We're on the third day of Karen's stellar DBlog Week, and today we're asked: May is Mental Health Month so now seems like a great time to explore the emotional side of living with, or caring for someone with, diabetes. What things can make dealing with diabetes an emotional issue for you and / or your loved one, and how do you cope? (Thanks go out to Scott of Strangely Diabetic for coordinating this topic.)
The title of this prompt has had ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down" stuck in my head for days. I don't want to talk about that, though. I want to tell you a story about the most recent day that brought me down.
On Monday, I went to see my endocrinologist. If you’ve read past posts, you’ll know that we’ve been seeing each other for a decade, and that our relationship has had its ups and downs, but has vastly improved since I moved back to Toronto in 2010, found the DOC, got an insulin pump, and got my diabetes groove back (though is it considered getting it back if I’d never really had it to begin with?)
It’s been a strange feeling, going from absolutely dreading an endo visit to going in pumped (pardon the semi-intentional pun). This time, I was pretty excited. My glucose levels had never been better, if my meter was to be believed. More lows, but less bouncing, and much more in-range. I very recently joined a gym, and felt last weekend that I was kicking diabetes’ ass. I was sure that this A1c was going to be my best ever. It was going to start with 6. 6.7, 6.8, 6.9, maybe…but definitely 6. My average on the meter indicated 6.7, but I figured it didn’t tell me the whole story, so I didn’t think it would necessarily be that low, because I was hoping.
I have a daydream that I come back to every so often. I finally break the 6 barrier that I’ve never been able to crack. My endo opens the exam room door with a bottle of champagne in hand. I break down in happy tears. “I can’t believe I finally did it,” I say. “I can’t believe I’ve come so far.” A sports jersey with my last name and A1c number is revealed. Lucas, 6.8. The jersey is mounted, attached to wires, lifted to the ceiling for display. The number is retired. I’ve done it. Finally. One final achievement. One thing to cross off my bucket list.
I don’t know why the 6 barrier, as I call it, is so important to me. You’d think getting down to 7.1 once would have been satisfying enough. It certainly was to my endo. But not to me.
But on Monday, I didn’t get a 7.1.
I got a 7.4.
Now, that’s not a bad number, and it’s down from the last two. But it’s not even in my top three, and I was expecting at least .5 less from all the data I had. Therefore, even though it was respectable, I felt a sharp shock of disappointment. The wrong kind of tears prickled behind my eyes. I needed to make sure I had heard right. “That’s disappointing,” I said. The resident was not mean, but not very comforting (and still had quite a bit to learn; thankfully my CDE, who has T1 herself, showed up to guide her through some aspects and nip any offense in the bud); “yes, it’s not the greatest number, but it is down from last time.” She didn’t know how hard I’d worked. She couldn’t see it. Then I found out that, not only had I not lost weight via dieting and exercise, I had gained a pound (the nurse was shocked – apparently I really, really don’t look like I weigh what I do – what does that even mean, it’s like “you don’t look diabetic” – what does a diabetic look like? – but I’ll choose to take that as a compliment). In any case, I was feeling really discouraged about everything. I wasn’t pumped. I was dumped.
Then my endo came in, heard my number, and immediately congratulated me, and it was a very strange feeling, but it was what I needed to hear. While we’ve had our differences, here is a woman who knows my history. I know she knows my history, and suddenly things were once again in perspective.
A few years ago, I “knew” I had no chance of being a “good” diabetic, so if I had to be the best something (and I always did) I had to be the best at being the worst diabetic. It was almost a form of pride to be that “bad.” In undergrad, Princeton kids loved to one-up each other on how little sleep had been had, how many pages of work were due, how few hours were left to do it. Much of what we took pride in was how stressed we could make ourselves. It’s not necessarily the healthiest way to live, and often indicates a certain degree of fatalism.
Now, my perfectionism has swung the other way, and I’m disappointed by a number my endocrinologist sees as perfectly viable. I was “happy,” and she was not, when I was mistreating myself. Now she’s happy, and I’m not.
But if I thought about it this way enough, I could be. Because disappointment can be positive. Because what this disappointment means is that I can see myself do better. I can expect myself to do better. I can see better as a possibility. I can see an A1c starting with 6 on my horizon. I CAN say, “I can’t believe I’ve come so far.” Because 6 barrier or not, I have. I have come so far.
I probably won’t be fully happy until that number actually gets entered into my chart, but the visualization of it is a good thing. To have disappointment, you need to have hope. Recognizing that is something to hold on to.
So I think I have a new goal. It’s not to break the 6 barrier, and celebrate with champagne and tears, and retire my jersey with an achievement unlocked. It’s to break the 6 barrier, take it all in, smile a little, and say, “okay. What’s next?”