Why haven’t I been writing? Months ago I promised a Chapter 2 to follow my last post about Costa Rica. I thought that more posts would follow that – about traveling around the globe for friends’ weddings, conferences, and maybe a little vacation. I had a busy year planned. And yet, now, here it is nearly July and I find I haven’t been more than 30 miles from my home since February.
What I’ve been doing during this time of social distancing. It’s a privilege that I have as a single woman with no children or even pets to care for. Up until recently I had a job, which made things still feel busy. I don’t have a full-time job at the moment, and I’m trying to figure out what my life and my schedule looks like without it.
Slowing down. A reset. I’ve been resisting this idea hard. As I think back over the last couple of years, I feel like I’ve been living my life in leaps and bounds. Sprinting towards the next goal without pausing at each milestone along the way. And I wouldn’t say this is unique to me or has even been by choice.
A big part of it is the society we live in. Things move fast – too fast sometimes for reflection. Maybe part of it too has been the pressure of diabetes. For 14 yrs I’ve lived my life on a schedule aimed at balance. A consistent wake time, consistent carbs at each meal, daily exercise everyday, sometimes multiple times a day, whether I really feel like it or not. And the self-improvement articles and health educators (like myself) will often tell you that just this is the recipe for health. “Once you get going you’ll feel better.” “Exercise is the best medicine.” And I actually believe it’s true. But I think this mindset, combined with a taxing chronic disease and a personality type leaning towards perfectionism can get out of control.
I certainly feel like I’m running on vespers sometimes. Running on the diabetes treadmill: time to eat, first take insulin. Now blood sugar will likely spike even if I called the dose right, so it’s time to walk. Maybe walked a little too much, time to eat a snack, and that’s just one meal cycle. That doesn’t take into account sleep and rest; sometimes I want more of it, but I know if I linger in bed my blood sugar will start to rise or maybe it’s falling and I’ll end up feeling worse later. There’s no easy answer. I’m not looking for one. I’m just recognizing the cycle that I feel like I’ve been on for a long time.
And this cycle bleeds over into other realms of my life. Pushing past what feels right into the territory of ‘shoulds.’ Lately it’s started to feel right to write again, but about what I don’t know. Because life doesn’t look like any of us thought it would. So I’m going to keep taking it day by day. Maybe this is Chapter 2 – because Chapter 1 was all about finding myself for the first time as a woman with diabetes in a new country, with a new group of people. And this Chapter is about meeting myself here, now, with very little else to distract me. I mean apart from the imminent dread of the news, but looking inward, maybe this is an opportunity for growth, as they say. Or just an opportunity to slow down and feel.
Hace doce años. Twelve years ago. That’s what I kept saying when people asked how long it had been since I studied abroad in San Joaquin de Flores, a small town outside of San Jose, Costa Rica. Twelve years ago I had flown on an airplane only a handful of times and never spent a night out of the country. On the flight down, I remember journaling, fizzing with anticipation, and suddenly realizing that maybe I didn’t know how to speak Spanish. I could sort of write and read in Spanish, but I started thinking of what I’d want to say and found that the words just weren’t there. I hadn’t yet learned to speak flexibly, describing things instead of using one staunch word, while shaping with my hands and body. I love speaking in this way really – like teaching a yoga class without stating the names of postures, but instead painting a picture of the body’s movements. At the time though, the thought was intimidating.
More intimidating than Spanish was my lack of familiarity with diabetes management. It might seem like I should be over writing about diabetes, but diabetes is just never over. It keeps evolving and I with it. When I first went down to CR, I had been living with Type 1 diabetes (T1D) for almost exactly two years. I’d managed diabetes while living in the dorms at UNCA, working at a summer camp, a folk school, and at that point through half of junior year.
When I landed in Costa Rica twelve years ago, the first thing I noticed were the trees. I couldn’t stop gaping at the trees, squealing about the trees, asking our teacher Esteban about the trees. On this recent trip, after I asked a third person to identify the current árbol of my affection, a British pal exclaimed, “Americans love trees!” I think that’s a bit of a broad stroke, because I can tell you that I definitely led the tree fandom among our group of 14 or so American students.
The second thing I noticed was that suddenly I was having to state my needs a lot. Also, suddenly I had a lot of needs, or at least that’s how I felt. This was difficult for me on many levels. I am an independent person. I have always been grateful that I was diagnosed with diabetes after I had left home, effectively as an adult, because I would have fought against the notion of anyone else sharing in my management. That’s the story I’ve told myself anyway. Told myself that I could manage it on my own and probably just as well as my pancreas could have. For the first couple of years after I was diagnosed, I maintained a white-knuckle grip on normalcy. I worked so hard behind the scenes; not just on achieving what I thought had to be perfect blood sugar, but also on stifling the emotional and physical burden of managing a condition as demanding as T1D. I told myself that I could outsmart it. I told myself that if I gave in to its demands, I was weak. I tried to hide the anxiety and worry that was filling me slowly to the brim.
I know that sounds dramatic, but it wasn’t at the time. It was slow and subtle and by the time I got to Costa Rica, I didn’t even realize it was happening. I was prepared to have the time of my life. Yet here was this chronic condition in tow (one that I would not be able to recognize or name as such until years later. I wasn’t just supposed to be tramping through the jungle, I was supposed to be partying with my new friends, trying new food, open to all experiences. And of course, I was supposed to be completely carefree. Isn’t that the study abroad, or even the American college, myth?
But I felt like I had a new shadow. The specter of diabetes was following me on every excursion, in my classes, walking down the streets. And I had to explain it as part of me. But it wasn’t a part of me that I knew. I was strong and healthy and physically capable of keeping up with anyone. I had built all of that into my identity since childhood, playing softball, camping with my family, kayaking and snowboarding throughout high school, and just generally loving physical adventures. I also loved trying new foods, connecting with new people, experiencing life differently than I knew it in my standard routine. That was who I was.
It was the first time I’d introduced myself to people who were meeting me as a person with diabetes. In the US, my friends and family all knew me as Katie who suddenly got diagnosed with diabetes. They knew me first. Now I was worried that people would think of diabetes first.
The truth is that I wasn’t just embarrassed, I was afraid. And it was really the first time in my life I had experienced that kind of fear…fear for my life. I was a pretty unafraid kid. I wasn’t reckless, but I had a sense of my limits and they didn’t really encroach on what I wanted to do. Now suddenly fear had crept in. What if I go low? What if I’m alone? What if I’m tired and forget my bag in the trunk of a taxi and the driver leaves with all my medical supplies and I die? It was like the cork had blown loose on the possibilities of what could happen and how it might lead ultimately to my demise. Then there was just your standard, everyday long-term complications of diabetes to worry about. I was afraid that if I let my blood sugar spike out of “normal” range, I would definitively develop kidney disease, neuropathy, etc.
I had started practicing yoga in high school and had a sense of how to calm myself down, so I tried, often. But diabetes would always creep back in. Sometimes I’d try to meditate and breathe long slow inhales and exhales, but then I’d realize I was low and I’d have to stop and double-check with a finger prick, wipe off the blood with an alcohol swab, find a snack, eat, and suddenly there I was, thinking about the power that diabetes had over me again.
I worried that people thought I was making it up. Not diabetes, but everything I had to do for it. If you don’t live with a person with diabetes, you can’t know how many tasks go into it every day. If you live with someone with diabetes but don’t have it yourself, it’s impossible to conceptualize the amount of decisions and thought that that it takes every day. Even if you’re highly empathetic, you just can’t know. And after 14 years of living with it, I believe that if you are a person with diabetes, eventually even you stop realizing how much you’re doing – both externally in action and internally in planning and calculations.
Studying abroad in Costa Rica was one of the best four months of my life. Yet I felt isolated by and even ashamed of diabetes at that time. I was afraid that going back would mean relieving those emotions, that I’d be pulled back into shame. I felt guilty that it had been so hard to just enjoy my life. A few really scary things had happened while I was there too. I had at least two intense lows while I was alone, one in the jungle (I hear you, why did I wander off into the jungle alone?) and one in a hotel room. I also ran out of insulin after leaving some of my back-up at a lodge on a weekend excursion. I had to obtain more without the guidance of my endocrinologist, and it was my first experience feeling the full nature of my dependency on an external source for my survival. How it could stop everything else. How fear and anxiety suddenly flooded my body when I thought about not having the insulin I needed. On top of that, I couldn’t get in touch with my endocrinologist at home (we did not have cell phones then! And the call your doctor, wait for them to call you back long-distance model was just not working). Eventually, a protracted game of phone tag ended with my mom as the middle woman translating my endocrinologist’s advice, which was to take only half the dose of the type of insulin I was given. Had I taken my dose as normal, I could have had a severe low blood sugar overnight.
Diabetes was part of why I stayed away from Costa Rica for so long, so I was surprised to realize that it was also a big part of what brought me back. Three days after I landed, the diabetes camp began. We awoke at 5 AM and departed San José as the sun was just beginning to enliven the colors of the city. Although we drove off into the mountains, we arrived at the camp in no time – the start of three very full days ahead of us. Three days of diabetes multiplied by about 80. So much diabetes. Everyone, from counselors to campers, living and playing and eating and sleeping with diabetes.
Diagnosed at 18, I never went to diabetes camp. I had also never worked at a diabetes camp before. As I was learning the system, I began to transition from paying primary attention to my own body, to guiding my attention towards any signs of low blood sugar I could spot in the kids. This was an interesting shift. Suddenly my own diabetes felt lighter. My brain had been unleashed to do what it is always doing but on a larger scale: strategizing, monitoring, and attempting to balance blood sugar. But here it was, finally, outside of myself.
At the end of day one, I laid down in my bunk bed, exhausted. My cabin co-lead told me that the doctor and nutritionists would come in at 12 AM and 3 AM to check every campers’ blood sugar. She said that they might even check mine. At first, I reacted to this with something like horror. No one else, save maybe for nursing staff at the endocrinologist or hospital, has ever checked my blood sugar. It’s my blood sugar. But then I was like, “Hmm…so I wouldn’t have to worry about my blood sugar overnight…” I could go to bed without that subtle background fear of having a low. That thought was nice, comforting. And that’s how I went to sleep. They didn’t check me after all, but I slept hard through the night knowing that someone else was monitoring the campers. I awoke the next morning feeling grounded, ready to start the day.
For more about the camp and the rest of the experience, stay tuned for Chapter 2!
I’ve taken shots on planes, shots on trains, shots on buses, shots on shuttles, shots in a car, shots in a bar, shots in meetings, shots at crowded dinner table seatings, and after my recent four days of traveling, for whatever reason, I have ended up more tired of shots than anything else.
Obviously, this is a diabetes blog, so I don’t mean liquor, not even in the bar. I mean insulin shots and the role they play in my life as pancreas.
I would say in a typical day, I take a minimum of 8 shots. On the trip, I took maybe 12 – 14 a day. I take shots as if I were a pump.
Some of you know a lot about diabetes and others less. Some of you know what an insulin pump is and how it works, but if you don’t, quick summary: people wear insulin pumps on their body using a site that can be either be connected to the pump by a tube or connected to a pod that is stuck directly on the body (no tube) with adhesive. Now, both of these are changed somewhat regularly, usually 3 to 4 days, and in the in between time, you don’t take the site off. You might disconnect your pump to shower or for a few other reasons, unless you have the Omnipod, in which case you just shower with it. The pump delivers a continuous infusion of insulin to the body.
The potential benefits of insulin pumps are numerous (there are also downsides that I won’t cover here). Some of the reasons why people wear them is so they can eat a more flexible diet, giving themselves insulin in a way that lines up more perfectly with their eating habits, think: many smaller injections a day to compensate for unexpected snacks or eating more at a meal than you planned. Also, you can reduce the stable background amount of insulin you’re getting to lessen the risk of lows during exercise. I can’t do that on my current insulin regimen, which, as aforementioned, is a bunch of shots.
I like to both maintain as tight a control of my blood glucose (bg) as I can, while also having the maximum freedom to eat and be spontaneous in my life, which for me has turned into a bunch of little micro-doses a day. Traveling amplifies this, because I’m not in control at even a base scheduling level. Flights might be delayed; I might not have time for a meal. When I do have time for it, I might be on a 5-hour flight, and then not be able to move around afterwards and help my bg come down with physical activity.
If you’re like: “I don’t get what she means by help my bg come down with physical activity,” please let me know in the comments and I will write on these topics in more detail or point you to some resources.
I have a busy year of travel and this trip made me wonder if my attempts to free myself of the burden of wearing an insulin pump has saddled me with an extra burden. If I’m going to mimic what an insulin pump could do with shots, should I just go ahead and get with the times?
When I travel, I like to let go of the ideal of a regimented lifestyle and be free to follow what comes. On this particular trip, the first thing that didn’t come was my Lyft. I was waiting by the door at 5 AM, but twenty minutes later I made a quick pivot, driving to the airport and parking in the econo lot. No bolus insulin in my system meant that missing one shuttle bus to the airport after a dead sprint across the lot sent my blood sugar straight up (potential moral: stress is bad for you).
Eventually I made it to my gate, just as boarding was set to begin. Still on the ground an hour and a half later (potential revised moral: could have skipped the sprint) it was clear that making my connection with only an hour layover in between would be tricky. But, by some miracle (apparently pilots can floor-it if necessary), I made my next flight after only a light jog. There was no screen on that plane (I had already watched ‘Elf’ on the last leg) and I had no internet, so I spent some time (2 hours) staring idly at the seat-back. I recommend this sort of in-flight meditation. Upon landing, I felt refreshed and ready for a three hour longer day. Of course, my blood sugar had been taking off and coming down all day, after around 8 shots over the course of the two flights.
I don’t want to give the impression that my trip was anything but pure joy – because one thing I’ve become good over 14+ years with diabetes is carrying the annoyance and frustration of diabetes alongside all my other emotions. This is one of my happiest evolutions in life with diabetes. I used to be so much more critical of myself and my ability to be a pancreas. But I’ve come to accept my imperfection in this way, because it allows me to do and enjoy so much more simultaneously. Some of the non-work-related highlights of this trip were:
Remembering my general love affair with San Francisco and its angles, colors, and vibe.
Reuniting with one of my best friends from high school. We explored the small mountain city he lives in outside of San Fran, looked at new houses for him and his partner to move into (which was an unexpected delight), and recounted all of our best inside jokes multiple times.
Racing from Palo Alto just in time to make it to a dear friend’s yoga class (why is my life full of so much racing? Do I need to leave earlier or just accept being late? Timeless questions). Afterwards, he took me to Mission Chinese, which was some of the best food I’ve ever had. The whole place is cast in a magical red glow. We ordered Kung Pao Pastrami, Spring Rolls, and Taiwanese Eggplant, and remembered all of the potlucks, adventures, and characters of college.
In summary, by the end of the trip I was left with the vague impression that all I had done for four was balance my blood sugar – but in truth, that was just exhaustion speaking. In the moment, I’m doing it all. Upon returning however, I did look over my bg records and identify a few times when I could have done less tweaking and perhaps gotten better results. So maybe in times of reduced control, loosening my grip on the idea of it could bring be a little bit more bg, and general, peace. It’s a thought experiment I may report back on.
One more thing – I suspect I’ll stop posting my blog on Facebook soon, so if this is the way you find out about new entries, please follow me so that you’ll be notified in your inbox. You can always unfollow or adjust email settings if it becomes too much! And please feel free to share this blog with anyone who you think might enjoy it.
Literally, it was gray and pouring out. I stood by my window at work and felt dampened by the weather.
Figuratively it was one of those rare days when I forget my meter at home – and this left me unmoored, confused, uncertain.
I do this, I would say, about twice a year. I realized it after walking and busing almost all the way to work. I can’t park at my work, so the thought of going back home felt to my maximum-productivity brain like a real waste of time.
In truth though, not having my meter really isn’t safe – I typically can feel my low blood sugar coming on, but I learned yesterday that I really overestimate my ability to feel where I am – so much of that ‘feeling’ is really a complex set of predictions based on my last reading, which ideally is no more than 2 hours ago. And about the safety thing – my rational brain knows that taking the two hours of sick leave it would have cost to go back home for my meter, is a lot less than the amount I would have had to take if I’d had a real problem (read: very low or high blood sugar) because of it.
Every time this happens I think of the kids with T1D who I met in Bolivia who can only test two to three times a day, max. Checking infrequently is their norm. I think of them and wonder how they manage when I feel so utterly lost.
A friend asked me how I was yesterday – I said I don’t know. I didn’t know. How I’m doing is very tied to my blood sugar, I realized anew.
Realizing anew is frustrating isn’t it? We realize, we forget, we tell ourselves it doesn’t matter, and then we have to realize anew!
Anyway, I ultimately did decide to leave work early. When I got home I was in the low 200’s. I took some insulin, did some yoga and then, as a reader so keenly pointed out in yesterday’s comments, of course went low before dinner. About 2 hours after dinner I was 130, an hour later I was 175…can I explain that? Nope. Not even a guess. Too few data points to guess. Correction dose, bed. I woke up at 3:51 AM at 150 mg/dl; at 7 AM at 131 mg/dl. Grateful to know.
“So what’s the plan?” I ask myself, because after forgetting my insulin pen one day, I installed an extra labeled in a plastic bag in our shared fridge. The plan is definitely, as of today, to store a backup meter at work. I have several from years past on different insurance plans, and I still have enough test strips left to get me through a mess up day.
*Reminder about the big, giant disclaimer: I do not have medical expertise and this is not an advice blog. I’m not saying that the way I manage is the right/safe way, or that my goals and targets are right/safe for anyone else, but rather I am simply recounting my experiences as a person living with Type 1 diabetes.
I’m a person who loves resolutions. I love the celebration of shedding old parts of ourselves and adopting new habits built on all of the tremendous self-growth of the past year. That’s what the New Year symbolizes for me. Whereas other times of the year we resist change, both in the external world and the internal world, right around 12/31 we start to act like we think it’s the greatest thing ever.
So I was asking myself, in addition to my all of the resolutions I’d like to make in every other realm of my life, should I have a diabetes resolution? And then I decided, no. Basic diabetes management is a big enough resolution. It’s like asking your friend without diabetes what their health goal for the coming year would be and them saying, “Well, I’d like to start pricking my finger 8 times a day and counting all the carbs I eat and explaining very intimate details about my body to both my closest friends and to complete strangers multiple times a day. I’d also like to introduce a lot of self-shaming and restraint into my eating, exercise, and general lifestyle habits.”
I mean that’s big enough right?
But I was writing in my journal this morning and as I always do I made a note of my morning bg (this is not a ‘health journal’, just my journal journal), and I was moved to also note that the elevated number was likely due to late-night snacking. Now here, I want to make a critical explanation, because I hate overly simplified diabetes rhetoric. It makes it seem like, “Well, if those people with diabetes could just do what they were supposed to do, it’d all be fine!” No! my blood glucose could just as easily sneak high in the night without me having a late-night snack, if I didn’t have enough insulin in my system to cover the sugars my liver is naturally pumping out all the time (just like everybody’s is). And sometimes, not eating after dinner makes this more likely to happen – especially if I finished dinner early and had less insulin in my system overall, perhaps because it was a dinner particularly low in carbs.
The complexity of diabetes is what originally inspired me to write a blog. It’s like being part of a secret world – the ins and outs of blood sugar. I imagine myself like Mrs. Frizzle. taking her class to the pancreas for a day. So I thought, why not make a diabetes resolution and a.) use my blog for accountability, and b.) take you all along on the complicated journey that is every blood sugar reading.
I realize this plan has some flaws. People with T1D are gonna be like – “why would I want to read about her blood sugar when I have to manage my own?” And people without T1D are gonna be like – “why would I want to read about her blood sugar when I don’t have to manage my own?” But whatever, this is my resolution.
So here it is, stated clearly, my small diabetes resolution-experiment:
4 out of seven days of the week, I will cease eating by 8 pm unless I have a low blood sugar and have to treat it (treating it means eating something, FYI).
What this really means for me is that I’ll be prompted to eat dinner earlier and eliminate post-dinner snacking on those days.
I’ll post my BG every morning along with a brief explanation of my theories behind the number. I could be right, I could be wrong, and we’ll literally never know!
Often I tell people that, while I can eat anything with diabetes that I want as long as I cover it with insulin and exercise, etc., I generally avoid white foods, as these tend to be laden with quick-burning, simple carbs.
Of course the cauliflower stands in stark defiance of this rule. For example, if you eat a whole head of cauliflower* you have consumed only 146 calories. That is crazy. Also only 29 grams of carbs and a whopping 12 grams of fiber. For reference, one Clif bar has roughly 250 calories, 42 grams of carbs, and 5 grams of fiber.* As you can see, raw cauliflower is clearly the better cross-country road trip snack.
That’s a joke, but the cauli steak recipe really has changed the way I think about this Brassica. It’s buttery, rich, and delicious, and goes great underneath sauteed ground pork with sage, and I imagine underneath many other meat and vegetarian-based proteins. Plus, diabetically* speaking, the steaks and the accompanying puree both have an almost potato-like heartiness that I often miss, without delivering a big punch of carbs. And also it’s totally beautiful to look at before you eat it or serve it to your loved ones. Let me know your thoughts and variations if you try it out!
My dad came to visit me for Father’s Day this past weekend. After dinner one night we got to talking about my work and about how the landscape of diabetes and its management has changed over the years. He asked about my experience of living with diabetes and how it had changed over the past 12 years or so. Dad, who I probably haven’t ever talked as openly about diabetes with, was more willing to be curious than I previously remembered. He asked me: “So – do you find that it (diabetes) limits your life?”
What an interesting question.
If you had asked me two days after diagnosis, I would have started bawling and talked about all of the dreams I had that I could never do now that I had to tote diabetes around with me. Dreams like: hiking the AT, kayaking in a remote jungle, abandoning society with no cellphone or attachment to the outside world…
If you had asked me two weeks after diagnosis I would have given some sort of manic response cloaked in coping positivity, like, “No! It has made me stronger, more organized, and more appreciative of life!”
If you had asked me two years after diagnosis I would have probably given you some more truthful examples, like how hard it was to be a summer camp counselor only 5 months after I’d been diagnosed; to be chipper and on full-time, while trying to give myself shots, check my blood sugar, eat someone else’s cooking, sleep in a cabin full of 8-year-olds, and otherwise make sure everyone was safe and entertained.
And then there have been other moments when the thought of doing it and doing diabetes, was just too much. I’ve said no to weekend plans and trips with friends, stayed in at night because I didn’t want to have to keep strategizing about my blood sugar so that I made sure to be at a good level to drive a car.
But – and I may be conveniently forgetting something – I’ve never not done anything I really wanted to do because of diabetes. Maybe I’ve been more exhausted before, during, and after it, maybe it’s made me ask myself how important something was to me before committing, but I’ve kayaked in a jungle, have gone on long trips, and have otherwise lived the life that I wanted to.
And – what’s interesting is how the “life that I wanted” has changed. My desires seem to be increasingly able to co-exist with a life that gives me space for diabetes management.
Natalie Goldberg says our obsessions can be our inspiration – and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t obsessed with diabetes. But I’d also be lying if I pretended that obsessions wasn’t a prerequisite of diabetes; either you’re obsessed with it upfront in order to manage the moment to moment decisions and tasks, or you end up obsessed with the symptoms of high or low blood sugar, and other short and long-term complications. And to say I’m obsessed with diabetes is really barely scratching the surface – what I’m obsessed with is what diabetes represents – the interaction between our bodies and our environments. Between the internal and external world. Diabetes gives you a front row seat to watch the effects of every bite of food, every step you take, every bit of anxiety you hold on to, minute of sleep you get, sunburn, bug bite, cold, allergy, all of it – it’s all a weird dance. Or orchestra. Or rowdy old-time band (represented by featured image taken at Shakori Hills music festival, 2018).
So, after traveling a long and winding mental road to an answer, I replied to Dad that the question didn’t quite fit for me anymore. It was the first time I’d realized this, that the answer required a reimagining of the question. Deciphering whether diabetes limits my life, or impacts it in positive or negative ways doesn’t make sense anymore, because it’s an inseparable part of my life and experience. And letting go of that qualifying, deciphering, and even meaning making, feels like a relief.
February can be rough. The days are short, the weather is temperamental, winter closes us inside of its blue shutters…
But luckily, we have created several traditions to get us through, one of my favorite being, in atypical fashion, SUPERBOWL SUNDAY!
I, like many of you, went to a Superbowl party a couple weeks back and found myself so INSPIRED. Let me preface this by saying that in between the 2017 and 2018 Superbowls, I watched 0 minutes of football. So, it’s always a fresh experience for me. I couldn’t believe how physically strong the players were. I was also very captivated by how delicious the various party foods involving potatoes were. There were waffle fries (not from Chick-fil-A!), homemade potato chips (in three varieties!), and baked potatoes with gruyere. So, based on these two observations, I added two resolutions to my list for this year: 1) workout more; 2) eat more potatoes.
When I got home from the party, my blood sugar, despite a lot of extra insulin and monitoring, was above 200 mg/dl. I don’t like this – I don’t feel good when my bg is high and taking extra insulin before bed is a little frightening because of aforementioned nighttime lows. So I put the potatoes on the back burner, so to speak.
I did start moving more though. Yoga and walking have been good, along with a class or two at the student rec center. So with goal #1 underway, I got back to the potatoes.
Recently, I ordered a dish with shaved celery root when out at a restaurant. Between ordering and receiving my food, I forgot about this, and when it came I thought I was eating hashbrowns. Fancy hashbrowns, but still. So this weekend at the grocery store, remembering my positive celery root experience, I decided to branch out of my cooking rut.
If you’ve ever bought a celery root (also known as Celeriac), you know just how unappetizing it looks in its natural form. Celery root is, in fact, so ugly that I can’t believe we discovered it was edible. I can’t imagine being that first person to look at it and think, “I’m gonna eat that.”
But someone did and I’m glad.
It’s really a vegetable that you have to tackle – which goes well with the general metaphor of this post. I used this recipe from Bon Appetit for Celery Root Steaks with Tomatillo Salsa Verde as a basis.
Except I didn’t make the salsa because I planned to just pile my other food on top of the steaks.
Here’s a detailed play-by-play:
Scrub that thing! – I took my veggie brush and I scrubbed the root thoroughly, rinsing under cool water.
Peel it! – I took a carrot peeler and shaved off the rough skin (yes, even though I’d just scrubbed it), until it had a mostly smooth texture. Then I used the scooped end of the peeler to get out the fuzzy, radish like whiskers (ugh) near the end and smoothed once again over the top and bottom.
Preheat it! – I was already baking brussels sprouts, so my oven was on 450 degrees.
Slice it! – I sliced it into rounds, about a 1/2 inch in thickness, until I’d cut up about half of it. Then I cut it in half so I could lay it flat and cut half-moons of the same thickness.
Sauté it! – I added quite a bit of olive oil to a big cast iron skillet, set this to heating on the stove, and laid the slices down into it, turning it down to about 6. I let them sizzle on each side for about 5 minutes total, flipping impatiently. I think the recipe is correct – 4 minutes each side with only one flip would have given a better, golden brown to each.
Bake it! – About 10 minutes on high heat for a nice, tender texture (recipe says until it can be easily pierced with a fork or butter knife).
Pro tip: if the steaks are tender but you want more of a golden brown look, flip them over to serve; most likely they are browned on the pan side.
So, how do celery steaks stack up to potatoes, ounce for ounce?
1 cup celery root weighs in at 66 calories, 14 grams of carbs, and packs a powerful punch of 2.8 grams fiber, according to google.
Potato comes in at nearly double all of the above (except fiber): 116 calories, 26 grams carbs, 3.4 grams fiber, per cup.
So to me, diabetically speaking, Celeriac is the clear winner!
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.