Image: Karolina Krawczyk-Sharma (supplied).
It’s funny how the memory works in critical moments of our lives. It’s strange what we remember.
I remember my fingernails being painted vivid blue. I was planning to go to a New Year’s Eve party with everyone else, but here I was in the hospital, dressed up in a medical equipment. My nail polish matched the colour of the hospital walls.
That was 18 years ago and it was the beginning of one of the longest and most impactful relationships of my life, one that taught me a lot. On that cold December day, on the last day of the year, with the air crispy and fresh outside, I heard the word “diabetes” for the first time. I was 15.
This uninvited partner didn’t sound like much fun. I was shocked and scared. Soon, I had to accept my new duties: injecting my body with insulin a few times a day, monitoring my blood sugar, controlling intakes of carbohydrates and proteins and reporting to my doctor every month. It was overwhelming. There are no days off with diabetes. It is your shadow for good (and for bad). Watch Paper Tiger’s introduction to meditation below. (Post continues after video.)
Like most people I had many misconceptions about Type 1. Obesity and ageing are not the its causes. The pancreas can “burn out” for many reasons, not all of them are understood. “Juvenile Diabetes” (its other name) is most commonly an auto-immune disorder that can start in first months of our life, or as late as our 40s. It is defined as an “irreversible metabolic disorder resulting in a permanent lack of insulin production by beta-cells in the pancreas.”
There are two roads we can choose between when confronted with a so called “incurable disease.” It can either be a source of great misery, or a great opportunity. These roads cross at times but neither road is without bumps. (Post continues after gallery.)
I would prefer not to have diabetes, of course, but it has also taught me some of the most valuable lessons in my life. Each day I count my blessings, each day I am presented with new challenges.
It’s a “gift” that has cost me a lot of tears, frustration, exhaustion, confusion, guilt, sadness and anger. My reward however, has been the amazing state of transformation. If that sounds conflicting or bitter-sweet, well, that’s because it is.
Here are some things I’ve discovered on my journey:
1. There are no winners in the “Blame Game.”
I stopped asking, “Why me?”
There is no clear answer to that question anyway. Each one of us has a different challenge in life but life isn’t a competition about who suffers more or who suffers less. “What am I doing about this?” is a much more active and healthy place to live in rather than “Why did this happen to me?”
Diabetes as a daily experience of my “less than perfect” body has gifted me with empathy. Empathy for those people close to me, and empathy for my yoga students and those I teach. We all suffer some hardship in life at some time, it’s just that the labels that vary.
I’ve learned that compassion supports people, and pity disables them.
With diabetes on board there is no more ignoring how we feel. We can no longer take a back seat in our lives—everything must be addressed.
I’ve learned to listen and respond to my body. Our biology means that we must, there’s no arguing with nature. I’m thankful that “I’m fine” is no longer my everyday mask.
3. Trust, trust, trust (and breathe.)
Our bodies are much stronger than we think, and the connection with our mind is undeniable. When we live in fear, as my favourite scientist Bruce Lipton suggests, we are less intelligent and we deny our cells to get into the “growth mode” (living in “fight or flight” instead). When we live in love, our body is healthier, happier and more peaceful.
We should trust that whatever happens is better for us in the bigger picture. If panic arises, and some days it does, we can use the breath—the simplicity of “in and out”. We pause, we observe, we are still here (repeat this as needed).
4. Freedom is important and it becomes an art when we know how we use it.
We have the freedom to choose how we treat our bodies. We can respect our bodies without being strict. “Disease” is just one part of who we are, it’s not the only thing that defines us.
We all have good days, bad days and are doing our best and letting go of the outcomes. We can only do so much and the results are not fully in our hands. We do it but we do it easy.
5. Stay present.
Every day is a new start. Every moment is a new chance. Staying present in the “here and now” is my daily mantra. If I’m not okay with today, with this moment, then I’m not okay with life.
Meditation helps. We don’t need to be zen champions, but we can try to sit in silence, focusing on our breath and acknowledging what is around us.
Let’s not forget that we are so much more than our labels. I stopped saying I am diabetic, because I am also a wife to my loving husband Ajay and parent to our funny beagle Maya. I run a respected Yoga school in India qualifying new teachers which is truly a gift.
I am a happy 33-year-old woman who has plenty of future dreams, plans, responsibilities and ambitions. (Albeit one who cannot leave the house without her glucometer.)
We can find our freedom that has nothing to do with our ailments and stories. We can take off our labels, whatever they may be.
Do you live with diabetes? What's the most valuable lesson you've learned from the experience?