Diabetes Awareness Week

This week it’s National Diabetes Awareness Week in Australia #NDW2017 and I couldn’t resist posting this V-Log because it seems some things are still missing in how Diabetes Australia chooses to spread awareness through their campaign #itsabouttime. Yes, it’s important to know the #4t’s, the warning signs of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, but my big question is… what if you don’t have those symptoms? And why don’t we share more about the people who live well with Diabetes?

 

When I go Low, I reach Higher

I can remember having a conversation with my doctor early on about my condition. I kept telling him I was afraid of going low because I’d read about it online. He kept telling me not to worry. “You can’t go low because your problem is high blood sugar. You’re not on insulin so we don’t need to even go there.”  

Now that I’ve been properly diagnosed as a Type 1 LADA and on insulin things are different. I’ve learned that balancing your blood sugar is like playing Russian roulette and that a low blood sugar happens because I’ve either miscalculated the amount of insulin I need to match the number of carbs in a meal, or I’ve exercised and injected too much insulin, or my basal insulin ( long-acting insulin) is set too high.  

Luckily I’m not hypo unaware (a condition that occurs when your body can no longer sense a low blood sugar due to repeated hypoglycemic events) but that doesn’t mean I don’t have anxiety around a low.

Being hypo unaware is probably the single biggest issue anyone has living with type 1. To remedy this we prick our fingers and check our meter’s incessantly, use CGM’s, have something called Glucagon (a shot which has to be mixed and prepared on the spot by someone else to get glucose into the blood stream fast) or have special diabetes alert dogs who can smell the change in our blood sugar levels, to remind us through barks and nudges to check that we are going low.Parents of young kids who live with diabetes set their alarms throughout the night to finger prick their kids, or check their CGM’s making sure they are in range. Imagine a young mum waking through the night year after year hoping their little one is still alive.

I don’t want to paint a horrific picture but it IS horrific.

So what happens when we are conscious enough to treat a low? Well often the fear and impatience of having to wait 20 minutes to see if your levels rise means 2 sips of juice turn into eating the entire contents of the fridge (no joke) By then, your blood sugar is screaming high and you have to inject again to bring it back down.Because I still produce that little bit of insulin and because I eat such a low carb diet my levels are very stable.

I’ve only gone below 3.9 a few times and have experimented enough to know exactly what will raise my levels. But I have had a few fridge binge moments that I’m not proud of. Like the time my meter said I was below 3.9 and I actually wasn’t and by the time I checked again it was too late!

For me having a steady yoga practice to help me deal with the stresses associated with the complexity of this disease has absolutely saved me.

It’s the number one reason why I jump on my mat, work with my breath and explore all aspects of this beautiful and ancient discipline. When I go low I reach higher inside myself to be grateful and accepting of whatever comes along. And sometimes a little thing like a flower on my afternoon walks makes all the difference.

 

Letting go and relaxing in

I’d been dreading my visit to the Diabetes Educator ever since I decided to split my basal dose over three months ago. When the day came I was so tense that I must have gone to the restroom about 5 times. Every time I washed my hands and looked at myself in the mirror I told myself, “it’s going to be fine and even if your A1c isn’t perfect it’s not the end of the earth.”

As soon as I sat down in her office I burst into tears.

Handing me a tissue she asked me to talk about it. I explained how terrifying it was to split my basal, how I couldn’t seem to get the ratios right and that I couldn’t stand seeing higher readings on my meter. I admitted that I felt like a failure and added that when I read everyone’s posts on my diabetes facebook groups it made me feel even worse. “People seem to achieve such balance and even with everything I know it feels crazy that I should be struggling.”

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She listened compassionately and reminded me that people always put their best face forward on Facebook. She said that in reality, I had no idea how those people were achieving their awesome A1c’s and besides it’s not a competition. She suggested we look at the cold hard facts before we passed judgment on how I was managing my health.

When she had loaded up all my data she pointed to the flat line on the screen and said, “see that? You’re flat lining, no peaks and valleys, this means you have a high protective factor. Even though overall your levels are higher than we’d like they don’t fluctuate much, a sign that your body isn’t under constant stress from crashes and peaks.”

She added that the yoga practices, low carb diet and simple daily regimes are doing wonders to keep me balanced.  “It takes time for the body to adjust to a new regimen. Let’s give it another three months to see what happens before we adjust things further.”

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I felt so much lighter when I left the clinic and lucky to be able to work with someone open and progressive. She didn’t tell me to eat more, inject more or change my approach. Instead, she encouraged me not to give myself such a hard time and to trust the process.

As a yoga teacher, I’ve always encouraged my students to learn to relax. Some postures facilitate opening and others force us to work harder. If someone has a tendency to overdo things I always give them practices to chill down whereas if I can see a student finds it hard to get motivated I push them and cheer them on.

The practice I am going to share with you today is all about relaxing and letting go. I find that hip opening and inner thigh stretches are perfect for this. This sequence takes 4 minutes and definitely stretches and frees up the hips. I’m pretty open in the hips so just be aware you might find your body might not go as far as what you see in the practice.

I also filmed it spontaneously so yeah.. it was a wild hair day… But rather than get my self all made up and look glam. I thought better to show the real deal. I was doing my practice that day to cheer myself up after some hectic highs…. forcing myself to chill down and release my frustrations.

As always I’d love to know how it feels so drop me a comment below…

With great respect… Rachel

Dancing with Diabetes

This last month has been all about my obsession with Ballet. It started when I was in the airport on my way back to Australia and Misty Copeland’s, Life in Motion miraculously leaped off the shelf and into my hands for the long flight ahead. Reading about her incredible talent and rise to stardom amidst a very unstable home life and her detailed descriptions of a life in Ballet, brought back vivid memories of what it was like to live and study dance in New York City during the early 80’s.

Back then I was an aspiring Ballerina and spent every spare minute either attending dance classes or watching the greats in American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet. My own career in dance lasted well into my 30’s. I never made it to a big company, ( I danced with a regional dance in education company in Tasmania), but I did get to taste what it’s like to perform day in and day out.

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Don’t let anyone tell you that dancing is glamorous. It takes grit, hard work, and guts to do all that graceful stuff and nerves of steel…not only to face external criticism but one’s own nagging self-doubt, fear of failure and much more.

Initially, when I was diagnosed with diabetes, I tried to dance down my blood sugar levels. I’d wake up, head to my yoga room, blast out music and thrash about for 20 minutes hoping for the best.  It worked quite well in the beginning stages when I was still producing quite a bit of insulin but later, not so much. After a while, any kind of exercise raised my levels and depleted my adrenals and sadly I stopped dancing.

Reading Misty’s book made me wonder. Are there other dancers out there who live with Type 1 Diabetes?

Enter, Zippora Karz, a former ballerina with the New York City Ballet who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes just as her career was taking off within the company. Lucky for me she is also a writer so to continue my passion for all things Ballet I couldn’t help devouring her book, The Sugarless Plum. It’s such a great read and perfect for anyone living with type 1 diabetes who also loves all the intrigue of the Ballet. I soared along with Zippora as she realised her dream of joining the company, and then crashed when she was diagnosed, misdiagnosed and re-diagnosed again. Her journey to health and wellbeing is remarkable, her courage unshakable and her persistence in living her dream in spite of the many challenges and unknowns awe inspiring. Can you tell I love this book!

So after a month of watching videos of Ballet, reading about Ballet and thinking seriously about attending an Adult Ballet class, I decided it was time to digress from my usual yoga for diabetes topic and share with you a short interpretive dance about what it feels like sometimes to live with diabetes.

I’d love to know how you find creative ways to manage the many emotions that arise in a life with diabetes so feel free to comment below…

With great respect…

Rachel

4 easy yoga poses for diabetes

After last weeks passionate blogging for diabetes blog week it’s time to return to the main reason I’m blogging here in the first place. To help you get motivated and inspired to incorporate yoga into your daily diabetes management plan.

For me, yoga is my life. I really notice the difference in my blood sugar levels, mood, and overall well-being if I even skip just one day of practice.

So what do I do when I’m super busy, wake up late or travel?

I do a pose or two to reduce my stress and increase my sensitivity to insulin.

Recently I was asked to share what postures I feel are best for diabetes? It’s so hard to choose just a few because all the postures are of benefit!

But if you twist my arm…the following 4 poses in the video below are my absolute favorite.

Have a great practice!…Rachel

If you’d like to find out more about how yoga can help you manage your diabetes each and every day check out the rest of my blog and if you’d like to get the first chapter of my book for free go here

How I live beyond

It’s been quite a week of sharing, reading and commenting for Diabetes Blog Week and I just want to give a big shout out to Karen Graffeo for spearheading this wonderful project.

Lets wrap up the week by sharing a little more about ourselves, beyond the chronic illness we or our loved ones live with.  Share an interest, hobby, passion, something that is YOU.  If you want to explore how it relates to or helps with diabetes you can.   Or let it be a part of you that is completely separate from diabetes, because there is more to life than just diabetes!

Yes there is definitely more to me than diabetes! I’ve worn many hats throughout the last 51 years. As a young girl, teenager and young adult I was a disciplined dancer with a heart set on being a professional one. I studied ballet and modern dance and spent hours and hours in studios refining my craft.

Eventually I  became a choreographer, danced professionally with companies in Queensland, Sydney and Tasmania and was the head of dance at a small dance college in NSW.  While all that dancing was going on I also took up yoga. I took my first yoga class at 17. And started getting serious when I was 23. I’ve been teaching and practicing yoga for over 30 years. Phew! When I look at that number I can’t believe it.

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Besides my absolute passion for yoga and movement, I am also a musician. In fact a singer songwriter. I kind of keep that part of me on the QT. But I have produced three CD’s of devotional music. If you want to check out a music video I made of one of my songs I’ve posted it below. In it I share another passion; creating geometrical patterns out of flowers. In yoga they are called yantras and I have travelled all over the world facilitating workshops for people to create these.

Besides yoga, dance and music?

I’ve taught in the Steiner education system (Waldorf schools) in Australia and NYC, made kids yoga videos and been a performance poet.

I’m also a mother to a 23 year old son who lives in Melbourne and married to a yogi, South African who makes my heart melt.

I also live between South Africa and Australia…which means lots of travel, time zones etc. which does play havoc with a life with diabetes but somehow I’m still standing. Must be the yoga!

Oh and I am also a total nature freak! I try and spend every day in the forest, by the beach whatever I can manage.

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So that’s me in a nutshell… most people don’t know me as someone who lives with diabetes. They pretty much forget most of the time because for 6 years I didn’t really let anyone know I had it. The last three years I have become way more public and involved and have started advocating for diabetes and sharing how  yoga has supported me personally to manage my health and how I am convinced it can help others. I’ve spent the last two years writing a book which will be published in the U.S on October 10, 2017.

So I am also a writer.

With my life so very full of all the different hats I wear to express myself creatively I have to work hard to chillax (thats what my Italian friend Carlo Alberto calls taking a chill pill) and that’s exactly what I plan to do once this week of diabetes blogging is over.

In the mean time i hope to read everyone else’s blog today so I can find out more about what you love and who you are beyond your life with diabetes!

Have a great weekend!

Rachel

If you’d like to find out more about how yoga can help you manage your diabetes each and every day check out the rest of my blog and if you’d like to get the first chapter of my book for free go here

 

 

 

 

We are all in this boat together

It’s still Diabetes blog week and I’m a bit late today with my submission. That’s what happens when you fly thousands of miles and have to do everything on your to-do list first before you can write!

Now seems like a great time to explore the emotional side of living with diabetes. What things can make dealing with diabetes an emotional issue for you and how do you cope?  

I often wonder what life would have been like if I hadn’t been on the slow boat to diabetes. I mean what if it had never happened? Would I have ended up visiting a naturopath at 18? Would I have started yoga? I guess I’ll never know.

So many of the choices I made as a young adult were based on the fact that I never really felt healthy. There was always something wrong with my digestion or with my energy levels. Looking back I know it was all to do with the fact that my onset of type 1 was super slow.

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As a young adult, I was racked with anxiety, shame, and guilt and there was often a feeling in and around the area of my spleen that felt like I was being sucked into a vortex.

I’m convinced that every health issue was related to the demise of a beta cell. The weird emotional feelings were probably also related. As a young person, I didn’t really know what to make of it. As an adult thankfully I do.

I’ve never really been a depressive type but since diabetes, that’s changed. It’s not that I get so depressed that I can’t get out of bed, it’s just that the whole thing gets so overwhelming sometimes that I feel a sense of hopelessness and despair. The worst part is I keep those crappy feelings to myself.

I know it would do me good to talk it out but to be honest I couldn’t be bothered. Being a yoga teacher and having a reputation has some stigma attached to it. We are the ones others look to for inspiration. We are supposed to rise above it all. Well, surprise, surprise… trying to hold myself to some sort of standard doesn’t work at all!

Diabetes is by far the single most challenging thing I have ever had to deal with and I can do yoga till the cows come home and still feel pissed off, moody, angry and down about it.

So how do I climb out of my own hole when the going gets rough?

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By cutting myself some slack. By taking it one day at a time, one step at a time, one insulin dose at a time.

And writing. Writing it out is like talking it out, only better. When I write I don’t care about the reader.  I write for myself. As I write I can see what it is I actually think and feel. Once it’s out there I can decide if it’s true for me or not. Words are a beautiful mirror in which one can objectively reflect.  What that axiom? The mirror never lies.

Another thing I love about self-expression through the written word is that it connects me with other writers. In the Diabetes space, we are all passengers on the same boat. We may have different cabins and have brought our own belongings but we share the same trajectory. I love meeting with my fellow passengers on deck. This week has been especially healing for me. Reading everyone’s blogs, and commenting and receiving comments has helped to heal the wounds of diagnosis and beyond.

When it comes down to it we all face this disease in our own unique way. But knowing I’m not alone, that there is a thriving community has made all the difference.

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If you’d like to find out more about how yoga can help you manage your diabetes each and every day check out the rest of my blog and if you’d like to get the first chapter of my book for free go here

With great respect…Rachel

The worst visit ever

I’m sitting here in the airport in Johannesburg after 10 hours of non-stop flying. With a couple of hours before my next flight, I have time to share my 3rd post for Diabetes Blog Week 

Having diabetes often makes a visit to the doctor a dreaded experience, as there is invariably bad news of one kind or another.  And sometimes the way the doctor talks to you can leave you feeling like you’re at fault.  Or maybe you have a fantastic healthcare team, but have experienced blame and judgment from someone else in your life – friend, loved one, complete stranger.  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!

My GP had always been a cool guy. Into alternative things, he swam with dolphins, played the didgeridoo and always recommended herbs before meds. I’d been seeing him on and off since my son was born and we had a nice friendship outside of the doctor’s office.

The day of my diagnosis was just like any other day.  I’d been feeling fatigued, dizzy when I ate sweet things and my ex-husband had suggested we both get some blood tests. He’d gone to see the doctor first and was told that he had high blood pressure, but the news about me was way worse. The doctor wanted to see me straight away. “What do you think it could be?” I asked him. “Well I know it’s not Cancer but it is something to do with your blood.”

Sitting in the waiting room that day I was jittery. It seemed odd that I was that unwell. I’d always managed everything holistically with my health, hence seeing that sort of doctor.

As soon as I entered his office he told me to sit down. He swiveled back on forth on his chair and tapped his pencil on my blood test result form. I don’t know how to tell you this…but the news isn’t good.

And then he just blurted it out. You have diabetes!

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I can’t begin to tell you how I felt, my heart rate went through the roof, the bottom dropped out of my world. Diabetes is everywhere in my family, especially on my mother’s side. In fact, my great grandfather died from diabetes ( he was diagnosed before there was Insulin) Ironically, My birth date is the date he died.

It was hard to keep track of what the doctor said next. He told me that he had seen that my blood sugar levels were elevated so he checked my A1c. Sure enough, that was elevated too. “It’s a long journey to reverse this, you’ll have to find your own cure. I’m not quite sure how you got this…”

Next, he’s started telling me that I had to change my diet and exercise more while shoving pamphlets in direction. Then as a parting gift, he told me to Google diabetes.

As I drove home I just couldn’t believe what he was saying. It couldn’t be diabetes.

I think things could have gone really differently that day and if they had I might not have gone on to deny my diagnosis. It took almost 6 years to have actual diabetes symptoms so it was easy to shove his diagnosis under the rug.

If he had sat me down and explained to me that the beta cells in my pancreas were attacking themselves and that it couldn’t possibly be my fault. If he had asked me if there had been some really stressful event that may have triggered the onset.  If he’d told me that there were resources and tools to help me manage this and a worldwide community for support. That I could live a full happy healthy life. That there were people just like me that I could connect with, who could mentor me through the little things. Even just a few words of support and encouragement could have made all the difference.

Luckily in spite of that god awful doctor,  I survived!  In a way, diabetes has grown on me. I no longer blame myself for getting sick.

After nine years of living with diabetes, a lot of yoga and study of traditional yoga teachings, I’ve realized that there is no ‘ rhyme or reason’  for anything. Rather the whole of life, whatever happens, whether we call it good or bad… is a reminder to enjoy everything exactly as it is.

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If you’d like to find out more about how yoga can help you manage your diabetes each and every day check out the rest of my blog and if you’d like to get the first chapter of my book for free go here

With great respect…Rachel

What can I do to make a difference

Today is Day 2 of Diabetes Blog Week and already it’s been amazing to read and share with our thriving #DOC. I feel completely inspired and in awe of the writing talent out there and if you are reading this, you guys are my diabetes heroes! Even though I was diagnosed 9 years ago I still feel like the new kid on the block when it comes to managing this disease. After yesterday’s topic,  I feel armed with a whole new arsenal of tools to manage my diabetes. Thank you!

Here’s today’s prompt…

 So today, let’s discuss how cost impacts our diabetes care.  Do you have advice to share?  For those outside the US, is cost a concern?  Are there other factors such as accessibility or education that cause barriers to your diabetes care?

I feel like I am one of the lucky ones. I was born in Holland, grew up in the U.S and moved to Australia when I was 18. I can still remember the day I received my medicare card and my shock at how anything related to doctors and medical tests was free. While my siblings and parents complained about the costs of doctors and insurance in the States and worried about my health care, I told them not to worry. Australia isn’t called the lucky country for nothing.

That was when I was 18… things are definitely more costly now, but as my friend, Frank from Type 1 writes  just shared on his blog,

” If I have to have diabetes, then there’s no place I’d rather have it than in Australia.”

Living in Australia with Diabetes has been affordable and it’s one of the reasons I feel grateful to call it my home. But I do live and travel often to other countries and have come to realize that Insulin, test strips, needles and diabetes devices aren’t always on tap and don’t come gift-wrapped.

Recently I’ve been living in South Africa. It’s a land of contradictions with a huge disparity between the people who have and the people who have not. I’m basically a tourist here so not really part of the medical system but recently the harsh reality of what it’s like for the people here hit home.

A friend came for a visit and with her was Abongile.  Somehow it came up in conversation that I had type 1 diabetes. Abongile just happened to be a dietician in a clinic in Johannesburg for about 30 kids with type 1 diabetes. I was showing her my freestyle libre flash glucose monitor and how it worked. She was astonished. The kids she cares for and their parents can’t even afford the insulin they need to survive. Not only that, because there is no awareness of type 1 in the school system, the kids can’t take the risk of being on more than two shots a day. Apparently, hypos are a no go because the teachers don’t have the skills to respond appropriately. So all the kids in the clinic are on mixed insulin and do something called ‘carb blocking.’ They are allowed a certain number of carbs per day, based on the types of foods they eat. A packet of sweets is one block, a bag of potato chips another.

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As a nutritionist, Abongile works hard to educate parents about the types of foods that are good to help the kids manage their levels. But some parents can’t even afford healthy fruits and vegetables. When I asked her if there was any money from the government to help the kids she laughed and shook her head. The one thing they have been able to achieve is to give each child a glucometer.

After speaking with Abongile I was completely floored and felt ashamed. How could I even consider complaining about the fact that the freestyle libre was $90 out of pocket, or that my favourite brand of test strips was on back order, or that I have to pay very little for a years supply of Insulin when these kids don’t even get to take the Insulin they need.

It immediately made me want to help. Before Abongile left I made sure I had her contact details I told her about an organization called Type 1 International which helps people get access to Insulin and medical supplies. I wrote a letter to one of the founders about the clinic and my meeting with Abongile. It felt good to put them in contact with each other and that somehow I could make a difference.

Abongile wrote back to me a few days later…

“Thank you very much for your quick connection with the T1 international on my hospital’s behalf. I am very grateful for your keeping to your word as well :). I will keep you updated with any/all positive developments for the clinic from the T1 foundation. “

Something I learned from my exchange with Abongile was that whatever we can do to help others have access to Insulin and diabetes-related supplies we must do. Whether it’s helping someone with less access, lobbying our governments, writing about it or networking to spread awareness.

Even the smallest action helps.

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If you’d like to find out more about how yoga can help you manage your diabetes each and every day check out the rest of my blog and if you’d like to get the first chapter of my book for free go here

With great respect…Rachel

The wonder and magic of a life with diabetes

Woohoo! It’s here! Diabetes Blog Week!

For the next 5 days I’ll be writing on a specific topic along with other diabetes bloggers, sharing how I navigate the world of diabetes. Below is the first topic and my corresponding thoughts.

Tell us about some good things diabetes has brought into your life that you never could have expected?

The nervous system is a delicate thing, tiny fibers that crisscross the body and send signals from your brain to different key areas, telling it to move, breath, digest, feel etc. For some reason nine years ago, mine started to go haywire. Being a long time yogi I consulted my yoga books to see what the problem might be. After months of research, I reached my conclusion.

I was in the middle of a spiritual crisis.

Thinking that I was on the fast track to enlightenment wasn’t necessarily the best approach. For starters, it kept me from questioning my physical symptoms or seeking medical answers. If I had known that diabetes isn’t something you get from poor diet and lifestyle, or that it doesn’t just affect children, I would have dug deeper.

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Back then there wasn’t much awareness about the signs and symptoms of diabetes.  Even now when I tell people I have Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults ( LADA) they scratch their heads and look at me funny.

Finding out that there was a reason for the strange jittery sensations, erratic digestion, food sensitivities, a constant sugary taste on my tongue and the feelings of exhaustion was a total relief. It’s not that I was happy to have diabetes, it’s just that my search for answers caused so much internal havoc, that having an actual diagnosis released the pressure valve.

I cried a lot those first few weeks after diagnosis. It felt so good to let go.

It’s been quite a journey since then and aside from those initial feelings of relief, I spent years trying everything I could to conquer the beast. What I’ve learned though is that you can’t ‘conquer’ diabetes. It’s not a country you can invade and call home.

Am I the proud owner of a life with diabetes? hmmm….it’s hard to put that answer into words…

What I can say is that diabetes has changed me for the better. It’s made me raw, honest and put my feet on the ground.  It’s also motivated me to open up and share through my writing more about what it means to live with chronic illness and spread awareness about the disease.

Diabetes has also inspired me to be deeply grateful. I used to take life for granted. I’d wake up every morning, dive into the day and never stop and think. Wow! I’m alive.

Now, I make a concerted effort to stop, look around me, drink in the beauty of this life and remember…

Life is precious. It’s not a given.

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If you’d like to find out more about how yoga can help you manage your diabetes each and every day check out the rest of my blog and if you’d like to get the first chapter of my book for free go here

With great respect…Rachel