This is my eighteenth year as a diabetic. I become a diabetic adult this year. Ha.
Do I know much more now than I did as a newly diagnosed nine-year-old? Hopefully. Am I still getting it wrong? Definitely.
So January is actually almost over, but I’ve been thrown into 2014 headfirst at work, trying to suddenly be a professional grown up. I’ve also been reflecting (as one does in January, in between lamenting both the bank balance and the post-Christmas waistline) on what the hell happened last year, and what I’m hoping to get from the year ahead. Aren’t I original?
No matter if you stare at it face on, or you tilt your head and squint your eyes to take a closer look, 2013 was the biggest year in my life to date. I’m sceptical of myself for saying this because it’s the sort of thing that gets thrown around a lot at this time of year, but it really, really was. When I signed up to The Big Challenge (nay – I didn’t sign up. I MADE IT UP), it was a distant, abstract event that I couldn’t really comprehend reaching, let alone completing. But I bloody did. And I learnt an unquantifiable amount along the way – about myself, about my diabetes and my attitude towards it, about what we can achieve if we put our minds to it, and most importantly about the effing jeffing insane amount of completely wonderful people in this world and, somehow, for some reason, in my life.
Yep, gush fest alert. But bear with, I’m going somewhere with this.
My family blew my mind. My friends blew my mind. Acquaintances blew my mind The other cyclists and runners blew my mind. But most of all, the DOC blew my mind. I wrote ‘complete strangers’ in place of ‘DOC’ just then, but that is in no way befitting of the people whom I may not have physically clocked eyes on in the real world, but supported me in the real world more than many and helped me believe that I could do it in the real world. Could there be anything better to come of getting lumbered with a bit of a shitty medical condition? Amazing people that believe in you even though you’ve never met them?
This was absolutely exemplified when I DID get to meet two supremely fantastic and wonderful members of the DOC just before Christmas. Karen and her son Max (who has type 1) are the kind of lovelies that will regularly interact with type 1 chat on Twitter for I suspect the same reasons that we all do – to understand it better, to learn from others, and a lot of the time to feel that we’re not wading through this alone. They sponsored me, and they supported me through every single kilometre of that journey. I’ve also found Karen on Twitter at 2am when we’re both up fixing night time hypos and passing the time while we wait for the sugars to rise back to normal – that exact moment in the dead of night when your slumber’s been interrupted and you’re not quite with it and you’ve never felt more alone – when you need someone who knows exactly what’s going on. There they are in the palm of your hand. Amazing.
So I deem that 2013 was the year of people. People made that year – real people, Twitter people, diabetic people, non-diabetic people, work people, best friend travelling people, party people, reflective people, supportive people, shiny happy people…
I’ve professed for a long time (because it’s true) that people are, for the most part, what makes me happy day to day. The people in my life for real, virtually, new relationships, old friendships, people near and people far far away, even friendships that haven’t made it as we’ve both evolved apart, strangers I observe or read about – all these people make me who I am.
I consider myself lucky to be able to get such delight in something that is EVERYWHERE on this fair planet earth, but for the first time I really learned that I am also a person that can make me happy. In fact, I’m probably the most important person in the spectrum of all the peoples making me happy.
Obviously I was already aware that it’s important to like yourself and what you project on the world, but I didn’t realise the power of really accepting and loving myself and what this could help me achieve – diabetes wise, cycling 200 miles in three days wise, or otherwise.
This might all sound a bit profound, but it’s taken me a long time to get where I’m at with life with type 1 in terms of taking care of myself and my outlook, and writing about it has prompted others to reach out in ways that breaks my heart because the sense of desperation, hopelessness or loneliness that living with a condition like this clearly throws up for people is not a happy consequence, but it is one that is completely understandable as a young girl or boy with a life to get on with.
Where did this come from then? The training. All of the training.
I’ve always exercised for that feel-good feeling, often to also try and keep the flab down, something I’ve struggled with since I was diagnosed and resulting insulin belly, rounded cheeks and a general chunky exterior popped up pretty rapidly as a result of being put on insulin. But when I took on the challenge my motivation shifted – I needed strength, lung capacity, the ability to run 13.1 miles and cycle 200 miles without ending up at the side of the road in a tragic heap. That shift meant the scales weren’t an issue, nor was grappling with how I may or may not have been shafted by the universe into having to count, measure and assess every morsel that entered my greedy gob. My motivation was the finish line, and the hard-earned cash people had generously donated, and as such my focus never wavered.
What I gained instead when my head wasn’t occupied with the numbers on the scale, was how much better my mind worked, how much more focused I was at work, how much more productive I was with my life in general, and how calm, organised and attentive I became, because I was doing good things to my body – strengthening it and nourishing it – and it was grateful. The months of quite gruelling and time-consuming training were pretty self-indulgent when you look at it that way; I shunned a fair part of my social life because I was in the gym or on the bike, and I was lucky not to be in a position where I was distracted by boys or children or anything else. But it allowed me to finally become a friend to my body instead of an enemy – and that has been the greatest thing I could have done for my diabetes control.
The emails I get in response to my blog show me that I’m not alone in this, and I believe this is something we really need to focus on – not just as diabetics, but people who face pressure in life – time pressures, peer pressures, social pressures – we’re just so hard on ourselves as a nation; always berating ourselves, dashing about, not nourishing ourselves properly and expecting our bodies and minds to just crack on and deal with it. But we’re not invincible, and if we don’t love our bodies, how can we expect them to work for us? When I stepped back and looked, I realised that my poor body, that I was so despondent and frustrated with, had supported me and stuck by me, no matter what, for every day of my life to date. How on earth could I feel so despairing of it, even if it had decided one day that my pancreas would stop working? How dare I be so cruel?
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not totally at peace 100% of the time, I still get frustrated (daily) with the challenges of living with this condition, and I’m not skipping along the pavement 24/7 in a Julie Andrews fashion handing out flowers to strangers (ok, ok, sometimes I skip. Just a little bit). But I AM heading into this year with the goal that I’d like to expand this website to address these issues; the ones that we just don’t open up about enough. We’re taught at school to treat others as we wish to be treated, but it’s very rare (especially as girls and women) that we treat ourselves in this way. To many of the men reading this I probably sound far too philiosophical; soppy, airy-fairy, justgetonanddosomeexercisewoman (apologies if that’s something of a damming generalisation on how the male mind operates), but I do believe this is at the core of what’s taking over the young minds of our society – in an obsessive, toxic way that doesn’t allow us to just simply live our lives and be happy. It will still be YFT1, and diabetes is still at the centre of this, but I think the issues and challenges that life with Type 1 throws up are applicable to anyone who struggles with anything. Know anyone who doesn’t? Didn’t think so.
It took me 26 years, four months of training, a week at a yoga retreat, 200 miles on a bike, 13.1 by foot and a whole load of inward questioning to figure that out. But as the demands of life are beginning to make the cracks in us all more pronounced, I think it’s time to pay ourselves some attention.
Happy New Year!