Monday, May 11, 2015

Diabetes Blog Week 2015 Day One: I Can.

Welcome to Diabetes Blog Week 2015! Today's topic: I Can.

In the UK, there was a diabetes blog theme of "I can...”  that participants found wonderfully empowering.  So lets kick things off this year by looking at the positive side of our lives with diabetes.  What have you or your loved one accomplished, despite having diabetes, that you weren't sure you could?  Or what have you done that you've been particularly proud of?  Or what good thing has diabetes brought into your life?  (Thank you to the anonymous person who submitted this topic suggestion.)

"You don't think I can love you/But I can, and I will, and I do" -Barenaked Ladies

These lyrics are the first thing that popped into my head when I read this prompt. I thought they were off-topic, honestly. I parody songs often (it's a sickness, really), so I'm no stranger to songs stuck in my head, ready for a twist. Taken out of context as they are, the lyrics whirled insistently through my brain.

Diabetes, you don't think I can love you/But I can, and I will, and I do.

Do I love diabetes?

Do I love it for the right reasons?

Anybody who has known me for more than two seconds knows that I am fiercely proud of my academic achievements. I roar as a Princeton Tiger and as a Columbia Lion. I've always graduated with high or highest honours from wherever I was enrolled. I've done it while often feeling unimaginably terrible.

Diabetes, you don't think I can…But I can, and I will, and I do.

I've only rescheduled one test due to diabetes. I very, very rarely called in sick to work while I was in school. The one time I remember doing so, I was supposed to go into scene shop, lift heavy wooden sets and possibly use power tools, and because my blood sugar was so low I could barely walk under my own steam, I figured it wasn't safe for anyone. The only time I took a paper extension, I was real people sick with walking pneumonia, and I didn't ask for it - I looked so bad that my professor unilaterally declared that I was taking one.

Diabetes, you don't think I can love you/But I can, and I will, and I do.

In a way, I think diabetes made me tough. Sometimes, I actually enjoyed it. One perverse thing about university culture (and I think it's pervasive in our culture in general, with the higher-powered professions and schools most heavily invested) is that we like to brag about our hardship. You got four hours of sleep? Child's play. I'm running on three. You wrote fifty pages this week? I wrote a hundred. You did it with a cold? I did it with bronchitis…and with diabetes. Hard to trump. Diabetes can make you "special" in identity, or in hardship; sometimes for the right reasons, sometimes for the wrong ones. Shakespeare, in his play Antony and Cleopatra, differentiated between Roman and Egyptian cultures. He billed the Egyptians as being in touch with both nature and their own senses, ready with passion, love, and a sense of enjoyment, from which they drew their power. Romans were in love, instead, not with themselves and their world, but with a sense of order and duty. How loyal could you be? How much could you work? How much could you sacrifice? Shakespeare's Romans were in love with hardship.

One of the things about "I can" is that many of us, as people with diabetes, feel we have something to prove. We want to show that we can do just as much as anyone else. This can be a great motivator, driving us toward success. It can also turn a person into a hardship-loving, hard-driving, Shakespearian Roman.

I'm doing this without an insulin pump.

I'm doing this without checking my blood sugar regularly.

I'm doing this without letting anyone in.

I'm doing this without a support network.

I am the best Roman. I am a CENTURION.

I can, and I will, and I do.

When I achieve something, or strive to do so, I am slowly learning to ask myself whether it is something I want to do, or something I feel I have to do, because it's so difficult. Do I have to play the game on the most difficult setting? Do I have to fight this thing at all turns?

Paradoxically, asking myself this question is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

Less paradoxically, it's been one of the most rewarding ones.

It may be a mistake to talk about loving diabetes, because, if I think about it a little more, that's just a slipcover for the heart of this thing. The lyrics don't even refer to diabetes. They really refer to me. How I learned to stop worrying and love diabetes is really how I'm learning to stop loving hardship and to love me.

Five years ago (in fact, I finished graduate school five years, less one week, ago), I found myself out of school for the first time, and I was unemployed. I felt rudderless; I had my achievements, but right now, I had no work to be doing. It was a perfect time to discover a support network in the Diabetes Social Media Advocacy network. Talking to dozens of other people from around the world, I found the hardship lessened, and that it wasn't a weakness; it was a strength. The Roman in me was always primed for war. The other side realized that making peace with the enemy takes more cunning than going in, guns a-blazing. Not only that, it's actually harder, but in a good way. June Callwood, in her wonderful article "Forgiveness" that she wrote at the end of a brilliant life, quotes a source as saying, "anyone who thinks forgiveness is for wimps hasn't tried it." Callwood then writes, as hard as forgiveness is, "it is worth the candle." Letting myself feel better and have the space to heal was a way of forgiving diabetes, and loving myself. Giving myself more tools to do better (an insulin pump, regular testing) is a way of loving myself. Going to the gym now, running up to 10K at a time, something I would have laughed at the concept of me doing - yes, another gift to myself.

I am still guilty of "being tough." When I smashed my dominant arm's elbow into two pieces a couple of years ago, I only took one day off work after the surgery to put the pieces back together, and the only reason I took that day off was because I woke up and I physically could not move. When I brag about that - as I have done - I realize I'm being a Roman again.

But I'm getting in touch with Egypt.

Can I promise I'll never fall back into those ways? Probably not. I still need some of my drive. I'm still overcommitted, but I'm mostly overcommitted to the things I love, and in which I can take real pride, not just hardship-pride. I love being a professor. I love having written a course that is now required for every student taking a BA program at my school. I'm trying, however, to achieve all of this with myself, rather than against myself. To make the hard choices to make things a little easier.

I can, and I will, and I do.


  1. Great post!!!! I think sometimes I forget how tough diabetes makes us. But yes, on the flip side I also forget that I don't always have to be so tough (and stubborn).

  2. I often find myself trying to be tough or not-so-tough, but forget to realize how much D has given me the ability to adapt to change. Thanks for this post!

  3. Great post, Ilana:-) You have a lot to be proud of. Go Tigers and occasionally remember to smell the roses!

  4. I love this post! That perverse thing about university culture, hit the nail on the head... I was an architecture major. What a sicko perverse group that was. I never thought about it in reference to diabetes, but you are absolutely right. I have also come to a point of forgiveness (I think) and the gift of making my health the best it can be (especially with exercise), is truly a gift to myself (and the people who love me). I can , I will and I do. So powerful.

  5. Agreed! I have a nasty habit of trying to one up people and yes diabetes has factored in that occasionally. This post is a great reminder that I need to relax and enjoy rather than being so critical. Thanks!

  6. "We want to show that we can do just as much as anyone else." Love this...and we can!