Yesterday, somewhere above Antarctica I celebrated my diaversary, the day I was diagnosed with diabetes. 11 years ago my life took on new meaning. At the time I had no idea why or how. I was stunned, shocked and miserable. I can honestly say that 11 years later I am the happiest I’ve ever been.
My life didn’t take a turn for the better just because of diabetes, at diagnosis my marriage was also undergoing serious strain. Diabetes forced me to get real about what was and wasn’t working in my life. Anything that contributed to stress had to go.
I didn’t heal all at once, rather it happened in stages. I started by changing my diet, eating more whole foods, ditching leftovers, eating more consistently. I added Ayurvedic regimes like daily self massage, herbal tonics, sipping hot water throughout the day and making sure I was heading to bed before 10 pm. I added daily meditation and pranayama to my yoga practice, activities, like flower mandala creation, long morning walks and time to reflect. I had a space in my house where I built an altar. A place to remind myself to be grateful each and every day for life and all its gifts.
Eventually my marriage ended and my son moved to Melbourne and it was time to sell our family home. That’s when I packed up and moved to Goa. At that point just two years post diagnosis I didn’t know that I was living with type 1 diabetes, I still thought it was type 2, or some sort of mistake. All the health practitioners I went to see insisted it couldn’t be diabetes. So I went to India hoping for respite, or even a cure.
The cure came after I met my husband, John and as I mentioned in a previous post when I discovered the profound teachings of Atma Vidya, Self-Knowledge. Being given the gift of seeing beyond my condition and circumstances as an individual changed my life permanently. It was the turning point for every single moment in my life where I had tried to lay blame. Like the idea that I had brought diabetes on myself, that there was something that I had done wrong to ‘get’ this disease either real or imagined.
I learned that taking responsibility for every action and reaction isn’t some sort of cosmic destiny, it’s being a grown up. There is no reason ‘why’ I live with diabetes. It is what it is. It’s up to me how I live with it moving forward.
So here I am 11 years later living a life I could only have dreamed of. So to celebrate this momentous day I say thank you. Thank you to diabetes, for my life.
What’s the single most powerful tool from yoga that’s helped me manage my diabetes? Atma Vidya. Atma Vidya is Self-Knowledge. Atma means Self and Vidya means knowledge. What do you think of when you hear these two words put together? Before I was led through these beautiful teachings I thought SELF meant me, my name, my ideas, my beliefs, my broken pancreas. KNOWLEDGE referred to knowing this, getting this.
I was mistaken.
It’s easy to know what I have. I have a name, a job, a relationship. I have thoughts, ideas and beliefs. I have a condition called diabetes. It’s obvious that I know about things that I have. The deeper question is who does the name, job, relationship, idea, disease belong to? Who is that?
I travelled to India and to the heart of the tradition to find out. The tradition I studied with is thousands of years old. Knowledge shared orally in an unbroken lineage. This kind of teaching is not available in your neighbourhood yoga studio. It has only just recently been brought out of orthodoxy and secrecy. It’s a legacy that was reserved for the priests in India. It’s only due to my teacher and his teacher breaking with tradition that enabled my partner John Weddepohl (who teaches this knowledge) to study this methodology for 7 years in India. And lucky me, after meeting John in 2011, also having the privilege of studying with his teacher.
Going through the teaching on an ashram in India while dealing with diabetes wasn’t easy. I wasn’t on insulin at that stage and was trying to control my levels with diet. With special permission I was able to set up my room with a fridge and cooker. That way I could cook low carb meals and control my levels.
When I started the course, I was nervous about how I would manage. We were told we would have to sit in the teaching hall without leaving for the duration of the lecture. I needed to pee every hour so that freaked me out.
The structure of the course was three 1.5 hour lectures a day, in between we were expected to write out our understanding of the lecture and then hand those notes to our teacher. That way the teacher knew exactly how we were assimilating the teachings. Sitting on a cold marble floor 4.5 hours a day learning about the SELF that wasn’t what I thought it was was confronting.
We spent days dismantling our ideas about everything and I mean every single thing! Imagine being shown without a doubt that the idea that the body is sick, imperfect, unfixable is just that…an idea. Even my thoughts about my ideas where stripped bare. Revealing the ‘I’ thought. This idea I have about myself.
If you’re reading this and thinking…WHAT?
Yep that was me in India too. Until the whole teaching reached its peak.
You know when you’re trying to untie a knot and how it takes ages to loosen and then finally you find that one part of the string which unravels the knot? That’s what it’s like when you are shown the nature of Self.
Once I understood the nature of Self, my relationship to diabetes completely shifted. I no longer felt burdened by it. Something my teacher emphasised when I met with him privately, was that the body is not our business. We don’t know why it does what it does. Our job is to get out of the way, to see the body as something that is happening in our presence. We can do one of two things hinder or aid the body. If the body requires food, water or sleep it’s up to us to provide that. If the body needs medication, again we must give it what it needs.
I have often shared in my posts that I have diabetes I am not my diabetes. The knowledge I gained in India is the essence of that phrase. I can never be what I have.
I have been obsessed with Twitter since September. Growing up in the United States in a liberal democratic family means I have a keen interest in U.S. politics. The election in 2016 floored me and I have watched the steady decline of ‘the facts’ over the ensuing three years. Not that facts are all they’re cracked up to be. Think about it, as much as science claims a finding to be reality that same theory can also be disproved. Guaranteed change is a constant. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim for justice and liberty and all those other principles though. It pains me to see so much division, hatred and frustration emerging in a country where I was taught that no matter what your circumstances you could achieve the fulfilment of your dreams.
In a new paradigm of ‘alternative facts’ it’s hard to know what to believe, who to trust and what’s real. With all the fake news out there I’d like to note there’s one truth that can’t be faked.
Diabetes is a fact. Pancreatic beta cells have tanked. Insulin is required. Life is on a knife’s edge.
I can remember thinking early on after my diagnosis that there must have been a mistake. Maybe the lab messed up my blood tests. I wasn’t the type to have this disease and I was so healthy. A few health care providers even corroborated my theory. Even as late as 2008 some practitioners in Australia didn’t know that out of the 40,000 people diagnosed each year with type 1 diabetes, 50% are adult onset.
Fact: “According to the ADA, 1.25 million Americans have this disorder. This is about 5 percent of all diagnosed cases. The ADA estimates that 40,000 people receive a type 1 diagnosis each year in the United States.” Source: Healthline
Swallowing this fact has been a total reality check. Coming out of denial changed everything.
When it comes to chronic health issues especially ones that are invisible it’s hard for people to validate or understand our struggles. Keep in mind it’s not up to anybody else to verify what we are going through. Empathy and compassion is a powerful ally but in the end when the bugger’s hunkered down and immovable. What to do?
Flush out the tiger!
It’s only through coming out and spreading awareness that truth can come to light.
It’s why I’ve been posting relentlessly here and all over social media. Plus writing about diabetes is therapeutic. It gives a voice to my inner world.
It’s also how I feel about the state of the union at the moment. Lets get it all out in the open. Let’s get to the bottom of this whole debacle. Let’s see the naked truth.
Once you know the truth about anything you’re free.
Today ‘diabetes’ was the big topic of conversation amongst everyone I spent time with. I love how friends are curious about how I manage my daily life with this condition. I enjoy clarifying the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, why we take insulin or sugar and the ins and outs of daily management. There are many diabetes myths out there, like people with diabetes can’t have sugar, or we take insulin for every situation, whether low or high, or that our diets caused our diabetes.
Diabetes is so much more complex and mysterious than that. It’s a bit like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. What I deal with in my iteration of diabetes is different to every other person with diabetes. That’s what makes it both frustrating and predictable. Living with diabetes means you can rely on its uncertainty.
And don’t get me started on how each person living with diabetes relates to their condition emotionally and mentally. In a recent conversation, a friend with type 2 diabetes stressed how exhausting it felt having to stay so vigilant with daily blood tests and visits to the doctor. In the end her way of dealing with it was to say, “I have diabetes, so what.”
Listening to her take on diabetes made me reflect on my own approach. I could completely understand her position. Taking anything so seriously that it restricts your life can make you more unwell.
This is where I segway into my personal approach to management. It’s definitely the serious approach, where fear of complications such as loss of vision, amputation, kidney damage,and neuropathy give me the discipline and impetus for strict control. I’ve used my body my whole life to express myself through dance and yoga. The body being my joy meter. I remember thinking as a teenager that if I couldn’t walk, or dance I didn’t know how I’d cope. I feel the same way now as an avid yoga practitioner. I see the body as a powerful tool for health and wellbeing. If you can open, stretch and strengthen the body you can directly affect how you deal with any physical , mental or emotional stressor.
Luckily the daily discipline required of a dancer and yogi has its benefits, I utilise it to be comfortable with eating the same kinds of foods at every meal, taking approximately the same amount of insulin, walking at a specific time each day, checking my blood sugar often and using yoga and meditation to mange my mindset. When I veer from my daily routine it takes days to catch up. It’s hard for me to experiment and try new approaches even when I know those changes would benefit me. I don’t want to beat myself up about my approach though… I’m fine with it. As one of my diabuddy’s once said, “You do diabetes your way and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Walking with my friend today we talked about how it feels when I see a positive number on my glucometer or I know I’m doing good time in range. ” Do you feel like you can take a moment to soak in the tone of that feeling? In other words stop and feel how good it feels to know your managing well? ” I absolutely loved the way she put this. If I can acknowledge the good feelings, really soak them in then perhaps those more challenging moments i.e low or high blood sugar freakouts, will be less stressful. I like the idea that even something as stressful as diabetes gives me the opportunity to embrace those feel good vibes and to heal my nervous system.
A nice way to acknowledge that even though I have diabetes, so what.
One of my husband’s axioms is, “Every day is a perfect day. It just depends on what you do with it.” I love it. And it’s true, it’s up to me how I navigate this thing called life.
Take last week when we moved interstate. You might be thinking we packed a moving van, moved into a lovely house and spent the week unpacking all our stuff.
We’ve been shacked up in an Airbnb fighting ant invasions while we house hunt, get to know the locals and continue our daily practice.
Before we moved everyone kept asking me if I was sad to be leaving where I’ve lived for 35 years. Trying to answer that is hard. John and I have been on the move for the last eight years. That’s eight years of living in Airbnb’s, sublets and house sits. As fun as it is to be a global yoga teacher, I’m ready to be in one place for long enough to teach weekly classes.
I also get how I can’t make things happen just because I want them to. It’s going to take time to find a place to live, to develop a reputation in the area and to find the right medical team as well. I can feel the tendency to want everything to be perfect right now. It’s tough facing my perfectionism. It follows me wherever I go.
Just before we moved I went to see my CDE to get my latest A1c. The results were even better than last time and a cause for celebration. But I didn’t celebrate. Not because I’m not proud of myself for smashing my goals, but because I can’t ignore how much work it takes to have a “normal” A1c.
A number is just that a number. It can’t reflect the sugar surfing, the micromanaging, sleepless glucose popping nights or the endless times I have to drag myself onto the mat and convince myself to practice because I know that if I don’t my levels will suffer.
Being a yoga teacher doesn’t mean yoga comes naturally to me. Like everyone else, it takes discipline to keep it up. Even the most hardened practitioners admit they struggle. So how do I keep myself enthused?
I use my imagination and visualize myself going through my favorite postures, taking the time to slow my breath down. Basking in the afterglow of meditation I imagine my day post-yoga. I picture my body strong and resilient. I’m prepared knowing challenges will arise but trust I’ll be more accepting in my response.
As I visualize all these benefits from my practice I start to get excited about actually practicing and before I know it it’s happening. I’m on the mat making my dream a reality.
I’ve had to take a few steps back in the last few weeks from the blog. Not because I don’t have anything to say, but because there’s too much to say and I’ve needed to collect myself.
My passion is yoga and to share that in whatever form that takes. So in teaching regular classes I’ve come back to my rhythm. We all have a rhythm when we’re doing what we love. Some people like to call it flow.
For me, it’s a connection to words and images weaving together into a dance of postures. I love talking about the benefits of the poses, the power of the breath and the magic of stillness. What I love most about teaching is for most of that time I forget about diabetes. Sure I check my levels midway through class or sometimes take an injection, but mostly it’s not my focus.
Whenever we are doing something we love and completely immersed in that it’s YOGA. Yoga means wholeness, completeness. In reality, this is our natural state we just don’t know it. Capturing that flow state when living with chronic illness, especially diabetes is a challenge. There is way too much micromanagement involved. I’m definitely guilty of that and to be honest sometimes even doing lots of yoga doesn’t help. It can just end up being another form of escape, control, whatever!
This is where receptivity comes in. Learning to just sit, be quiet and to receive what’s actually happening in that moment. To receive the simplicity of yourself warts and all.
There is a beautiful exercise I often share in class to allow the noise of the outside world to drop away and it relates to the 5 elements, Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space.
Click the image below and join me for this simple 5-minute practice to stop, breathe and receive the beauty of yourself and the moment simply as it is.
I’ve never been someone to feel at home in my body. For as long as I can remember I’ve dealt with feelings of discomfort. The feeling that everything that’s supposed to work in the usual way doesn’t. Digestion, breathing, and vital organs. I’m pretty sure the whole shebang was caused by the sudden death of my mother when I was 11, but I also remember a time before that when my mom threatened to use an enema bag on me when I refused to go to the toilet. I was terrified that my body wouldn’t do what it was ‘supposed’ to do.
Feeling frustrated and disconnected from one’s body isn’t unusual. It seems to be a general trend especially now with autoimmune and chronic health conditions on the rise. When we are conditioned to be comfortable living through our smartphones and laptops. Where productivity and quantity matter more than quality of life. Where we’ve forgotten the vital ingredient for existence. A body.
Stop, take a breath, think. How would you be reading this blog if you didn’t have a body, how would you be able to eat your lunch, without a body? How could you do anything without your body!
As a dancer from a young age, I grew up understanding that my body was an instrument to be pressed and moulded into shape, to be moved into submission. Starved and folded, propelled and pulled my body had to be perfect. In my eyes, this seemed impossible. There were so many imperfections from flat feet to short legs to rounded bits where there should have been bones. So as a teenager I went to war with my body. Expecting the impossible.
Learning to suppress my feelings about my body became the norm for me. As long as I didn’t pay attention it wasn’t there. I longed to feel more comfortable and healthy, but it always felt out of reach.
And then I found Yoga. Yoga changed my life and my relationship with my body. When I first tried the practice I felt awkward, embarrassed, it was nothing like a plie at the barre or a jump on center stage. It was precision, alignment, breath, extension. A feeling of swoosh and whoosh as organs came back to life. It was release and relaxation. Tension easing. And the biggest takeaway was the malleability of the muscles and ligaments. For the first time in my life, my body felt fluid, I literally changed the shape of my muscles.
When I went to an audition for a dance company the year after I started practicing yoga the choreographer mentioned how my dancing had changed. How I moved more gracefully and my physique was lithe. It was nice to be acknowledged but it also terrified me. What if I couldn’t keep it up or worse what if my body failed me altogether.
Many years later it did. Type 1 diabetes takes no prisoners. I have never felt more let down by my body than on the day of my diagnosis. It hurt, it really did.
Climbing out of a hole is no easy feat. I know I’m not the only one who lives with a chronic illness or has had to face the reality of a body that isn’t functioning as it should. It takes courage to see things for what they are. To let go of blaming oneself or feeling ashamed of doing something that may have caused the breakdown.
I am reminded of a story told by W. Timothy Gallway
“When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as “rootless and stemless.” We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.”
Learning to see the body for what it is, is the first step in coming back to body love. It’s your vehicle, your temple, the altar upon which you are able to experience the wonder of creation. It has given you 5 senses to enjoy your surroundings. It has given you a heart to love, lungs to breathe. The ability to experience pleasure, sensuality and the depth of connection. As a woman, you gestate and nurture life, as a man you help to create life. Everybody is unique, a love bomb exploding with passionate expression. Whether healthy or ill, you the enjoyer occupy the body, one of a kind and yet inexorably part of the whole. Take yourself out of creation and the whole creation is incomplete. Watching the dancer nothing gets added to the dancer in the dance.
Loving others comes easily, not loving ourselves can seem like the core issue. I truly believe that in a life with chronic illness trying to ‘love” ourselves can feel too much like a concept. So instead of beating yourself up about not loving yourself enough or that you lack self-love. Try this simple visualisation practice below….
You can record this in your own voice so you can practice it without reading it.
Take a comfortable seat and close your eyes. Imagine that you are walking in a forest. In the middle of the forest, you see a clearing. Step into the clearing and just be present with all your senses alert. Notice what’s in the clearing. What do you see? How does it make you feel? Now gaze intently at the circle of trees surrounding the clearing and imagine that behind each tree is a role, a persona, something you tell yourself about your diabetes or chronic issue, something you tell yourself about your body. Imagine calling those identities, thoughts and roles to come out from behind the trees and call them back to you. As they come to you embrace them. Recognizing them for what they are thoughts, ideas, identities, beliefs, projections. Things that you’ve given energy to. Call them back and let them dissolve in your heart. You are not the beliefs, or ideas about your body. You can never be what you have. You have thoughts about your body. Your thoughts cannot be you. As you recall all these fractured parts of yourself notice how it feels to embrace them and integrate them. Keep calling out to the identities behind the trees until there are none left. Once each one has found its home in you. Imagine yourself filling from your toes to your crown with pure golden light. Pure gold, impenetrable light. Feel your body, strong, resilient, calm and centered. Notice how this makes you feel. Keep feeling the strength of this gold light feeding every cell, bringing you back to total body harmony. Take as long as you need to bask in this light. Then when you are ready. Gently open your eyes and come back to normal waking consciousness…
May the light of who you are be the reminder that gives you the courage to meet every day exactly as it is.
There’s a lot of things I am supposed to be doing today. Writing three blog posts, sending out my newsletter, contacting media, calling a friend, organizing my travels and paying my bills. But I can’t.
I’m tired. Not just because I am on a steep learning curve with my diabetes management having added fast acting insulin to my regime, but because it’s too much to be a one person everything. I wish I could press the slow-mo feature on my iPhone. Life and its pressure are relentless. I ache for simplicity.
When I first set out to write this blog I assumed I’d be sharing tons of yoga sequences, with tips and tricks for making life with diabetes easier. Even though that’s been the main focus, I’ve also realized that blogging about chronic illness and expressing my feelings about what it’s like to live with diabetes are as therapeutic as the practice itself.
When I write I find acceptance and gratitude.
There’s an image I use when things get tough. My yoga teacher gave it to me years ago as a way to let go and acquiesce to circumstances.
I imagine myself on the ground, belly down with arms outstretched at the feet of something greater. Call it divinity, a deity, the beloved, creation. Whatever I call it for me, that image is grace. I literally “pray for grace”
And even if my prayers are not answered the way I would like I always feel lighter, more courageous and ready to try again.
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.
Last night I couldn’t sleep and I know I wasn’t the only one. The biggest question on my mind was, what will the world look like now? What will be the worlds attitude towards America and how will we move forward?
My Facebook feed is packed with fearful and tearful exclamations and words of comfort too. Close friends who practice yoga sharing personal stories of how they’ve coped in the past with tragedy and uncertainty. How do any of us face the unknown?
As this is still #diabetesawarenessmonth and managing diabetes is a 24/7 job this whole election palaver and subsequent result although hugely daunting is also an opportunity to tune in to how any of us cope when faced with something we don’t want to face.
When someone is diagnosed with diabetes often friends and family comment that at least it’s not cancer. At least you can’t die from diabetes. Isn’t it the same with an election result we’d rather not stomach? Surely this isn’t going to kill us and for those of us who live with chronic illness, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
We find ways to more than cope. We thrive!
And how do we thrive? Through acceptance. Accepting the hand we have been dealt with grace and determination.
Do you know anyone who lives with diabetes? have you seen them injecting at a meal, testing their blood sugar, eating differently, perhaps fiddling with a device attached to their belt? If you have then you might have assumed that what they do is easy and that they have adapted.
What you don’t see is the shock and horror of diagnosis. The fear and uncertainty of how they will cope. The grief, and the loss and despair. Even worse if that diagnosis happens to a baby or a small child how that little innocent being is just that, innocent and how the parents for years to come will have to bear the burden. Constant blood sugar checks day and night, injections and more.
The road ahead after diagnosis is harder then anyone can imagine. But somehow little by little that baby grows up, graduates from college and goes on to live a healthy and productive life.
I truly believe that as a human race our ability to adapt is a blessing. We can stare down the barrel of a gun, live in the most appalling conditions, survive holocausts, wars, famine and still love and create beautiful, astounding things that change the world.