August 28, 2010
It took me 18 years after my initial diagnosis to really wake up to what it means to live well with diabetes. Up to that point I had just been plugging along and having diabetes was just a nagging background fact about myself. I knew I had to take insulin injections everyday or I would feel sick. I had long ago foregone testing my urine because I thought it was tedious, stupid and discouraging because my pee test results were always that murky brownish green or orange color. I usually ate sensibly, but I ate whatever I wanted to without regard for how much or how little. Those were the days before carb counting and creative meal planning and we were supposed to follow the good old ADA exchange system, which got boring and old in my teens. I pretty much stopped using it by the time I left Toledo, Ohio to go away to college in NYC to attend NYU School of the Arts.
During my early 20’s I lived the life of a free spirit and traveled as a dancer and a spiritual seeker. I searched for answers to “heal” my diabetes in available alternative health settings that were prominent in the mid 1970s. I tried juice fasts and being a raw foods vegetarian, so I could get rid of accumulated toxins in my body. I tried yoga and meditation practices to realign my physical and spiritual self. I tried herbs and supplements that were supposed to “cure” diabetes. I even believed that I could fast myself off of insulin and with hard work to apply affirmations, visualization and prayer I could reactivate and stimulate my beta cells to get my body to make insulin of its own. OH MY GOD, how little did I actually know at the time and how arrogant and stupid I was!
I did learn a lot about healthier eating of natural, minimally processed foods and how our thoughts influence the outcomes we experience, ie, the power of positive thinking. I knew I wanted to achieve some level of healing with my diabetes, but I did not understand what I needed to do to really take care of myself because I was pretty clueless about what was going on inside my body. I thought I was doing the right thing to get healthy, but in reality I was starving myself instead and destroying my health. I was losing weight and thought I was maintaining a healthy weight for my small frame, but the weight loss was more from muscle mass being consumed as energy and fuel because I wasn’t eating properly or getting enough insulin to maintain health and sustain life. Fortunately, I was physically active with dance, yoga and outdoor agricultural activities.
From 1978 to 1982 I went through several episodes of severe DKA. Let me tell you, D sisters, if you haven’t been there, you don’t want to go there – and if you have been there, you don’t want to go there again if you can avoid it! The fourth hospitalization for DKA, in as many years, came when I was married to my first husband and was after I had miscarried my first pregnancy at 6 weeks. I prayed and asked for healing. I asked GOD to please make my diabetes go away, and if it was not possible for it to be “cured”, then please let me learn what I must do to be able to live with it without getting sick with DKA for the rest of my life.
The healing for me came in the form of a hospital RN coming into my room and asking me what I understood about how insulin works in my body. I had to admit that I didn’t know. She gave me a book, published by Eli Lilly in 1979, on what insulin is, what it does and why. I remember she apologized to me that it was written on the level of a fourth grader, but she encouraged me to read it anyway, saying “You might learn something new.” Well, I read it from cover to cover – twice! It opened my mind and for the first time in my life with diabetes, I had an understanding of what was insulin was all about. Before I went home, the nurses introduced me to monitor my BGs on an Ames Glucometer. I began to absorb everything I could about what to do to take care of my diabetes. I joined the local ADA chapter and volunteered to hang out in the office to answer phones and do filing, copying and help with mailings just so I could learn as much as I could about diabetes updates from other people with diabetes who worked or volunteered there. Eventually, I was trained as an ADA peer educator and began to attend peer to peer support groups in Long Island and NYC.
And so was the beginning of my journey towards becoming a Certified Diabetes Educator.