What Do People Do With Their Lives?

Its been pretty silent here since D-blog week. Warsaw was wonderful in every single possible way. I knew it would be when I got off the airplane in Modlin, a 45 minute ride from the city center, and stepped onto a bus to find the driver blasting Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman!” An endearing little Polish teenager pointed to the seat next to me and asked “chair open?” as his friends laughed at him. The rest was pierogis, happiness, history, and these majestic little squirrels that eat from your hand:

PolishSquirrel

Since then its been a lot of the same late spring, early summer nonsense. I’m doing the annual what am I doing with my life? song and dance. A long, long time ago I began my undergraduate career as a nutrition major with plans to become a Certified Diabetes Educator. It wasn’t long, however, before I became an English Literature nerd: moody, broody, threatening to have James Joyce’s face tattooed onto my forearmNow I teach English and try not to melt in the Madrid heat and while I’m content–happier than ever, even–I’m hoping to change tracks. I am happiest when I’m writing, editing, or lip-syncing along to Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls.” On people: I love them but often dream about arriving to a desk and quietly starting my day with a cup of coffee. Y’know, at a job that involves social interaction but also lots of solo time.

I don’t regret having studied literature. I’d go back and do it again, all grown up and less given to dramatics. I just wish that I’d honored my scientific side a bit more or learned how to program a computer (translation: I wish I had one of those more marketable, better-paid skills). I’ve always been interested in working in Public Health/Diabetes Education but I also think I’d be fairly content working in something totally unrelated, like as a potter’s apprentice or silent actress, given it allowed me the time and the means to dedicate some of my free time to working with the diabetes community. I’m not an expert in anything but I’ve always felt that the best public health and policy workers would have ample firsthand experience as patients. But where to start? And where to get the money? And the time?

What do you do with your life? Do you like it? Will you be my career counselor?

Advertisements

Lunch with a Wannabe Shaman

It’s Day 3 of Diabetes Blog Week and Today’s topic is: The Blame Game.

“…Think about a particularly bad instance, how that person talked to you, the words they used and the conversation you had.  Now, the game part.  Let’s turn this around.  If you could turn that person into a puppet, what would you have them say that would leave you feeling empowered and good about yourself?   Let’s help teach people how to support us, rather than blame us!”

33789629371_813958636e_o


Imagine this.

I’m at a business lunch in Spain. It’s not my business at all but I was invited anyway and I never pass up a ribeye steak. Everything is going as well as well can go despite the fact that the boss is insisting that we take a selfie together and the whole thing feels more like a reenactment of a Mad Men scene than a productive business meeting. And then one of the project managers starts talking about natural healing and how all medical problems are rooted in childhood. He mentions diabetes and asks if we know what it is. This is where I chime in.

“Yes, I’m diabetic.” I tell him.

Judging by the complete quackery of what has been said so far, I feel pretty certain that I will soon have to stop myself from crying or screaming or both. I’m not wrong. He goes on to inform me that my diabetes was caused by a lack of love in my parents’ marriage and that I have the power to cure myself with my mind! During eighteen years with diabetes, I’ve heard a lot of suggestions: eat kale and only kale, just diet and exercise!, pray, do four handstands every morning, only wear cotton, eat cinnamon. This one was by far the worst.

bianca-giving-side-eye_zpseb1be4de

Since this was three years ago, my Spanish was good but not great. I didn’t have a solid grasp on the language at an academic level but I did my best to respond anyway.

I informed him of a few things:

  1. Before the discovery of insulin in 1922, diabetic children actually withered away and never reached adulthood.
  2. There are numerous documented cases of death in diabetic children whose parents discontinued treatment and opted to pray instead for divine intervention.
  3. My own reality: I have lived with this disease since I was eight years old and it’s not going away anytime soon.

He insisted. He knew the facts, “but all ailments are really just a matter of the mind.” I was struggling not to cover my ears and roll onto the restaurant floor as I told him I didn’t respect what he was saying. The boss corrected me. I didn’t agree with what he was saying, that’s all.

Here’s the thing. Not only did I not respect what he was saying, I found it extremely offensive and irresponsible for someone to suggest that the children who are still dying from this disease today and the adults who are paving the way as the first generation of diabetics who actually reach retirement simply aren’t thinking hard enough. I didn’t respect it three years ago and I certainly don’t now.

The game part of this post is fun but but to be honest I’d probably turn this guy into a puppet and then relegate him to the bottom of the toy chest. Given the chance, I’d go back in time as a slightly-more-eloquent, calmer woman and I’d try to have the conversation again.

My method: I teach when I can and try very hard not to lose my mind.

The Many Mantras of Checkup Season

Excerpt from Wislawa Szymborska’s “Life While-You-Wait”

A quick update on my last post:

As it turns out, people eat a lot of things. Vegetables, for example, chopped and thrown onto a pan with olive oil and then into a bowl over a bed of very trendy quinoa. Feta cheese, for example, which was likely enjoyed by the Greek Gods and just so happens to be scrumptious in salad, couscous, or as a midnight snack with tomato, olive oil, and pepper.

Good news? I’ve gotten better at nourishing my body while still honoring my culinary laziness.

Bad news? I’m still the sort of person who would rather dig into a meal than photograph it, so there are no pictures to prove that I’ve consumed anything other than omelet lately. I have no recipes to share, either. That’s because these dishes are underwhelming and largely self-explanatory. Said recipes would read as follows: “cut some veggies up (however you please), toss them in a pan (with care and love), dance around (to something Irish), then eat.”

So. There you have it.

MadridBirds

Life rolls on. April arrived with all her beauty to the city of my dreams and so too did the pesky word procrastinator (see: me, see also: will I ever learn?). I finally requested a health card from the clinic in my new neighborhood today.

Length of time I avoided this task: six months.
Length of time it took me to complete: between eight and twelve minutes (walk to health center and brief pause to admire an alleyway included).

I have an appointment with a new doctor who will write me scripts, schedule blood work, and refer me to an endo and an eye doctor for those oft-avoided,  anxiety-inducing yearly checkups that make me repeat the same mantras year after year after year:

“Knowledge is power.”
“You got this.”
“You’ll be fine, girl.”
“If you’re not fine, you’ll still be fine.”

And then the pep-talks:

“You’ve conquered monsters with uglier names. If it turns out that you’re not fine (but I’m sure you’re fine, don’t worry, you’re totally fine), you’re more than qualified to confront whatever stupid senseless thing life may have to offer. Fear is fine. Laying on the floor is fine, too, but you probably won’t have to do that because YOU ARE FINE. YOU ARE TOTALLY FINE. It’s a DOCTOR’S VISIT. Ok, fine, it’s three doctor’s visits, but you know what? That’s great news. You love people-watching and the culture of the Spanish waiting room is the best thing that’s ever happened to you. This is gonna be fantastic.”

“You haven’t always done your best but that’s because you’re not a machine and that’s FINE! No, it’s more than fine. You know how angry those self check-out scanners at the grocery stores make you? Those are machines. They’re the worst. They’re unforgivable. You’re not the worst. You are forgivable.”

Diabetes: that sometimes quiet, sometimes clanky chronic illness that makes otherwise sane young women talk to themselves out loud.

Never quite fully prepared for anything and lately certain that I wouldn’t actually want to be, I let anxiety have its moment. I admire the beautiful building that houses my new health clinic and think about nine-year-old me at a dingy office complex in Pennsylvania, unaware that one day she’d be walking into this place, privileged enough to go to the doctor even when she felt just fine.

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.

Books That Helped Me Live a Better Life

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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

Como Enfrentarse a “Los Comentarios”

Mi padre es irlandés y tiene un amplio repertorio de sabios refranes. Sonarán así porque lo son o porque escucharlos en su acento irlandés sureño hace que suenen de manera peculiar. Seguramente será una combinación de ambas cosas.

Mi padre dice muchas veces “a la gente le encanta opinar, no?” refiriéndose al cotilleo. “Pues déjales que opinen,” afirma en tono jocoso.

Pues sí, a la gente le encanta opinar, especialmente sobre lo que hacen y como viven los demás. De hecho, es un deporte internacional. Lo que a mí  me resulta un poco triste es que las opiniones radican en una comparación y la comparación, ya sabemos, es el ladrón de la felicidad. Así se podría decir que las opiniones son su forma más innocua. Otra cosa que a la gente le encanta es hacer comentarios desagradables. ¿Y porque no? ¡Se pueden hacer en cualquier lugar, sobre cualquier cosa! Se puede comentar sobre la manera que tiene una madre de criar a sus niños, sobre la dieta que acaba de empezar Javi, sobre el estado o aspecto del piso nuevo de María o incluso sobre el hecho de que tu amigo Bob no esté alcanzado su potencial en la vida—¡qué triste! ¿No ves? No hay nada fuera de juego. Está claro que una enfermedad crónica también es objeto de crítica.

Continue reading “Como Enfrentarse a “Los Comentarios””