There are certain things I don’t like to discuss on the internet—namely, anything involving my love life or my political leanings. It’s not because I believe we shouldn’t discuss these things (actually, wait, my love life will never be up for discussion, ya weirdos). Where politics are concerned, however, I prefer to stay out of it. The people of the internet carry pitchforks and these topics are so hugely complex that I don’t think status updates do them justice. Even worse, comment sections tend to skew towards arguments between Your Drunk Uncle and Your Communist Cousin: two people who might kill each other at Thanksgiving, but most certainly will if given the opportunity to do so from behind the comfort of a screen. You guys know The Internet—you’re on it, after all. It can quickly turn into a whole lot of people talking AT each other, rather than a place to gain perspective, understand, and respect one another (I truly believe that the internet can be that when it has its best face on, which is why I’m on it—and also for this).
A few DSMA chats ago, it came to my attention that the DOC is a literary bunch. One of the chat prompts was “describe your ideal Friday night” and at least 70% of the responses involved a good book (also, wine). So I thought it would be fun to share four books that have, in one way or another, influenced my life with diabetes. Without further ado:
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
What does John Steinbeck have to do with diabetes? Objectively, very little. I read this novel in high school between algebra equations, during lunch, and before bed (I was a really cool teenager, obviously). One quote in particular changed the way I approached daily life with diabetes:
“But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win… It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of the deity, saying, ‘I couldn’t help it; the way was set.’ But think of the glory of the choice!”
Ever adept at taking things out of context, the words were like a light-bulb going off for me: hey, I can choose how I react to and confront life with T1. I had a tendency, and sometimes still do, to focus on the bad and weigh myself down with worry and resentment about all the things that weren’t right about being a young person with diabetes. I’d often avoid checking my blood sugar because each “bad” result felt like a personal failure, a prediction of a future that I had no power to change. After reading East of Eden, I thought of this quote often. I tried to embrace the idea that, although I didn’t have the power to cure myself, I did have the power to choose how I confronted and lived my life.
Illness: The Cry of the Flesh by Havi Carel
Part of Routledge’s The Art of Living series, Carel’s slim volume is a meditation on living with illness told through the lens of philosophy. Carel relates her account of living with a rare, progressive lung disease called lymphangioleiomyomatosis(LAM) while incorporating ancient and contemporary philosophy to explore what it really “means” to be ill, and how well-being can be found within illness. She even touches on language and the way that HCPs can deeply affect patient experience. This book is not your crusty, elbow-patch-wearing professor rattling on about a bunch of old dead guys. It is not that hipster you sat next to in Russian Lit saying I think Nietszche would agree that a woman’s significance lies in the fact that she can give birth to a superior, intellectual man. Its philosophy, a discipline that suffers a lot of ‘Does This Subject Matter?’ debate, that is alive and in dialogue with lived experience. It matters here insofar as I think anything else does: by enriching and improving the way we understand our lives.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat by Oliver Sacks
I already mentioned my love for Sacks when I wrote about Spanish health insurance. This was the first book I read of his and I value it, first of all, because it’s fascinating. Sacks recounts the case histories of his neurologically atypical patients in a humble, human way that is worlds away from the cold, purely scientific modern day case history. Many of the stories speak to what Carel wrote about in Illness: finding well-being within a life that is irrevocably changed by and experienced through disease. I have always been fascinated by the ways in which humans adapt to objectively negative circumstances and find ways to accept and assimilate the “atypical” parts of life. That is, of course, always the hope: that we find ways to be at peace in our imperfect bodies.
Lady Oracle by Margaret Wood
This one has nothing to do with diabetes. Absolutely nothing. But I have a soft spot for novels about women who run away, Margaret Atwood is a dream, and laughter is the best medicine.
So, DOC, what do you read? Diabetes related or otherwise, I want to know what’s on your bookshelves!
Para leer este post en Español, haga clic aqui.
A bald man wearing a lanyard slaps a “Donate Blood!” sticker onto my right breast. Headphones in, hands sweaty, and my music turned up, I flash him the “A-OK!” symbol and scurry into the health center. His mouth is moving but all I hear are electric guitars.
I am twenty-five and I have lived with Type 1 Diabetes for seventeen years. Today I am using the national health system in Spain, where I live and work, for the first time. I am more terrified than any human adult should be. I’m afraid that the woman at the front desk will kick me and my American accent out. I’m afraid that, if I am allowed to see a doctor, she will tell me that I must sell my soul in exchange for insulin and test strips.
Un hombre calvo con un cordel colgado a su grueso cuello pega una pegatina en mi teta derecha que pone “Dona Sangre!”. Llevo mis auriculares puestos, mis manos están sudadas, y mi música a tope, le muestro el símbolo de “OK!” y entro corriendo al centro de salud. Su boca aún sigue gesticulado pero yo solo escucho guitarras eléctricas.
Tengo 25 años y he vivido con diabetes tipo 1 desde hace 17 años. Hoy estoy acudiendo por primera vez al centro de salud de mi barrio en España, donde vivo y trabajo. Tengo más miedo que siete viejas. Temo que la administrativa nos eche a mí y a mi acento americano. Temo que, si me dejan ver un médico, me dirá que tengo que vender mi alma al diablo a cambio de insulina y tiras reactivas.