stuff if I spent more time thinking about it…

and all of you who make what I do possible.

Diabetes heroes

Tom FinecoOn a roll with diabetes

This month Diabetes Healthmagazine was about diabetes heroes. I think there are more diabetes heroes around than we could ever write about and we generally tend to only hear about celebrities or someone who’s done something extraordinary. 

But after interviewing more than 125 people with diabetes, we simple folk who live every day with this condition, are in my mind pretty darn heroic for all we do and still get up each morning to do it all again.

Here’s one such story of a simple heroThomas Fineco: A man who decided after his diagnosis to take life by the seat of his pants and get in shape. 

You could consider what he’s done extraordinary or merely a guy who determined to get the most out of life. The same opportunity lies before all of us, whether you put legs (or a bicycle seat) under your dream. 

 

All aboard: Amtracking through Pennsylvania with diabetes

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These last two weeks I’ve been “Amtracking” up and down the East Coast: From New York to Cambridge, MA two weeks ago and  last week to Harrisburg, PA and then back from Philadelphia to speak to patients and nurses. This work I do has to my surprise led to seeing a lot of the country.

Not having ridden Amtrack for probably a decade it was a delightful surprise – almost stepping back into a more genteel era. The seats are wide, comfy and provide plenty of leg room, unlike those I’ve grown used to now in airplanes’ economy class. The conductors are pleasant, “Hello, how are you doing today?” While stepping aboard on one leg of my journey, the high steps made it difficult to lift my wheeling case. Not a problem, the conductor had it in tow before I even thought how was I going to manage it.

Amtrack also has a “Quiet Zone.” A car where no cell phone use or loud conversation is allowed. What a delight. Between the gentle rolling of the train and the silence I fell off to sleep for an hour. Moreover, two restrooms in every car, never a line! I am forever changed. Next time I go somewhere Amtrack goes and the trip is not more than a few hours I will opt for the age-old comfort and civility of train-ing over plane-ing. Moreover, it allows you to bypass going through airport security where a hand search reveals syringes and begs questions, an insulin pen raises a red flag and one is supposed to (I rarely do) extricate one’s self from seat, climb over two fellow passengers and scuttle off to the restroom to take a shot. 

I was train-ing to speak to two groups of patients and nurses amid the rolling hills of rural Pennsylvania. My train stop was Harrisburg, where I was picked up by Betsy Wargo, a dedicated diabetes educator who serves the nearby area through Wellspan, and had invited me to be the key speaker for their annual diabetes health fair. The fair was held at Gettysburg Hospital in historic Gettysburg, home of one of the major battles of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln’s famous address. At the hospital I had the pleasure of addressing about 70 patients as an author and fellow patient. I shared my personal story of getting diabetes at 18 and what it’s been like to live with, dispelled many of the diabetes myths that confuse most people and explained the power of tapping into our positive emotions to better manage diabetes. These of course are the topics of my two books.

Focusing on what we want (happy, healthy life) rather than what we don’t want (complications) and putting more energy into our positive emotions, for instance appreciating what we have, forgiving ourselves when we muck up, patting ourselves on the back for all we do and taking pride in our efforts – helps us do better. Oprah often says, “When you know better, you do better.” What’s also true is, “When you feel better, you do better.” Afterward Betsy and I toasted the successful evening over a drink at the famed bar inside the hotel and talked passionately about how to help patients improve their self management.

The next day I was picked up and driven to Springfield, a town just outside of Philadelphia, where I presented my Taking Control program to another 70 patients. I followed an endocrinologist in the line-up and when I finished my talk numerous people told me how much they got out of what I said. It doesn’t hurt to have a powerful story to share or to follow a doctor who has just pummeled your audience with target numbers, facts and figures.

Then it was back on the train home to the Big Apple where I, for one, was riding on a high. As we approach Thanksgiving, more and more for me it is not an annual event. Throughout the year I give thanks for how fortunate I am to be doing this work and how grateful I am for all who make it possible.