While clearing things out of my father and stepmother’s house in Cambridge, Massachusetts last month, I flung open the fridge and began aggressively throwing out any food with an expiry date of 2016. It took a few minutes, and a quickly filled trashcan, before I realised that 2016 was not yet over and the callously discarded food was still good. Momentarily believing that it was 2017 was muddled thinking, clearly. But it was also wishful thinking. 2016 has brought a litany of shocks: Brexit; my father’s arrest; my stepmother’s bicycle accident which has rendered her quadriplegic (hence the clearing out of my parent’s house in preparation for a move to wheelchair accessible accommodations); and now a Trump victory in the US presidential elections. Coincidently, 2016 is also the year that I planned to be the most aggressive in getting my blood sugars down in preparation for having a child.
I’ve written before about how easy it is for me to underplay the severity of my disease. And now, in the face of so many difficult events and stressors, I’m slipping into old habits. I can find a million excuses to relegate diabetes to the bottom of the priority list and focus on more immediate goals, especially when the immediate priority involves taking care of a family member. For instance, making the decision to keep my blood sugar on the high side so I wouldn’t have to deal with the time-wasting repercussions of a low blood sugar came more naturally than I like to admit when I was home in Cambridge. In fact, it came so naturally that I don’t even remember explicitly making that decision, it was just second nature.
Two days after I got back to London after almost a month away in the US, I had my HBA1c done. I had toyed with the idea of postponing the appointment, as I knew the value would be higher than my last one. My last one was the lowest in recent memory and there were both complicated and superficial reasons (such as enjoying being a ‘good diabetic’) for not wanting to let go of that HBA1c value. As expected, my value had gone up – not significantly but enough to put the plans for trying for a baby on hold. And as anticipated, I felt like a failure.
Now that a few days have passed and the self-flagellation has come to an end, I’m viewing that number (notice I’m not disclosing it!) as a wake up call. I’ve not been at my best and most energetic lately, which I’ve been attributing to the external factors mentioned. But I know a lot of it is due to high blood sugar. Having high blood sugar makes everything feel so much more daunting; in contrast, now that I’ve finally had the chance to experience it, I now understand how much stronger and more capable I am when my sugars are in control.
I had my HBA1c test done on election day. The following day, I took some time away from my private struggle to focus on the more public one of a Clinton loss. Although I’m extremely distraught about Trump’s presidential win, one benefit is that it’s a collective mourning and I’ve been learning from others on how they are dealing with the blow. There’s been a lot of talk of being compassionate and kind to others as a reaction to the hatred exposed, espoused, and emboldened by the election. But there’s also been a lot of talk about the importance of self-care and how caring for oneself and caring for others is not mutually exclusive but can be a positive feedback loop.
In something that should have been ingrained in me the first time I watched the safety video on an airplane, I need to remember that it’s not a toss up between helping myself and helping others but that helping myself will make it easier to help others. This is especially pertinent with diabetes, when I know that I’m much more effective and stronger when my blood sugar is better controlled. I just need to consciously remember this lesson especially when I’m prone to fall back on old habits when stressed. But, at least, if I fail, 2017 is just around the corner.