I received some alarming news last week that shouldn’t have come as a big surprise. I now officially have diabetes. It’s not the horrible kind that my dad had, involving finger pricks and needles and little bottles of insulin in the refrigerator, and unbelievable stress and uncertainty and fear and highs and lows that put my family into a tailspin multiple times daily. The nights my father didn’t get off the train from New York, those were scary times, sitting in the passenger seat of our VW Bug watching my mother lose it. Because sometimes, the occasional conductor who didn’t know my dad personally took him for drunk and threw him off the train at some stop up the line.
For the 48 years that my parents were married and my dad had diabetes (they had one, light-hearted year together before he was drafted and went off to boot camp during World War II, returning a year later to her doorstep, near death and unrecognizable at 85 pounds due to undiagnosed diabetes), my mother never slept through the night. She slept with some part of her senses attuned to the heat or the clamminess of her husband’s body. Should she have been particularly tired and drifted into a deep sleep, the wetness of the sheets would awaken her in a panic. Dad’s sugar gone mad again, resulting in a race to the kitchen for grapefruit juice and the sugar bowl. If he wasn’t too far gone, she could get him to drink the sickly-sweet drink; if he appeared drunk and had shifted into belligerence, she’d be forced to take on a stern tone that would soon shift into panic, when she’d have to yell at him, “Drink it! Please, drink it!” If that didn’t work, she’d have to resort to the tube of glucose, which she’d force into the side of his mouth because he had fallen into semi-unconsciousness. True, I didn’t witness the vast majority of nighttime dramas, but I was party to plenty of the daytime variety, and I wondered at their acceptance of their situation. I was often awe-struck and confused by the way they would, post-catastrophe, both return to the mundane tasks of life as if nothing were amiss, he heading off to work on the train (the train! alone!) every single working day and sometimes on Saturday, and she humming as she ironed the curtains. This was the hand they were dealt, and they played it admirably and with great love for each other.
My diabetes diagnosis is almost laughable compared to that nightmare, but I can’t deny that the vivid memories of the intensity and seriousness of my dad’s disease and his final days in kidney failure are looming large in my mind right now. True, he had a particularly “brittle” and unmanageable version of the disease, with many hospital stays, some nearly a year in length, back before diabetes was well understood. But nevertheless. Insulin injections could be in my future, too, if I don’t get things in hand.
“Getting things in hand” couldn’t be less appealing to me. I know I’m a big baby, but when I’m feeling down (which happens more often that I’d like to admit) or just plain bored, I like to get down with a muffin. Or chocolate chip cookies. Or a Kit Kat bar. Or a Peppermint Pattie, or Milano’s, or Ginger O’s, or Jelly Bellies, or…. Trust me: when you are intimately familiar with the brand names of all this stuff, it’s not a good sign. However, it’s a weakness I joke about and will admit heartily to anyone within hearing distance: I’m a sugar addict. Hee, haw, haw. Or at least, I was. (I refuse to acknowledge what I know to be true: once an addict, always an addict.)
I should be 300 pounds. Luckily, I have been blessed with a hyper metabolism. But I’m still 20 pounds overweight, and it’s all “middle fat,” the worst kind. Yay. Middle fat. Sounds so healthy, doesn’t it? And so attractive!
But the “d” diagnosis hit me hard, so I quit shoving cookies into my mouth the very same day. It’s been a week, and eating for nutrition is quite the concept. I’ve dropped five pounds (the easy ones) and I feel great. Even before the sun had set on “d” day, I felt better. Lighter! Less full! Ready to rock and roll!
But eating just to stay alive is some boring. I know, I know – there’s ample opportunity to prepare exciting meals and eat great food without muffins! I’m just a spoiled rotten American with nothing but bounty surrounding me and I don’t appreciate it. WTF is wrong with me? And I can get creative with recipes now! (Woo hoo – I’m practically lightheaded with the possibilities – or is that hypoglycemia?) But honestly, the “d” diet I need to be on is just a regular-old healthy eating plan: real food, in a variety of colors, whole grains, balanced meals, you know the drill. There’s room for the occasional cookie, and lots of other great stuff. But that’s not what I’ve been about for all these years. I’ve been about sedating myself with food. Substituting food for all the other stuff I had to give up. How am I supposed to do that now? Huh? Yoga? Meditation? Walking? Swimming? Chin-ups? Probably all good ideas. But those things take effort. Cracking open a new package of cookies? Not so much.
I’ve been here before. The high blood pressure diagnosis, for instance. That got me counting calories and paying attention. For awhile. I lost 15 pounds, which I gained back over a couple of years, and then packed on a few bonus pounds, just because I could. I haven’t yet surpassed my highest pregnancy weight, but that previously impressive number just doesn’t seem as alarming as it used to. That can’t be good!
A couple of years ago, I had the pre-pre-warning: the doctor told me my sugar was “a little high.” So I thought about that for the entire drive home, and then promptly forgot about it. Last year, I graduated to “pre-diabetic.” OK. So we’re moving in the wrong direction. Whoa. Better deal with that. I have to say, in all honesty, I didn’t just ignore that news, I reveled in rebelling against it. Some part of myself reacted by not just maintaining the status quo, but by upping the ante. I treated it the way I’ve treated other serious news in my past. I just said “’f’-it.” I mean, how mature is that? I nodded a few times while the doctor droned on with helpful instructions, blinked a few times on the way out the door to shift gears and clear my head, and spent the last year saying “’f’-you” to my body. Nice one.
Makes a person think. What’s it all about? “Emotional eating” doesn’t begin to tell the sordid tale of the origins of this problem. Stress, worry, regrets, working too hard, too busy, overextended, under-enthused, middle-aged (that’s being generous), more or less sedentary, it’s the same old story. But not a road I want to keep chewing my way down.
Counting carbs and all that, it’s kinda fun for a few days. It’s not like I don’t know what I should be eating. I can do it. The fear comes in when I wonder if it will stick. Or will my Teflon surface propel me along that slippery slope to the bakery aisle?
What’s amazing is that I do feel a huge sense of relief after just one week of not feeding the beast. Breaking the cycle, even for a short time, going cold turkey, it shuts down the addictive cravings, and in surprisingly short order. Now if I can just shut down my mind, and stop questioning whether I can do this. I can.
Or at least, I’m going to try real hard this time. Because the “Big D” isn’t diabetes. It’s the inevitable end. And though it can’t be avoided, I’d rather not hasten its arrival with a fatal case of the “’f’-its.”