11.10.2016

Disease and Positive Thinking

John, my father-in-law and good friend, came down with type 1 diabetes in his 50s. This is the form of diabetes where your pancreas simply conks out. If he doesn't take insulin injections, John dies. Like most people with type 1 diabetes, he found out the hard way: a massive sugar spike wound him up in the hospital.

While the other people I know with type 1 diabetes tend to eat like most people do and modulate/monitor/control their sugar levels with insulin injections throughout the day, John is all about taking the least amount of insulin possible. He does one injection (very few units of insulin) in the morning, and then controls his sugar/carb intake by eating  a regimented diet consisting of low carbs, carefully monitored calorie intake, and the same foods each day. He follows a food calendar of sorts, eating the same things on Monday/Wednesday/Friday, say, and then another set of similar foods Tuesday/Thursday, and so on. And it works for him. John's sugar levels have been incredibly stable since he was first diagnosed, as in zero spikes, and he's remained quite healthy.

We were sitting around talking about his diabetes and the newly regimented eating habits (he used to eat much more spontaneously), and he said something I'll never forget:

"Contracting type 1 diabetes is the
best thing that ever happened to me."

Taughannock Falls State Park

When John said this, I had been newly diagnosed with MS. I simply could not fathom saying anything even remotely similar about my own situation. For John, coming down with diabetes meant huge changes in his eating practices and a new focus on stable routines in daily life. The disease was scary and life altering, for sure, but also empowering for him. Oddly enough, he's healthier in many ways -- fitter, leaner, more vibrant -- than he was before his pancreas died.

When John describes his own condition as a positive thing in his life, everything about having MS for me was too new, too shocking, too scary, and too depressing. But at this point, 18 years into having this disease and almost one year into knowing for sure that it's long been the cause of my symptoms, I can almost say that having MS is ... if not the best thing that could have happened to me, at least a positive source for inspiration. I mean, I'd be lying if I didn't say that I wish I didn't have the disease. But at the same time and quite a bit like John, I feel that I'm thriving ... not merely living in the clutches of this disease. At the moment, MS isn't "something I suffer from." It's something I live with.

And like John, this is likely because my response to MS has not been simply to try to go on living in the same ways I had before. Instead, my response has been to change everything: things at work, things at home, my daily routines, travel, hobbies, and much of what I eat. Foodways are powerful things, and for the first time in my life mine have become regular, repetitious, and free of many foods that clearly weren't working for me. These new foodways (which I've described on this blog before) seem to be nourishing many other parts of me.

So I'm not fully ready to own that powerful statement that John made about his disease. But it's starting to resonate within me.

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