Don’t Forget To Breathe

Don’t know what Diabetes Blog week is? Head over to Karen’s blog to read about it and check out this year’s topic list. I’ll be participating this year and I’m looking forward to reading and writing along with the rest of you! 


Today’s topic isDiabetes and The Unexpected.

Being prepared for the unexpected is not exactly my forte. Given the option, I’d never have a plan. I’d toss my emergency bags and my to-do lists and I’d live footloose and fancy free in a world where nothing ever went wrong. But things do go wrong in this world of ours, of course. Insulin goes bad, batteries die, reservoirs leak, and cannulas bend. You’re so excited about going to a salsa bar that you run down the stairs, fail to notice your pump tubing trailing behind you, get caught on the railing, and lose the battle (what? who did that happen to?) Your relaxing swim in the sea turns into a disaster when a grain of sand makes itself at home in your infusion site and you finally understand the purpose of those cute plastic cap covers that Medtronic includes in every set. A tiny demon called Norovirus takes up residence in your gut and you spend twenty-four hours praying to the porcelain god and wondering whether you’ll ever feel alive again. Ketones emerge and hang around and you end up abandoned in the back room of a Spanish ER, hooked up to an IV.

Sure, eighteen years of Type 1 Diabetes have by default taught me to be more responsible and to consider the possibility of an apocalypse or electrical failure every time I step onto the metro, but I don’t feel particularly qualified to give tips on planning for the unexpected since I am so often an improv actress in my own life with diabetes. I always carry syringes, juice boxes, and extra insulin with me. Many of my coat pockets are stuffed with individual sugar packets, or the remnants of them. Illness unfortunately tends to be difficult to avoid and can quickly get out of hand, so I set standards for when and where to seek help.

My best advice: always carry twice as many supplies as you think you’ll need (especially when traveling), always be open to the possibility that something ridiculous will happen, and then be ready to forgive yourself when your reactions are less than poised. Oh, and don’t be like me. Emergency supplies are best kept in one or two cute little bags, not strewn into separate corners of your backpack (I’m working on it, OK? It’s on my to-do list). Now take a deep breath and trust yourself.

WHAT DO PEOPLE EAT?

Every day, every single day, I ask myself that question: At breakfast while I run down the escalator, biscuit dust flying from my mouth. At lunch, when I spend money I don’t have on a sandwich I don’t need at the cafe across the street. I repeat the question at dinner when I stand in front of the stove making an omelet (again) and then on weekends when I wonder about the nutritional value of guacamole for dinner. I laugh about it on Sunday morning, when a friend informs me that omelets are a no-go for breakfast (they are “demasiado Americano”). He walks down, then up, my one-million stairs to buy bread for tostadas. Spaniards don’t do breakfast omelets. Duly noted.

Confession: I’ve spent the past few days googling variations of “What did Oliver Sacks eat every day?” (sardines), “What did Steve Jobs eat every day?” (apples and carrots exclusively, sometimes for weeks), and “How do I expend zero mental energy on deciding what to feed myself?” Sometimes I  go to the grocery store and spend twenty minutes staring at the canned goods aisle. My mother would probably say buy grains and lentils! And I’d say and then what? I want simplicity. I want four to sixteen cups of coffee a day, a library in my bedroom, and hair that I don’t have to wash. I want bagels to be as healthy and as easy to bolus for as salads are.

Diabetes responds well to routine, stability, and balance–especially when it comes to food. I, however, am a woman who knows no middle ground. I am either fiercely focused or I’m thinking about and doing eighty-two things at once. Feeding myself suffers from this wild disposition. Apart from sharing good food with people I love (the communal aspect of eating is one I can get down with, one-hundred and ten percent), preparing food just feels like a distraction from something else I’d rather be doing (you know, like writing this blog, researching, or dancing to Bey). I suppose that’s how Oliver and Steve felt, blessed be their genius’, and why they adopted such extreme diets.

So seriously, what do people eat? I love a good sardine. Apples and carrots are great, too, but I will not face a room full of adolescents running solely on VC and beta-carotene.  I’m thinking about using this corner of the interweb to document my forays into feeding myself so, if anyone reads this, please do advise: what’s your one go-to meal? Make it low-carb, cheap, nutritious and easy to prepare and I’m all over it. I (in case you haven’t guessed by now) am sixty percent omelet.

Until next time, CHEERZ!

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Move More, Ruminate Less

The last time I referred to myself as “a runner” I lived in an almost-arctic Steel City and I was angry at everybody. I ran in the cold and in the rain and after snowpocalypse when the streets were empty and the snow still white. My legs were firm. I was always surprised when I saw them in the shower. They looked like they belonged to someone else.

Quite a few years have gone by since then. I live under the sun in the center of Spain now. The most intense training I do on a regular basis is carry groceries up to my apartment (which, to be fair, is a fifth-floor walk-up, aka: no joke).

My winter vacation was strange. It rolled along without melancholy until one day I woke up ruminating on all the things I don’t have enough of: money, time, close friends to call for coffee. I lost my appetite, dreaded the mornings, wrote mostly of dreams, felt useless, and wished I was working. People call this “the winter blues.” I called it if I see one more bulging bag of gifts, I’m going to lose it. The only thing that might possibly have satisfied my homesickness (aside from going home) would  have been a dance with a Philadelphia Mummer. Any Mummer would have done. Wishing a Dunkin Donuts barista Happy Holidays! may also have have sufficed.

Those feelings spilled over into the new year and finally into a work week that dragged on and on, into mornings I greeted begrudgingly and nights I wondered why the hell it was I’d decided to move again? Eat your fruit & veggies, drink watertry to go to sleep earlycall somebody, go outside. Those things help. This morning I woke up late, fed and dressed myself, put on red lips and headphones and headed to Dunkin Donuts. To-go coffee has always been my remedy for homesickness in Spain. It feels wasteful and silly–and it is. But drinking from a cardboard cup once a year is worth the relief, however momentary it may be, that mediocre coffee and its memories of home provides. Cup in hand, walking through my new city, my favorite neighborhoods, I thought of running. Of solitude. Of those days when I didn’t mind the weather, when I ran to release, when I learned that my body existed for reasons other than being hated.

I have to train againI have to remember what that’s like.

This time around I’ll learn different lessons but run for the same reason: to remember how much exists outside of me, to live in words other than should, could, and would.

Some Nights Are Like This

The radiator clicks. Hot water runs through the pipes. I’m used to sleeping in cold rooms. This room isn’t freezing though–not usually, not for me. I’ve been colder is what I mean to say. But tonight I have a visitor who has blood much warmer than mine, so I’ve turned the heating on.

At 4 o’clock in the morning I’m peeling blankets off my body. My head hurts, my teeth are sticky, and vomit feels imminent. I know my number will be high, though part of me would rather not. It’s four-hundred and thirty-two.

Was it the mandarin oranges? Did I forget to bolus? I didn’t.
Was it the walk, or lack thereof?
The position of the moon, the way the waiter looked at me, a gypsy curse from the Puerta del Sol?

These questions and a line from a Lucia Berlin story are my 4 a.m. companions. “Fear, poverty, alcoholism, loneliness are terminal illnesses. Emergencies, in fact.”

I creak my way into the bathroom where the floor is cold. New pump site, just in case. The needle stings this time. I draw breath, squint my eyes shut, raise a middle finger high. This is so old. I’m so over this. (–> Insert un-publishable litany of swear words. <–)  I don’t feel like being kind to myself. I feel like being asleep. I’m graceless and exhausted and infuriated by the fact that this disease is always different, often unpredictable, never-ending. I’m mad that I won’t get these moments back. I’m worried about what monsters they might create, those pathologies I’ve known by heart for far too long.

Tomorrow I’ll be grateful and accepting again. Tonight I’m standing on the cold floor, in front of the bathroom mirror, flipping my body off. Some nights are like this.

Should You Lose Your Mind Over That Dumb Comment? A Handy Flowchart.

Para leer este post en Español, haga clic aqui.

My father is an Irishman and he is full of strange, whimsical sayings that sound incredibly wise either because they are, or because hearing them said in his Southern Irish lilt just makes them sound that way. Surely it’s some combination of the two.

“People love to wonder, don’t they?” is his default response to hearing about gossip. “Well, let them wonder.”

People do love to wonder, mostly about what other people are doing and the myriad of ways in which they are living. It’s an international sport, in fact. The sad part is that wondering is often just comparison (that silly thief of joy) in its early, more innocuous stage. Another thing that people love to do, which often occurs after wondering, is make unwelcome comments. And why not? You can do it anywhere! About anything! You can comment on how Nancy is raising her children, you can comment on the diet that Javi just started, you can comment on the state of Jenny’s new apartment and you can even comment on how your best friend Bob just isn’t living up to his potential—how sad! See? Nothing is off limits! Naturally, then, a chronic illness is fair game. I wish I’d had a handbook as a teenager and even in my early twenties about how to deal with people who say dumb things re: diabetes. Would I have listened to it? Not sure. Handbooks aren’t really my thing but I think in this particular case a bit of reductive how-to may have served me well.

Continue reading “Should You Lose Your Mind Over That Dumb Comment? A Handy Flowchart.”

Dancing Through my Diaversary

Para leer este post en Español, haga clic aqui.

In August of 1998, you would have found me in the back seat of my parents’ white Chevrolet Celebrity, en route to Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. I was 30 minutes away from being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, 15 miles away from practicing insulin injections on fresh Florida oranges, four words away from a different life. Your daughter has diabetes, they said. Today when I attempt to reflect on this, 18 years now gone by, I think exclusively of a line from Kanye West’s 2005 hit “Gold Digger” which refers to the moment in which a man discovers that his kid ain’t his. The line is this one:

18 years, 18 years
And on her 18th birthday he found out it wasn’t his!

I don’t want to dig too deep today.

So I’ll just say this:

It’s been real, diabetes. You’re an adult now.  If someone were to show up at my door today and say, whoops, we made a mistake, this disease isn’t yours! I wouldn’t mind. Not at all. But they won’t. And that’s alright. It’s been eighteen years and I’m still healthy and I’m still dancing (poorly, strangely, unabashedly—but dancing nonetheless). If the only thing that comes to my mind today is a wildly unrelated Kanye lyric, I suppose I’m pretty #BLESSED.