I just got back from a short business trip to the midwest. Only 2 nights away. 3 hour time difference though, which is always a challenge. Ah yes, traveling continues to pose some particular challenges for my diabetes control. It's as if I step into an airport and until I return, my blood sugars are out of whack, pure and simple. No matter what I try, to carry the right food with me, to stay on west coast time throughout the trip, to switch my pump to east coast time as soon as I land, at the end of the day, nothing ever really works. I'm always high on the plane no matter how much insulin I take, or how little I eat. Meal schedules are off once I get where I'm going so regardless of how vigilant I am about bolusing to cover the food I'm eating "off my schedule", it rarely actually works. And night time always poses a special set of problems because of time and meal changes. Raging highs at "bed time", do I correct or not? When I do, I often crash a few hours later, when I don't, I'm in the 300's and up at night dealing with the thirst or need to pee. Beyond jet lag, there's always a little diabetes fun to add to the fatigue of travel. Ah, it's such a bundle of fun.
Yesterday was a wonderful day full of small adventures and happy times. My husband I stumbled on a mysterious place (to me) in search of a scrap piece of metal for a fence we are building. I had an idea and he knew of a place and it turned out to be a magical discovery for me. Fun was had by all.
My friend and I visited this place last weekend. A half an hour away, fields of dahlias, row after row, like a huge striped painting made of flowers. Eye popping beauty on a gorgeous early fall day. It's been warm again, as it often is in the northwest at this time of the year. And with the warmth comes late summer flowers like these, big and small, variegated and solid, simple and frilly. The variety and bawdiness of it all literally took our breath away. It was a wonderful small adventure.
I've been wrestling with the realities of my life with diabetes, wrestling with it for most of the time I've had it. Trading off between what I'd like to do and what happens when I actually do it. I've landed on both sides of the equation, sometimes not caring about the ramifications of that cupcake or extra long walk, and then other times opting to not indulge because the costs are just too great. This ongoing debate is just a part of my life with diabetes.
One of the biggest struggles I've had in the realm of these trade offs has been around travel. It always takes a toll, no matter how careful I am. Always. But I do it nonetheless, usually because I have to for my work. It's do-able of course, and I have a good time in spite of the inevitable blood sugar ride that ensues. But when I do have a choice, I find that I am choosing not to travel when I can. I'm sick of the work it requires and the physical challenges it always poses, the extra highs and lows all take some of the bloom off the travel rose. I've struggled with the desire to see the world more and the particular cost diabetes adds to the process of actually doing so. I've worried that I'm "wimping out", that I'm letting diabetes limit me, that I'm missing out on a full life. And yet, more and more I find that I just want to minimize the discomforts of diabetes as much as I possibly can. I'm tired of the roller coaster, pure and simple. And though I still have it in my day to day life, I have it less so when I stay closer to home. That's just a fact. As much as I'd like it to be different, that's the way it is.
Recently, something occurred to me that's turned out to be very helpful. I realized that travel is just one way to have a full, intriguing, magical, rich life. Plenty of the greatest thinkers and artists that I admire, didn't have to go far afield to experience a meaningful, adventurous life. Close can bring expansion. Near can bring adventure. Small can bring liberation. And in my case, safe can bring joy and energy, balance and happiness.
Yes, my friends and culture think travel is the end all and be all. The magazines I read celebrate all the exotic corners of the world. The question everyone asks after a week off is "where did you go"? Yes, my friends dream and plan and visit places far and wide. But, it's all relative. It's very personal. And at the end of the day, it's up to me to decide what works best for me with diabetes!
So I'm trying to feel better about all this. I'm trying to look at the rich world just outside my door. Last week I went here and here and here. And later this week, I'm going here and here. Lot's of small adventures, close to home, but as so full of the opportunity to "travel" far and wide.
I love my husband very much. Not only is he a terrific person who's company I never cease enjoying, he's also been an amazing partner to me when it comes to my life with diabetes. Supportive, understanding, he's always seemed to strike the perfect balance between actively participating in my care while at the same time respecting the fact that I will ultimately make the decisions about my disease. I feel incredibly lucky to have him in my life.
This morning I was awakened by a crushing low blood sugar. A slow drift from a dream to awareness, a sudden realization that something was definitely off. As I became a little more conscious I recognized the tell tale sparkles in my vision even with my eyes closed. Then more quickly, I became aware of my head pounding, a headache probably brought on by being low for a while before I was awake. I grabbed for the gummy bears I keep by my bedside, always a quick fix to bring my blood sugars up when needed. I jammed a handful into my mouth and sank back into the warm sheets, still semi-conscious, still disoriented from the low. I lay there and waited for the wooziness to subside, hoping that I would be able to get a little more rest before the morning officially began. But then I noticed the soft light of early dawn slipping through the blinds, telling me that I'd have to get up soon anyway, so I just lay there and waited to feel a little better. Once the immediate symptoms subsided I checked my pump and saw that it was just turning 6:00, close enough to my normal time for getting up. So I did. My head still throbbing, my stomach a bit upset from the sudden blast of sugar. This made me sad today for some reason. I'm not sure why since I've experienced the same thing so many times before. But there you have it. Today was just a little harder somehow.
Success is an interesting concept. At the end of the day it should be a very personal thing, but often it's not. Our culture has very high expectations around what constitutes success. We live in a world which celebrates the doing of everything, at warp speed and preferably all at the same time. Our hero's perform and achieve. The person who can have a family, hold down the big job, manage a fabulous social life, volunteer, write a novel, bake the perfect pie, all while remaining beautiful and persistently youthful in the process is celebrated as the modern ideal of success. More is more, and the having, doing and being the most is best. And anything less than that is well, giving up, not living up to your full potential, in a word, failure.
It's only recently that it's become clear to me how much this idea has overshadowed my life. It's not that I'm a crazy workaholic or hyper overachiever per ce, but rather that the fear of this kind of "failure" (as defined in these narrow cultural terms) has weighed heavily on my heart and mind for decades. Though I have a successful career, a happy marriage, great friends and good health, I still worry that I'm not doing "well enough". I want to live a fully realized life and live up to my potential. I want it and I expect it. To accept anything less would be letting myself down my modern mind tells me.
The idea of letting diabetes factor into this pursuit of the "successful life", let alone fuel any kind of trade off has felt like yet another way to settle for "less". At best diabetes needed to be approached as a distraction that should be "dealt with as quickly as possible" so I could get on with "living fully", as if these were two separate things. Diabetes was to be minimized so as not to "get in the way" of my "real" life. Even the mainstream diabetes party line said I shouldn't let "diabetes hold me back from achieving anything I want". Though true broadly speaking, and certainly coming from the best place, it further fueled the already blazing "high expectation" fire inside me.
I'm reminded of the old adage about women and equality: that Ginger Rogers made every dance move Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in heels. I'm starting to think this describes my life with diabetes. For the longest time I've just focusing on "trying to dance the best dance possible". What I realize now is that in my focus on living to my fullest potential (eg. dancing just as well as Fred Astaire), I've missed the fact that I've been dancing just fine and because of diabetes, doing so "backwards and in heels". In my focus on the modern ideal of not only dancing but trying to do it faster and better, I've missed the fact that living life fully with diabetes is noteworthy unto itself. I need to take into account that diabetes does demand attention and focus for me to remain healthy, that it takes time. And that needs to be factored into the equation of my life, by me, first and foremost. Not as an excuse, not as a reason to give up or settle for less but just seen and acknowledged. Noticing that fact and celebrating it along with seeing the beauty of the dance itself, is becoming MY definition of personal success. A job, a family, friends, volunteer work, the garden, health and yes, diabetes, is successful enough for me!
So let the dance begin!
I think they're the essence of my life with diabetes. I navigate this disease by constantly weighing the trade-off of one choice over another. Very tight control may stave off complications in the future, while in the immediate, it may also limit the quality of my life from day to day. Not paying close attention to diabetes in the beginning may make a person feel unhindered by it, but complications, and all the limitations and danger they bring with them, are almost a guarantee with that approach. Obviously these are the most black and white of comparisons, but you get the idea. What exactly is the right balance, the right trade-off, I ask a hundred times a day? With the big trade-offs, and the little ones too.
Like should I really have that handful of crispy, hot, freshly made tortilla chips? Is the delight of them now worth the probable higher blood sugar a few hours later?
Is the desire for a longer walk with my dogs on a warm summer evening worth the risk of a possible low after bed because it's out of my usual routine?
Should I forgo the idea of vacation because the reality of it is usually so much more work and physical struggle than just staying home?