This is not a 25 things you need to know about diabetes, or even a top 3 tips about living with diabetes. I am not going to tell you (with great shock factor), that if you do not look after your diabetes and keep a tight rein on it, you will end up dying with broken kidneys or a stroke. This is a one shot post, a number 1 thing you need to know about diabetes. I have come to this conclusion after 38 years living with type 1 diabetes and working in diabetes since 2001, speaking to thousands of people across the world living with all types of diabetes and their loved ones.
So what is the number 1 thing you need to know about diabetes? Hold that thought.
We recently went for a family hike in the Adelaide Hills after leaving our 18 year old son James to volunteer at a wildlife park. He is helping them to regenerate the park and his passion in life is animals and wildlife, so this is a very exciting thing to be doing alongside his studies. We left him in the misty morning, after driving up through the clouds into the Adelaide Hills, and headed to the local markets. My blood glucose (BGL) is normally on the higher side after breakfast because I walk each morning and my basal rates in my insulin pump are set to manage that, as well as the fact I have decided 2 pieces of gluten free toast each morning (due to my issues with my stomach) is something I need, rather than bacon and eggs each day. And so, my low carb diet has shifted somewhat to include this, with the rest of the day being as low carb as possible. However, on this important day where I was going to be hiking in the hills, it stayed stubbornly at 7 mmol, after breakfast, after an additional piece of toast and then, an additional banana.
We arrived at the markets and it was still 7 mmol…..I scratched my head and then went on into the busy bustling streets. The markets were filled with gourmet food and treats. I am talking every pie you could imagine, french pastries galore, pizzas, bread – ALL THE CARBS. They were also filled with people and voices and music and coffee. After my husband John grabbed a triple shot coffee in our BYO cups and we joked about how he better not be driving home, he and our 8 year old Maxwell, also grabbed a slice of cake each. I looked at it all, wondering what could work on my low FODMAP, gastroparesis, lower carb eating plan and decided it was either a) the brown paper bags the cakes come in or b) the handmade chocolate salted caramels. I went for the latter and slowly popped one in my mouth and delighted at the flavour explosion, figuring this would lift my BGL for the impending walk.
A little while later I checked my BGL – 7 mmol………so, I am cured!!! We wander a bit more, finding a secondhand bookstore and buying our history buff child some extraordinarily heavy books about the history of the world and famous moments in archeology, and run through a cloudburst back to the car. We take Maxwell to the local playground where he creates another world to live in, a virtual reality in which he is the hero, while we stand on the soggy bark chips and watch him play before heading off to find the national park.
Arriving at the entry to the bush walk, I check again ….10 mmol. Perfect for our hike. As we meander through tall stringybark trees, we find one fallen across our path and wiggle underneath. Puddles of rain block our way and we create our own pathways through the misty rain, Maxwell telling stories about our adventure, the soundtrack to our family walks. The sun bursts through the clouds and the sky turns blue. We see only 2 other humans and we feel alive. The fresh cold air against our cheeks, the sky opening up in our eyes, the scent of wet earth and gum leaves in our nostrils, our hearts warm. I stop and pick some glorious native flowers, raindrop diamonds making their red shine even brighter. We arrive here and set down for lunch.
I check my BGL again – 8 mmol..so I decide to eat my rice cake sandwiches as we still have some walking to do, but another enormous cloudburst hits and we shelter under an old pine tree, while we watch ducks and waterfowl gliding across the silver lake, broken by bullets of soft rain. We decide to head back to the car and march back across the wild, promising to come back another day and complete the circuit.
Arrival back at the car – BGL 8 mmol. What a strange strange diabetes day. We collect James 10 minutes early and he is crestfallen because he was having such a fun time! Filled with the happiness of our mornings, we share our adventures with each other as we drive back down the hill, rain beating against the window screen, windscreen wipers beating a rhythm.
By the end of the night, of course my BGL had crept up to 13 mmol, after a carb free dinner. And during the night, it spiked at 15 mmol, resulting in a bleary eyed, freezing footed, grumbling minded pump site change at 2am, a second check at 3.30am and a morning BGL of wait for it – 7 mmol! Just another day starting with no idea where diabetes will take me today.
So here’s the thing. What stands out the most to you in this story? Is it the mind numbingly boring moments of all of the BGL checks? Is it the complete absurdity of my results? Or is it the excitement of James arriving somewhere he hopes to spend his life, working with wildlife and parks? The marching soldiers on our hike through the silvery bush, finding lakes and birds and tall tall trees? The laughter in our car? The sparkling red flowers foraged in the rain? The ever changing weather of an Adelaide winter’s day in the hills? The salty caramel? The love between our family?
Diabetes is unpredictable. You can not take 1+1=2 and that is the same each and every time. Although ruled by numbers, life with diabetes is not a maths problem. There is not the surety of a maths problem. The one thing about diabetes that you need to know is that it is like the ever changing weather of an Adelaide winter. The most wonderful thing about knowing this is that it frees you up to enjoy the scenery of your life as you wander through it with your diabetes. You can take it along for the hike, but it is not the thing you must notice all the time, or remember the most. I would far rather remember the look on Maxwell’s face as he dipped a big stick into the lake to see how deep it went, the joy on James’s face as he starts to realise where he is headed in his life, the laughter on my husband’s lovely face as he joked with the barista about his triple shot coffee. The one guaranteed thing about diabetes is that it is there. It will always be there. And you have total control over how you take that, and how you see your life. Let it be there, enjoy the hike and look up.