leaves

Lately I’ve been on a ‘getting rid of stuff’ kick. I’ve given away several bags of clothes, donated books to the library, shredded mounds of semi-private information and bank statements, cut up clothes I should have already been using for rags, and just thrown some stuff away. One thing I recently gave away was a book called, Zen and the Art of Diabetes Management. Turns out, maybe I should have read it.

I don’t know if my shedding belongings is connected to my deeper desire to shed emotional and mental refuse, i.e. the crunchy, brown leaves of thought and preoccupation that long to fly free from the branches of my mind, but it’s possible. A note on this – I was recently out for a walk, when I came around the corner and stumbled upon a pile of leaves so high and long that I was immediately enraged at: leaf blower machines (they require so much gasoline), the thought that a homeowner would be so careless as to jeopardize the safety of all who walked and drove on the road (half of the street, on a curve, was piled six-feet high with leaves), and the fact that we thwart the natural process of composting and earth replenishment by bagging and throwing away leaves. I find it bizarre. Then I walked past the great wall of leaves, turned, and looked up at the nearly denuded oak tree whose branches twisted and furled in every direction. The pile was mostly oak. This one tree had blanketed the yard, filled the road, and was left standing above what it had discarded from the previous year. I smiled at its abilities. The wind blew and I walked on.

What a diversion, you say, from the original point of this post. But I’m getting back to it.

So, I’ve been going, very irregularly, to a Zen center for meditation with others. I find these accountability buddies help me very much. I don’t have to hold all that silence alone. And this past week there was a lecture, which I didn’t know about, but felt compelled to stay for (because I had meditated for 30 minutes and was actually calm enough to consider staying for an unexpected lecture). The teacher, a woman who exudes peace and goodwill, talked about an experience she had near the Zen-dō, seeing a plastic bag on the ground and experiencing anger, only to ask herself, “is it trash, or is it my mind?”

Her question brought me back to the tree and its pile of leaves. Here I was, painfully debating over whether to keep each t-shirt, each novel that I’d read or never wanted to read, and more than all that, deciding what I wanted to mentally let go of, and here was this tree, who had just let it all go. And I just expected it to, not even marveling at its abilities to grow and grow and grow, and then courageously release the product of its work. All this stuff, these thoughts, the richness of past experiences, they become our soil. We have them, we grow, and then the we move on. Needing and desiring to let them go does not mean that they weren’t good or that they are wasted – it’s just natural. It’s time, I thought, to take the mind out of it, stop deciding, and just to feel what is dry, crunchy, no longer producing fresh growth and let it fall to the ground, where it can be good again.

Back to Zen and the Art of Diabetes Management. I had read some of it – a good book – about managing diabetes with an attitude of peace. But currently, I’m trying to figure out how to manage feeling at peace while maintaining diabetes in mind. Remember the name of the blog, Adventurous Living with Diabetes in Mind? That is totally possible, but it sort of defeats the purpose of meditation if diabetes is in mind…doesn’t it? I thought that the point of meditation was to clear the mind of all thoughts…so nothing should be in there. Especially nothing as seemingly mundane as, ‘what’s my blood sugar?’

Sometimes it feels like my whole life is a pancreas meditation – instead of trying to get down to the truth of who I am in a sitting session, I’m trying to get down to the truth of my pancreas, ‘what are you doing buddy?!?’ And – ‘how am I doing?’ I had felt low about 30 minutes before I had to leave the house to drive to the Zen-dō, so I ate a few extra slices of apple. I checked about 10 minutes before I had to leave and I was 99 mg/dl, meaning I was fine to drive (I don’t drive when low, i.e. <80 mg/dl). Because the meditation was longer than usual, and I unaware of this fact until in the middle of it, my thoughts started to creep to what my blood sugar might have crept up to. Usually I take a walk in the morning after breakfast – I factor this movement into my insulin dose knowing it will bring my blood sugar down immediately. I hadn’t walked, but of course I’d limited my carbs at breakfast, but it had been a long time since I’d last taken insulin and I knew those last couple slices of apple wouldn’t have been reflected in my pre-driving number because it takes about 20 minutes for any change from what I’ve eaten to show up on my meter so…

Is it blood sugar, or is it my mind?!

We’re all up against a lot of obsessive thought. And here’s the thing, mine and everyone else’s matters and, often, makes sense. So I sat there during the Zen lecture listening but also wondering what my blood sugar was and how I would ever stop wondering about it long enough to be fully present. So I decided to feel. I started with my breath, how did it feel in my body, and then my heart, moving outwards towards my toes and fingertips. I felt good. I stopped feeling like a mind-pancreas in a body and began to feel like a whole being. I thought of blood sugar again. I went back to thinking about breath.

I got back to my car with my meter (where my mind had been part of the time) and checked my blood sugar, it was 139 mg/dl – hardly a number to worry about. I thought back to the teacher’s story, about becoming angry when she saw a plastic bag that someone had carelessly tossed on the ground, and then realizing she could simply pick it up, and put it in the trash (*yes trash, not recycling, because plastic bags clog the recycling machines so should only be recycled at grocery stores, where they have those designated plastic bag receptacles). When she realized she could take action, throwing the bag away, she felt a sense of peace and moved on about her work, she told us. I think I had this option too with my blood sugar. Diabetes takes a lot of action (and that action is required for health and in fact, survival). Something I’d like to work on in meditation is relegating the heavy thought to moments when action is needed. I knew I was safe in the Zen-dō, diabetically speaking. I could feel that I wasn’t too low or dangerously high, and I made the choice to stay. I could have left and dealt with my blood sugar, satisfied that piece of me that has to know, but I didn’t. And the koan for me, and everyone in the room, was to be fully there, blood sugar and all.

I don’t know. The end to this blog post is – I really don’t know. I’m in no way trying to minimize the necessity of thinking about blood sugar for a person with diabetes, but I’m thinking about ways to move towards fuller presence – unified body and mind – without layers of judgement, in regards to diabetes management. I’m taking recommendations, asking for them really. Maybe I should have kept the book, or maybe I just need to revisit the tree.

Walking through Innsbruck

To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. – Freya Stark

I stayed in a small Air BnB across an azure blue river that ran straight through the middle of Innsbruck. I walked there for the first time from the train station – my gracious host offered to pick me up, but I screwed up military time in a text message and told him I was coming 2 hours after my actual arrival. He gave me directions and I looked them up using the train station’s wifi (which was the only way I could use my phone) and headed on my way.

Google Maps estimated a 25 minute walk. I arrived an hour and a half later. Although I was toting my backpack stuffed to the brim, a rolling suitcase, and finally my purse, flung around my shoulders, I wasn’t slowed down too much by my baggage. I just simply couldn’t stop spinning around in circles to take in the shining spirit of the city. Here’s my walk in pictures:

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I strolled across the street to a pedestrian only plaza where shoppers and diners milled and mingled.

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…before finding this strange alley of murals. That closest one is a kiwi on a chicken bone. Perhaps a show of peace among vegans and carnivores (although I’m doubtful).

img_0402.jpg I didn’t stay at this hotel; I just took this picture to prove I was really in Innsbruck.

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I walked across the bridge towards my new abode in the wake of mountains all around.

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Et voila, practically home. The huge wooden door was tucked behind a swath of climbing red ivy between two classically Austrian buildings.

Everyone was walking or biking up and down the steep hills. In many places there were wide pedestrian sidewalks next to double-lane bike paths, bordered by a line of trees and flowers, before finally meeting the edge of a quietly buzzing road on which the motorists dutifully slowed on yellow and stopped on red.

It took me awhile (I mean like two weeks after I returned) to realize why I felt (at least in part) such a sense of peace in Innsbruck. It could have been the mountains all around or the fact that I was at a conference where everyone was thinking and talking obsessively about diabetes (just like me!), but another huge part of it was the pervasive walkability of the city. Pervasive because it was unavoidable – you couldn’t get where you needed to go without walking. It didn’t just feel safe to walk alongside the cars, but in many places there were no cars at all. The restaurant I ate at twice – Osterreich – which I actually thought had something to do with an Ostrich, before I realized how painfully complacent my brain was acting – was only accessible via foot. And, what’s more, the whole time you sat, enjoying grilled chicken or roasted sausages, fluffy piles of freshly grated horseradish, or mounds of sauerkraut, you could watch, not cars whizzing by, but a live feed of humans doing human things.

IMG_0475.jpgFor example, this brass band bedecked in green, who lined up to play in the heart of the city.

Walking is one of my favorite things. But also, walking is one of my favorite things about traveling. I’m grateful to have a car, but I don’t like cars. I like moving more slowly through life and having the chance, if I so choose, to reach out and touch it. And diabetes loves a walk. People talk about the benefits of exercise for diabetes management, as if exercise was some strange set of unnatural activities that the body must be guided through. I’ll admit, I go for a run every now and then, and it does bring my blood sugar down, but for me, there’s nothing like walking to bring my body into balance. Adam Brown, a writer often featured on diaTribe, explains the blood sugar benefits of walking beautifully here. When my bg is high, instead of dropping rapidly like I do while running, I glide towards a more reasonably blood sugar. Instead of tiring me out, a long walk makes me ready for another walk, or a night of dancing (lucky for me too, because of all the specialists, pediatric endocrinologists are the best dancers).

My last day in Innsbruck, after cramming my head full of presentations and standing up to do a couple myself, I took myself on a mind-clearing walk. My host had told me there was a tram to the top of the mountain, so I headed up the hill towards the peak. Shockingly, I did eventually find the tram, but then decided that my budget preferred continuing to walk. Oh also, that’s another thing, walking is cheap!

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Not to mention beautiful.

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Gazing out over Innsbruck, I felt overwhelmingly grateful for my experience and for all the people who helped me get there. Although I enjoy the feeling of solo exploration, traveling, more than anything else I think, makes our interconnectedness blazingly obvious. I was guided by countless mentors and passed from hand to hand of old and new friends on this journey. Thanks to each and every one.

Leaving Vienna in the morning

**Monday of this week was World Diabetes Day 2017, so in honor of all my diabetes sisters, brothers, and supporters, this post will offer a little more intimate look at the diadetails of my life than others.

After yoga Monday evening in Vienna, I followed a group of yogi/inis to a delicious dinner of Vietnamese food. Yes, definitely Vietnamese and not Viennese – although I would end up eating a lot of traditionally Austrian fare. I was just a little bit low by the time we arrived at the restaurant [70 mg/dl or so], which was really a pleasant surprise after battling some higher numbers on the sedentary plane ride. I ordered an ‘Elderberry Water,’ description in German, so I was taking a total leap. It was, in fact, an elderberry-infused glass of water – and totally delicious.

I also ordered several other things – Vietnamese crepes and spring rolls with interesting mayo-based sauces. As a lover of sauce I was delighted. I was also almost delirious from exhaustion, approaching the evening of the day that should have been a night, but it was wonderful to be sitting at a table with people living their lives in this new city I’d just stumbled in to.

That night, teeth brushed, ready to climb the ladder to my lofted bed, I found the walk back to the apartment could not compete with the long plane flight, screwed up schedule, and reduced control over food choices. Nevertheless, despite a blood sugar of 201 mg/dl, I took an extra shot and crawled happily into bed.

Every morning I wake up and check my blood sugar. Then, as my coffee is percolating, I take my shot – the same amount each morning unless something exceptional is happening that day. I have my first cup of coffee and plan the day while my insulin activates, so to speak. It’s a wonderful routine – a forced stillness and reflection courtesy of diabetes. When I awoke in Vienna to a dreamy light pouring into the vaulted living room, my blood sugar had evened out to some degree (mid-hundreds). I drank my coffee staring out onto the criss-cross of streets below and apartment windows across.

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Unless you have it, at this point you may need a diabetes glossary to understand a few concepts:

Walk competing with a plane ride…What?

Insulin activating…Hmm?

The day-to-day details of life with diabetes are heightened when traveling, precisely because of the exciting release of control that a good adventure requires. So at the same time that you’re sinking into the moment, diabetes can loom even bigger in the back of your mind. But I’ve learned, slowly, painfully over the years, to not let it steal the joy of the unknown from me.

A few ways I’ve successfully experienced this reclaiming of joy:

  • Allow myself a wider target range while traveling – if I’m not dropping dangerously low at night, I’ve succeeded! Likewise, as long as I can bring a high blood sugar down, things are fine. Interestingly, often this more ‘relaxed’ attitude brings with it surprisingly ‘good’ numbers.
  • Tin foil and plastic Ziplock bags at all time. How could a Ziplock bag improve my bg numbers while traveling? – you ask. Well, this may not be true for everyone, but I am the sort of person who doesn’t need to eat a whole treat to be satisfied, but who feels utterly denied if I can’t try a bite of something I’m offered. I don’t typically buy or order things that don’t support my blood sugar, but if they are there and free – I just gotta know. There are only a few exceptions I turn my nose up at completely (likelihood increases if said ‘food’ is enveloped in sealed plastic). So if I get a treat while traveling, say a flakey pastry pinwheel like they displayed on small square, porcelain plates at the conference during coffee breaks, I have a delicious bite (sometimes two) and pop it in the bag. Although often I throw away the remains before completely consuming it, it’s still less waste overall because one treat extends over a whole day, or sometimes even two or three (remember to refrigerate when necessary)!
  • And let’s talk about refrigeration. I always arm myself with a doctor’s note before traveling that states that I will be traveling with my medications and that they will need to stay cool. Perhaps because of this, or maybe my medical id bracelet (also essential when traveling alone), or because I am open about proclaiming my diabetes in airports, I have always been able to carry a little cooler with me without being stopped for having what is technically an ‘extra’ carry-on bag. I never let this cooler out of my reach – not to put it in overhead bins and definitely not to check it. I’m curious if others with T1D have successfully traveled with small coolers. Mine is soft and I use a little tiny icepack – which does flag the security scanners sometimes. Both times this has happened I have been cleared to continue on my merry way.

My diabetes travel guidelines in summary:

  • Be kind to myself, aka loosen up
  • Carry Ziplock bags or tinfoil
  • Be open/up front about diabetes

I packed a yogurt in my icepack for my four-hour train journey to Innsbruck, during which I would retrace on the ground the route I had flown the previous day. I jostled back in forth from one side of the train to the other trying to catch views of mountain peaks and aquamarine waterways, before finally being lulled into a nap by the hum of the rails.

 

Revisiting my new year’s resolution

I’m using the bonus hour that I acquired this morning when a low blood sugar woke me up to write this post. Last night I couldn’t fall asleep. I was pleased that my blood sugar was in the 80’s, having come up from a slight post-dinner low and stabilized at this most ‘normal’ of levels, but I had the nagging feeling that it wouldn’t last through the night.

See here is my big blood sugar-sleep dilemma: earlier in the week I’d had a bedtime snack close to bed and woken up with high blood sugar the next day. I was frustrated by this, but I had slept wonderfully. I find that the snack helps me fall asleep, but presents the challenge of usually requiring a little bit of insulin. Just the right amount though – too much and I’ll wake up low in the middle of the night (which is kind of dangerous you know), too little and I’ll wake up parched and drowsy the next morning (high bg).

So last night, I managed to avoid the bedtime snack. I’d brought up my low with a little bit of fruit right after dinner and then coasted. But being so close to 80 mg/dl made it hard to fall asleep and then I dropped over night.

Instead of sleeping this morning I’m doing research. I want to experiment with some of the food recommendations made by Adam Brown in this month’s issue of Diatribe. I think if I can find more foods that fill me up at dinner time without spiking my blood sugar, I’ll have less of a desire to snack later on.

There is always something great in Diatribe! I am amazed at how much I enjoy it and find useful diabetes wisdom every time I drop in. Check out the links above to see for yourself.

Finally, just in case you aren’t already in awe of sleep, I’ll leave you with this Radiolab podcast about its powers.

Applying for Marketplace Health Insurance

Last Saturday I graduated with my Master’s of Public Health! I’m so excited for everything that’s ahead of me, except losing health insurance coverage on May 31st.

A friend and I who help each other get through life’s hurdles, sat down to apply for marketplace coverage together. She just turned 26 and has had to go off of her parents’ health insurance. As for me, my coverage as a student research assistant only extends to the end of May. Because having health insurance is vital for all people, but especially those living with diabetes, I wanted to share my experience with the process.

Website screening tool: First I went to www.healthcare.gov and clicked the big green button that says “SEE IF I CAN ENROLL.”

Turns out after entering all of my info that losing coverage was a ‘qualifying event,’ so I was eligible.

Creating an account: At some point I had to create an account – which I did. The security questions for this process were really funny to me – I would suggest writing your answers down somewhere because they weren’t the easiest to come up with.

What if I don’t know?!?: The hardest part of using the screening tool and applying was estimating my income. I’m at a point where my income is in flux – my hours at work and the way I get paid are changing. I’m also hoping to find full-time employment soon and know that if I do, my annual income will be different than what I’m able to estimate now. Dealing with that uncertainty is hard, but in keeping with all recent blog posts, it’s just a part of life. In this context, the instructions make it clear that it’s important to update your account frequently if your income changes. There is also flexibility with how much of the premium tax credits you can use if you qualify, which can help those whose income might change.

Premium tax credits: Based on my current income, I qualified for a substantial premium tax credit which I could apply towards my premium when selecting a plan. I didn’t realize this before beginning the process, but you don’t have to use your whole tax credit each month, rather you can choose to use only part of it and have the rest applied as a credit at the end of the year when you file taxes. On the flip side, if you use it all and then your income goes up, you may have to pay back in some of it on your taxes. It wasn’t super easy to decide how to use this information, so I just elected to use enough of my credit to make my premium manageable each month.

Selecting a plan: This step involved a lot of reading and deliberating. The website helps to point you in the right direction by allowing you to enter your preferred doctors and prescriptions to see if they are covered under various plans, along with the level of health care you plan to use. For us people with diabetes, that’s a really hard one to estimate. Additionally, I was frustrated that no matter how I wrote ‘test strips’ or with what brand name I used, I could not get the system to register them under preferred prescriptions. Hopefully others will have better luck with this. Ultimately I chose a plan banking on at least one type of test strip being affordable. I’ll report back on my experience with this once coverage starts.

More documents: It seems like there are always more documents. I have to prove that my health insurance coverage is ending, so I have to send in a document/letter to this effect by the end of the month. Oh and I have to pay for the first month, which I can’t fault them for. What I did like about the process is that you could begin the application and revisit it and then select a plan and confirm enrollment before having to send in the supplementary documents or payment. This way, I was able to move forward and secure coverage that will begin June 1st, even while gathering my other resources.

Overall experience: Applying for marketplace health insurance coverage is not easy per se, but it is doable. My personal suggestion (based on my typical approach to things) is to get the process started, create an account, do the eligibility screening, and then know that you can find the information you need and log back in once you have it to complete things. If your situation is not very clear cut, I think it’d be really helpful to have a navigator (i.e. real person) to help you through the process. At our school there is an insurance office above our student health clinic and I’m assuming this is the case at many universities. During open enrollment, volunteer navigators are available to walk you through the process, and although I don’t know if that is true at all times of the year, I suspect real-person assistance is available and would be helpful. If you have experiences with this, please leave a comment with your thoughts!

How to beat the springtime blues

Springtime blues? “What’s that about?” you ask. After about four years of consistently feeling miserable for about a week every April, I think I’ve finally realized that for me, something about springtime wreaks havoc on my diabetes management.

I find myself suddenly feeling sluggish, cloudy and hungry.

My blood sugar levels go up and stay up, like they’re stuck on a higher plateau.

Insulin just doesn’t bring me down like it typically does and because I’m running higher, my appetite increases and I just want to eat…carbs.

And then all of a sudden the insulin will bring me down like a ton of bricks and I’ll be arrested by an intense low blood sugar.

So…I have some hypotheses. It does make sense to me that the same inflammatory response caused by seasonal allergies would not be so great for T1 diabetes, which by its nature is an inflammation of the immune response. My friends with T1D have turned me on to some research to suggest that springtime is a hard season for many people with various autoimmune conditions.

Spring is also a time of new beginnings, change, waking up from winter and everything suddenly gets so busy. In this space of having so much to do and so little time to do it (and feeling like my head is full of pollen), my typically stress and diabetes management technique of daily concerted exercise hasn’t been as attainable. So I’m here to share – with no guilt – that this week I got a massage.

This was actually my second of two 30 minute massages with Monique Kennedy, who I recommend highly if you’re in the triangle area. Check out her practice: Exhale Massage Therapy – where you can book directly online.

And the name really says it all – exhaling (a topic I’m excited to write more about soon) and its partner inhaling are so hard to prioritize and yet so very beneficial. Since the massage and the reminder to breathe deeply, to prioritize resting and recharging, my blood sugars have been just a little bit more ‘normal.’

I’d love to hear other people’s experiences with autoimmune conditions and spring time and about massage as part of a healthy life!

Calling all people with diabetes!

Community Discussion: High Blood Sugar (hyperglycemia)

How do you pick yourself back up emotionally when you have a high blood sugar reading that frustrates you? Please weigh in in the comment section below! I think we could generate some good wisdom amongst ourselves!

Oh, and if you don’t have diabetes, please share this link/blog with someone who does…I know you know someone who does. I’m really hoping to build this community and you are an important part of that effort!