Monday, December 28, 2009

The secret to finding true love

There's a secret to finding true love.

I was on a quest to find my soul mate in my 20s and early 30s. And I just wouldn’t settle for less. And I didn’t. I did meet my soul mate, and we have been married for almost five years. His name is Lior.

You may be taken aback that I call Lior 'my soul mate'. Not everyone believes that there is a special someone destined for one other person. I have always believed in some form of soul mates long before I met him. Then when I did finally meet him, I knew it was true, at least for me. It was a simple feeling, a very strong one actually, that I had only felt with him. I now call it intuition.

The path to finding him wasn’t an easy one though. When you’re like me and the millions of us out there who have diabetes, finding that special someone, a soul mate, a person to spend your life with, a partner, can be quite a stressful experience. I know that finding the love of your life is stressful for many people with or without diabetes. It isn’t easy to find the needle in the haystack that fits you just right. In my case, as a diabetic, I went into the search with a lot of baggage; some even see it as a stigma.

I often pondered: When do I tell a guy I’m dating that life with me will come with restrictions? With added expenses, continuous trips to doctors, and finger pricks? When do I tell him about diabetic complications? When do I tell him that life with me will require a lot of him?

So, I hid. I didn’t want to scare off potential suitors before we even had a chance to get to know each other. I still went on dates, but I found other ways to keep my secret. I avoided wearing an insulin pump for years. I would choose the times for meetings carefully. Sometimes hiding the diabetes would get ugly. I remember one guy told me I was rude because I didn't want to join him for dinner at 8 or 9 pm. I didn't feel like explaining before I was ready. He clearly wasn't the right guy for me, but it still didn't feel good.

Then one day, actually January 13, 2002, I met this guy, an Israeli soldier who had seen the world and then some. His worldliness and confidence won me over immediately. He had been through a lot as a soldier and citizen of a war-torn nation, and so in my mind, I assumed that a little diabetes wasn’t so scary in comparison with bombs and missiles. He had seen poverty in his travels, and experienced life and death situations more than once. I believe he had already learned how to value living, being in the moment, before I had gotten there myself.

We were already dating for about three months when we decided to go away together for a weekend to Puerto Rico. We were walking along the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan when I began to feel a bit funny. My sugar was going low. Lior had already known that I had diabetes at that point, but thus far, it hadn’t really been an issue or topic of conversation. The diabetes hadn’t impeded our dates. It had been a simple ‘for your information’. Now, the diabetes came to the forefront. It was going to sidetrack our fun for a little while. How was he going to react?

I had to stop. I couldn’t push past it or keep it hidden from him, and so I let him know, “I think my sugar is going low.”

“So what should we do?” he asked.

“I need to sit and check my sugar.”

Lior searched for a seat, and he led me to a table with a couple of chairs outside on the sidewalk to check my blood sugar. The glucometer showed that my sugar was in fact low; it was around 57, a scary number. I didn’t have sugar with me, or I couldn’t find it in my purse.

He must have noticed that I was freaking out, getting all tense and nervous, because he asked, “Do you need anything?”

“Can you get me some orange juice?”

“There’s a kiosk over there. I’ll be right back.” He went, bought the OJ, and returned within seconds. Then he sat with me until my sugar returned to normal, “Are you okay?”

“I’ll be fine in 15 or 20 minutes.” His only concern was for me.

As I sat there checking and waiting for my sugar to climb back to normal, I observed him as well. And after I finished beating myself up for not bringing sugar with me, I noticed that he didn’t run away! Not that he had much choice at that moment, but he didn’t fly off or jump in the sea.

So wait a minute here, I was totally diabetic. You can’t get more diabetic than a low blood sugar, and he didn’t run away? It probably took me a few days to digest: I was able to be myself, and it turned out more than okay. I didn’t have to hide or pretend to be something or someone that I’m not.

The secret to finding true love is to simply be me.

I’m sure that there are many who bring baggage to many tables, just as I have. My belief: Get rid of whatever is holding you back, de-clutter, and turn self-created fears into love. Self-love.

When you live authentically, accepting and loving yourself for you who you are, all the parts and pieces whether perceived as good or bad, showing the world the real you, true love prevails. And that's a secret worth sharing.

Monday, December 21, 2009

What healthcare reform means to me

I never thought I’d see the day where healthcare reform might actually pass the Senate. Quite frankly, I am holding back from getting too excited, dreaming of a world where we can all receive affordable, accessible, quality healthcare. I am a bit fearful of what may or may not be behind that 2,700 page legislation which the majority of Americans have not read, including me. But mostly, I am holding back because there is still a chance that it may not pass all the way (hello Joe).

But the dream is still there, waiting to be realized. Could it really be happening this week?

As a diabetic, I have been weighed down by the challenges of obtaining headache free coverage since I can remember. My parents, husband, and I have spent many a long, agonizing phone call arguing with health insurance company representatives regarding coverage of treatments and obtaining necessary pharmaceuticals. And even worse, and so embarrassing, writing statements on preexisting conditions for health insurance companies to examine and analyze.

I have so many painful stories on this topic. Here’s just one: I lived abroad in Israel for three years and was denied coverage of my diabetic care when I returned to the United States. Why? Because I couldn’t prove that I had continuous coverage under an American insurance company while I was there. I had been covered by Israeli health insurance. So I was informed that I had to wait a year until my diabetic care would be covered. The only way to obtain coverage would be under an employer’s healthcare plan. I had just come back to the United States. I hadn’t found a job yet. And when I did find a job, I had to wait three months to be eligible.

Diabetes doesn’t care about waiting periods, preexisting conditions, and continuous coverage. It doesn’t just go away because it’s inconvenient for the insurance companies.

What I couldn’t understand was – why? What if a person loses their job - and cobra is too expensive – because well, they lost their job? What if a person does go abroad for a valuable, educational, life-changing experience and needs to find a job when they return? Should we all stay put, not move, not explore, not leave a job or look for a new one, for fear of denial of healthcare coverage? Aren’t we one of the wealthiest countries in the world? Aren’t we all about freedom here in America? I had been covered under American health insurance my entire life, but because I moved abroad, I couldn’t receive coverage of preexisting conditions when I returned.


I just didn’t get it, and quite frankly, I was embarrassed. It made me feel that the country where I was born, raised, educated, worked, lived didn’t care if I lived or died. Because I cost too much to keep alive?

As a diabetic, health insurance is necessary and essential. I’m insulin dependent. The costs involved in maintaining my health are astronomical. Prescriptions. Doctors. Tests. The insurance companies know better than I do how much this disease costs a month, let alone a year.

Without the medications, without the proper care, I could and probably would go blind, risk losing limbs, my sense of touch, kidney function. Synthetic insulin and all its paraphernalia are what keep me alive…and allow me to live.

So, okay, why should the rest of you care? Why should American taxpayers care? Here’s what it boils down to: Is access to affordable, quality healthcare a right or a privilege?

Well, the first and most obvious reason we all should care is basic human compassion. We are all human. And we all have one thing in common. We will all die one day. Some of us may unfortunately undergo illnesses along the way. Some of us may be so lucky to never have a need for a doctor, hospital, or medical procedure. It’s doubtful though. Shouldn’t we all, irrelevant of earnings and workplace, receive the same opportunity to be healthy? Shouldn’t healthcare rank up there with the right to freedom of speech? Of religion? Shouldn’t healthcare be on the same list as the right to a free education? To learn how to read and write? The right to vote?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services almost 8 percent of the American population has some form of diabetes. And another 57 million have pre-diabetes, meaning they have high blood sugars but not high enough to be called diabetes.

I was in shock when I read these numbers, and instantly thought to myself: These statistics only cover the population with diabetes. How many people in this country are sick? How many have broken a bone? Or received a vaccination? How many inventors, CEOs, teachers, plumbers, firemen, and artists are in need of healthcare? And where would this country be, where would we be as the human race, without them?

And how many potential doctors, lawyers, and teachers haven’t received treatment for an illness because they don’t have access to health insurance?

Second, for those of you who are still thinking about costs and economics and/or are pretty annoyed that I took time on this blog for grassroots political commentary, a healthy society is a happier, more productive society. Think of how much more efficient and productive people are when they are healthy, and think of how inefficient people can be when feeling under the weather, have a cold, a toothache, depression, poor vision, or even worse.

Adequate, accessible, quality healthcare coverage will help make this country….healthy.

So, I’m pretty excited that healthcare reform might pass, despite not knowing all the ins and outs of the actual legislation. I am certain that there are mistakes within those pages. Isn’t that inevitable? I’m sure there will be criticisms from all sides. That’s the power of democracy. But I can't help but go back to the words of the late Ted Kennedy, which were reiterated by his late wife Victoria Reggie Kennedy in Sunday's Washington's Post, “better to get half a loaf than no loaf at all.”

I’m excited because it’s a step in the right direction. It makes me feel like America cares. About me. And the millions of you out there who want to be healthy too.

Let’s care about the people who live amongst us. After all, we’re all human.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Living the big dream

I have always had big dreams.

I heard a story not too long ago (probably on Oprah) of a woman who faced great odds to live her dreams. She grew up in a small, poor village in Africa where AIDS is prevalent. Girls were not able to go to school, but she really wanted to learn. She dreamed of an education.

The boys in her town were able to go to school though, since they were considered the breadwinners. And so the girl begged to do her brother’s homework every day when he came home from school. It didn’t take much prodding, and that’s how the girl began to learn how to read and write.

The girl never imagined that life would take her beyond the village until an American woman came to visit on behalf of a non-profit organization. The woman sat with the village girls and told them: “When you have a dream, it means you can fulfill it. If you can see it, dream it, visualize it, then it can be.”

The girl had never realized that she can dream before that day, and that night, she was so excited that she wrote her dreams down on a piece of paper and buried them in a tin under a rock near her village. Her dream: To live in America, get a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree, and a PhD.

At the age of 13, the girl married an abusive man in an arranged marriage and had five children, but she always remembered her dream. And she pursued it despite the challenges. She did move to America. Her abusive husband died of AIDS. And she went on to get her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and now she is almost ready to graduate with a PhD. And to this day, every time she has achieved one of the items on her dream list, she goes back to the village and pulls the tin with her dreams in writing out of the ground, and crosses the item off the list.

She dreamed big, and she allowed herself to believe that she can achieve it.

As a person with big dreams, a believer in potential, I believe that this is a wonderful and inspiring story, and I wish her the greatest that life can give. The story strikes me though. On the one hand, it’s inspiring, but it also leaves me with questions.

Is she a happier person because she is realizing her dreams?

Perhaps I ask these questions because I have pursued my dreams, and although I am grateful for all of it and happier than I have ever been, I still want more. Like the African woman, I have had some challenges along the way – not lack of education, abusive husband, or AIDS infested village – but my own set of challenges – the diabetes, celiac, and so on. I’ve actually achieved a number of my big dreams. I’ve traveled, lived abroad, married an amazing husband, and have two Master’s degrees.

I was thrilled each time I achieved one of my dreams, but the next day, I always asked: “Okay, now what?” So I created more dreams and more visualizations of myself reaching amazing heights. I don’t regret doing so. But I wonder: Does the pursuit of dreams make a person happy? And how about once you get there?

I've worked at answering those questions. Here’s a theory that I’m testing out. Tell me what you think.

I have definitely gotten mired by the ins and outs of life, living in a cloud at times, getting sucked in by distractions and to-do lists (hello, TV, bills, errands, doctors, commutes), that sometimes (not always) I have found myself not even realizing when my wishes and dreams were actually coming true. I often have to stop myself and realize that I'm living a huge chunk of my dream life.

So, first, I made a conscious decision to do my best at becoming aware of each moment of every single day. I started journaling, meditating, becoming more creative, and I wrote my dreams down in my notebook which I keep by my bedside.

It's amazing what you discover when you are aware of the world around you. Try it if you haven't already. I found myself becoming more attuned - to myself. I was able to realize which of the dreams that I was holding are actually mine and which belong to someone else. I also became better attuned to the steps along the way to achieving the dreams.

Next step of the theory: I celebrate. I celebrate every single achievement. Sometimes, a celebration may be as simple as an acknowledgment and a smile, and sometimes, depending on the circumstance, the celebrations can get a bit more elaborate. Whatever the case may be.

Then, when I wasn't looking, I realized that the theory developed even further. I took a class in June which gave all of us students the tools necessary to writing a book, which I am now doing. On the last day of class, the teacher advised us to set up a reward system for mini-achievements along the way. He said that it would keep us moving along through a very long process. So he advised – reward yourself each time you reach a certain point, a reward for writing 50 pages, or 25, or even one. Or hey, why not just celebrate every day you write?

The big realization: This applies to everything - even beyond the pursuit of dreams. Because isn't the pursuit of dreams simply - life? If you are studying for a test, cooking dinner, or cleaning the house, celebrate. Or maybe you are fixing a car, riding a bike – break down the mini-steps of life and celebrate each step along the way.

And soon, before you know it, you’ll be celebrating life. All of the mini-achievements along the way. The sunrise and sunset, the change in seasons, family and friends, a beating heart, breath...

There are an infinite number of opportunities to celebrate. Because each day is an achievement worth celebrating in the pursuit of dreams.

Dream big, imagine the unimaginable, and be aware of every step along the journey, accept each day as it is, and be sure to stop and celebrate all the steps along the way. Because that just may be the key to the pursuit of happiness.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Welcome to my treasure hunt

Where would I be, what would I be doing, if I wasn’t afraid?

Welcome to my treasure hunt. I have been on a treasure hunt for at least ten or fifteen years now, seeking my life’s treasures, whatever they may be or wherever they may fall. A path, or a journey, that will bring me great rewards. I’m not exactly looking for jewels, precious stones, or mountains made of gold.

I’m seeking to live my life’s passions, but sometimes fear stumbles in along my way. It wasn't always like that.

As a diabetic, I’ve always wanted to feel safe. Not eating the right foods, or taking the right amount of insulin, or exercising at the wrong time of day, or a million other things can cause my blood sugars to go very high or very low. Those low sugars can feel really nasty, and consistent high sugars cause a diabetic to develop some very severe complications over time, like blindness.

When I was young and didn't know any better, I tempted the consequences and ate sugary foods while not keeping track of my blood sugars. When I was 19 years old, I was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, and as I told you in the earlier post, In the beginning, I had a 50-50 chance of going blind. I lost some vision, but I'm alright.

I blamed myself though, and I became cautious. Very cautious. Too cautious and afraid of what may or may not be if I didn’t follow the rules and play it safe. I was so miserable. Not miserable for striving to be healthy, but rather miserable for living life out of fear.

But life hands us new experiences every day, and every time I stepped out and tried something new, and followed a passion, I became more and more aware. First, I became aware of my misery. Then, I traveled alone to Paris. I moved to New York City. I tried eating new foods, dancing different dances, or learning new languages. And each time, the experience became more enjoyable, more exhilarating, and even more inspiring. I found myself transforming.

One of the most profound times I really pushed myself outside of my safe, comfort zone was when I went on a sort of adventure-travel tour of Australia. We were provided with lots of options during the tour: White water rafting, hot air balloon riding, and sky diving. I slept on a sailboat for 3 days. Sounds cool, huh? Yeah, I totally freaked out every morning, completely afraid of what adventure options they would throw at us next, and each day, I grappled.

I was scared to death – the heights, the deep waters, the crummy bathrooms, the animals. You name it. I was scared of it. What might happen?

We went to the Great Barrier Reef at the very end of the trip. Hello, diving. The tour operator asked for a show of hands: Who wanted to go deep sea diving? I thought it would be a pretty cool experience, but I was so totally scared at the same time. I didn’t have much time to decide. I sat there grappling, time was ticking. I had to give an answer. Do I go? Don’t I go? What do I do?

Then, the instructor informed us that diabetics weren’t allowed to go deep sea diving. You see, there’s no way to treat low blood sugar underwater.

I actually smiled at first. What a relief! I had an excuse to stay in my comfort zone. No scary adventure travel for me! But then I sat for a few minutes, and it hit: I was angry. Not because I wasn’t going, I was annoyed because even if I wanted to go, I couldn’t.

And that’s when I rebelled. I didn’t care how much it cost, or if I went alone, I was going to do every other adventure option possible at the Great Barrier Reef. And I did: I flew in a helicopter, rode in a submarine, and snorkeled too. I wasn’t going to be deprived of my Great Barrier Reef experience just because I am diabetic. I didn't know it at the time, but I had discovered a passion along my treasure hunt.

I stepped out of my safe, comfort zone and decided to live once again, transforming once again. I forgot about what may or may not happen because I was too busy focusing on having the best time ever. That helicopter ride was phenomenal!

What I didn’t realize at the time, and maybe am only realizing now, is that by telling me that I can’t do something, I actually pushed past my fear of what may or may not be. I can’t control the outcome. I can’t hide myself away in the closet of life, going about the same old thing day after day. Because then I am not truly living.

I have learned to let fear be my guide for what is most appropriate for me. Fear helps us stay balanced - It’s not like I ignored the sound advice of my doctors or the tour operator. I didn’t go deep sea diving despite the tour operator’s instructions. I still check my sugars, eat a healthy diet, and exercise.

But although I didn’t realize it then, I did let fear be my guide for what I truly want – an experience. After all, there was really only one possible outcome that I was truly afraid of – drowning to my death unable to control my breath while sharks hover around me, possibly tearing me apart limb by limb. It wasn’t the actual diving I was afraid of – wearing a wet suit, learning how to breathe wearing an oxygen tank, paying attention to the signs for up and down, and watching amazing sea creatures float by.

And you know what, although I didn’t go diving, it turned out more than alright up there in the sky looking at the most breathtaking view you can imagine.

No, I don’t go to Australia every day and go riding in helicopters. That's totally not the point of this entry. My goal is to share with you the mantra - live life to the fullest, every single moment of every single day. Don't let the uncertainty of possible outcomes hold you back. None of us know what will be. How do you find your journey? One way is to become aware of your fears, jealousies, and anger. They will guide you along the way to what you really want. Ask yourself: What would you be doing if you weren’t afraid of the outcome?

I’m still seeking my treasure every single day, seeking to live my life’s passions at every moment of every single day. The realization is: Living one’s passions isn’t an end goal or an outcome. The treasure isn't found on some mountaintop. It's found along the way, on the journey.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A gluten-free Thanksgiving

I had my very first gluten-free Thanksgiving this year.

Why? Well, I was diagnosed with celiac disease in September. Here’s the gist: When I, or anyone with Celiac, eats foods containing gluten, meaning wheat, rye, and barley, the small intestines are damaged, and food does not absorb properly into the body. This can cause a whole host of problems, and left untreated can lead to malnutrition and even intestinal cancer.

Celiac is treated through diet. By eating a gluten-free diet, the body of a person with celiac can amazingly heal itself over time, typically taking around 6 months to de-toxify, and many of the symptoms begin to subside or reverse themselves – sometimes almost immediately.

Needless to say, this diagnosis was life-changing, and I am still going through the process of adjusting to this new lifestyle.

I began to realize that I was physically ‘falling apart’ a few years ago. A few months after turning 34, I woke up one morning and noticed that I had lost almost all the range of motion I had in my left hip. I, of course, went to the doctor, and then another doctor, and then another, but not one knew what was wrong with me. It took a few short months for the hip injury to become progressively painful, and I continually lost more and more range of motion. After years of tests and a variety of doctors’ visits, I had relinquished myself to ongoing chiropractic care and yoga as treatment for my undiagnosed hip injury. It did help, but it didn’t go away. I continued to persist though, and I finally received a diagnosis of osteo-arthritis in 2008.

But I just couldn’t believe that I had arthritis at such a young age. The diagnosis just didn’t work for me. The whole thing sounded strange, and I knew intuitively that my hip was locked up for some undiscovered reason. I just didn’t know what.

Around the same time, I became incredibly anxious every time I rode in a car. I used to love car drives, and suddenly, almost overnight, car rides became torturous. I saw the walls of parking garages caving in all around me, and in my mind’s eyes, I saw other passenger cars driving across lanes on major highways into our own almost causing major collisions. The parking garage walls were not caving in though, and neither were the cars on the highway. I logically knew this, but anxiety had taken over. And, I found myself staying at home more and more, not going out and living the life I had once lived so vivaciously.

I would get so tired, so drained of energy. I also found that the psoriasis I had since I was 18 (an auto-immune skin disorder which I now believe was the first sign) suddenly began to spread uncontrollably. My arms were covered with itchy and very uncomfortable red bumps.

I was seriously falling apart, and I didn’t know why. Meditation, exercise, healthy eating just weren’t cutting it. It was bad.

In all honesty when I first received the news that I may have celiac, all I could think was: What? No more croissants? And then, thinking of my diabetes, I said: Why must I always feel deprived? As a child with diabetes, I was not able to eat sugary treats or candy. I wasn’t able to eat the same foods that other kids my age were eating. I felt left out, not like everyone else, and yes, lacking. So now celiac too?

I actually didn’t know that I was being tested for Celiac. My endocrinologist (diabetes doctor) threw the test into my routine lab work. I was sitting in the doctor’s office looking at the test results when I saw in red writing: “Celiac – 12”. Normal is below 5. The endocrinologist sent me to a gastroenterologist.

The gastroenterologist asked me a series of questions, like: Have you ever been diagnosed with arthritis? Do you have any skin ailments? Do you suffer from anxiety? It took a few seconds until it hit: Celiac is serious; it’s not just about eating gluten-free and giving up wheat. This could be the answer to my why-am-I-falling-apart questions. The gastroenterologist performed an upper endoscopy (seriously not a big deal) and I learned 10 days later that I have celiac. The treatment: Go see a dietician and eat a gluten-free diet.

Gluten-free living started in early September, a few short months ago. Lior and I scouted out all of the stores, learned about all of the brands, and found out what to look for when reading the nutrition facts. Gluten can be found hidden in unsuspected places, like soy sauce and rice mixes. As everyone saw how distressed I was about giving up gluten, they reassuringly told me: “Awareness of gluten-free diets has grown so much over the last few years. There’s a whole world of gluten-free cuisine out there.”

It’s actually true, but when I was first diagnosed, I felt so deprived of things I love like pastries, cookies, pasta, and breads, and going out to nice restaurants that it wasn’t consoling. Some of the most trying situations though were figuring out how to handle awkward social situations like invitations for dinner and lunch meetings.

My husband Lior, the amazing man and ‘chef’ that he is, could see how distraught I was. For those of you who know us, you are well aware that we’re total foodies. And so, he started digging up recipes for dishes and cuisines from around the world that are gluten-free. Our family and friends jumped on board as well – sending articles and recipes and buying whatever gluten-free product they could find.

Lior began to create great food that just so happens to be gluten-free and more oftentimes than not, diabetes friendly. Talk about a challenge! Sometimes, he uses a gluten-free product, such as pasta or a baking mix, and there are times that he tries to figure out gluten-free solutions so that we can eat nice meals – like binding agents. Turns out gluten acts as a natural binding agent in baking. Who knew? So he figured out some techniques to help along in the binding process, like soaking apples in cream to bind them together into a gluten-free apple pie.

We’ve become accustomed to eating more at home, asking lots of questions at restaurants, and bringing a dish with us to friends’ houses. Slowly, I have began to realize that this really isn’t that bad; it’s even fun when Lior creates some fabulous new dish I had never eaten before - like homemade Bolognese with creamy polenta or a low-sugar chocolate Ganache cake with chestnuts. Yum!

Before you know it, Thanksgiving was around the corner, and I began to fret about not having my favorite stuffing with gravy and cranberry sauce. No fear though! Lior was in the process of planning with my mom – who has also taken on gluten-free living as a project – a Thanksgiving holiday like no other!

I went to the chiropractor before the holiday began for my regular adjustment. After my chiropractor’s routine range of motion hip check, he casually, yet happily, informed me: “Ophir, your range of motion in your left hip is the same as in your right.”

I, of course, didn’t believe him and made him check again. But it’s true; my left hip is pretty much back to normal!!!! Can you believe it? Suddenly tapioca starch and rice flour don’t seem so bad! Up until this point, I was crying about how I might forget what regular bread tastes like. Now it’s more like: My hip is back!!! This is totally worth it!!!

During Thanksgiving weekend, Lior pointed out to me that I am much less anxious. We rode down to my parents in the car, and I hardly cringed at all. My skin has gotten much better. I am less drained, mellower, and the color has come back to my face.

I can feel how my health has improved, but is all this no gluten stuff worth feeling deprived though? That’s when I realized that I have a choice – feel deprived, or learn how to feel abundant. It’s up to me, and only me.

As I sat at our Thanksgiving table eating the most delicious gluten-free meal you could ever imagine, feeling incredibly full and having eaten way too much, I did in fact notice how grateful I am – and yes, abundant. Not for the food, although I was grateful for that too, but for the amount of love and care that my family put into making a meal that I could enjoy along with everyone else. And feel totally normal. Actually, I felt better than normal.

And I thought: Why do I consider the ability to eat a pastry as abundant? You may say that my feelings of deprivation, or seeking abundance through food, are related to living with diabetes since the age of 3. It’s true. I was not able to eat the same foods as everyone else, and sometimes I didn’t even necessarily want to eat them. I just wanted to feel normal.

But it’s much, much more than that. I think that our society lends to it. Most people feel abundant when they have lots of money, lots of things, and yes, lots of food. Have you seen the portion sizes at American restaurant chains? Let me tell you: That is not normal! We are overwhelmed by ads telling us to buy, eat, buy, eat, and then take a pill to drown out all the unhealthiness we ingest.

When in actuality, eating a large meal or having lots of stuff never really brings us true abundance. No matter how much food or money we have, it’s never enough. We are always left wanting more. So I will quote a bit of advice from Oprah: "When you feel the need for more arise, ask yourself, what are you really hungry for?" Most of the time, it's really not a Big Mac or another pair of shoes.

We are seeking true abundance.

And what's really funny is that we already have it! Abundance is all around us. You just need to know where to look. The deepest, most profound feelings of abundance come when we are aware of the love, gratitude, and compassion we have for ourselves and others. Moments of gratitude can be found in the simplest things. Love starts with love of self. Compassion requires listening to the people in our lives, and really hearing what they have to say.

And I would like to thank you for listening.

Monday, November 23, 2009

All boxed in....

I never really wanted to be defined by my diabetes.

Today, I turn 38, and I just came back from a great weekend trip to New York. My husband Lior and I ate fabulous foods like Asian-Cuban fusion, walked the streets and felt the energy, and of course, went shopping. A big part of the trip, and perhaps not so coincidentally, was our visit to a Kandinsky exhibit at the Guggenheim.

Kandinsky was born in Russia, spent many years of his artistic life living in Germany, and died in Paris when he fled the Nazis.

Kandinsky was always on the cutting edge of art. His belief was that artistic expression comes from a place of spirituality or "inner self", rather than painting from form as his predecessors had. For example, rather than painting a chair as you see the chair, find how your inner self relates to the chair and paint from that place of stillness. Kandinsky's art is labeled for us as abstract, because his images are hard to define, and his improvisations (as they are called) are Universalist. When Kandinsky looked at a mountain view or listened to music, he felt he could portray that feeling, his inner sense of that experience, through the colors he chose, the brushstrokes he painted, and the shapes he portrayed on canvas.

When the Russian Revolution rolled around in 1914, and Communism prevailed, Kandinsky was dismissed by his fellow in-the-box Russian artists. From what I've understood of Communist Russia, people were boxed into roles. If you were a physicist, that's who you were until the day you died - a physicist. A carpenter was a carpenter. A teacher was a teacher. And so on, you get the point.

In Communist Russia, people were not fully seen; they were not seen as their true, whole selves.

So, Kandinsky moved to Germany to teach at the famous Bauhaus school.

And so here I am, on my birthday, in 2009, completely moved by this man who had the courage to change his life to live his true self.

I went through a bit of an identity crisis until recently. Up until that day that my sense of self switched up a bit, I spent most of my adult life traveling, exploring, reading, journaling, and all while unknowingly at the time, trying to desperately figure out who I am and where I belong on this Earth.

Let me tell you, I’ve read a lot of books, and many provide lots of questions to ask yourself. I attempted to answer them all. Questions that all boil down to: Who are you? And, I found myself journaling like mad making list after list of all the descriptive words I could think of.

Woman, writer, traveler, American, Jewish, curly-haired, diabetic...

Not that these labels are good or bad, but they just didn’t quite seem to fit. There was clearly something that I hadn’t figured out about myself. And I felt completely unsatisfied by them; something was missing. So, I gave up. What was the point? It didn’t help me figure out who I am.

Little did I know at the time, but I was boxing myself in. My list of words and boxes may have been longer than they were for people in Communist Russia, but by boxing myself into labels, I wasn’t allowing myself to be my true self.

I had this grand realization while meditating actually. There are no words that can describe me. Actually, there are no words that can describe any of us. Words simply describe a situation, but those situations can change. And then who are we?
If you had spent your life, thinking of yourself as a traveler, and then suddenly find yourself without the ability to travel for whatever reason, well then, what happens to your sense of self? If you think of yourself as a wife, or a mother, or an aunt, and one of your family members passes away or leaves, well then who are you?

Well you either cease to exist if that’s who you are, or you realize that we are all of those words, all of those descriptions, all of those labels boiled into one indescribable being that is way too grand for a couple of little boxes.

I don’t have to define myself as a diabetic. It’s only one brushstroke on the whole canvas.

Thank you, Kandinsky.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monkey on my back

I just could not get the phrase "monkey on my back" out of my head this week when trying to come up with this week's blog entry.

And for whatever reason, I kept connecting the phrase to my insulin pump. What was writer's inspiration trying to tell me - that my cute little pump that has improved my life by leaps and bounds was actually the monkey on my back?

I don't know about you, but when I'm trying to figure out something deep and meaningful in life - I turn to Google. I entered the phrase 'monkey on my back' in the search box and was a bit confused by the first search result. Steven Tyler of the rock band Aerosmith actually sang about the 'Monkey on my back' on the 1989 album Pump.

Creepy, huh?

In that song, Tyler is referring to his monkey - crack cocaine. Why was writer’s inspiration sending me to a rock band’s song about drug addiction? Although also a drug, insulin is not so similar to crack.

Mind you, I am not comparing insulin dependence to drug addiction. Please bear with me here.

I had to listen to the song, perhaps Steven Tyler would take me up among the clouds, blow me away (no pun intended), and sweep me to divine inspiration.

Yeah, that didn't happen exactly. I can't say I really like the song. It was a bit painful to hear, and I felt no state of euphoria. Aerosmith does tell a story in that song though, which I do find worth sharing with you; here are the lyrics:

"Woah, it's me
But I've been dyin'
Got to get that monkey
Off my back
Fortune teller look into my eyeballs
The wrinkles on her face about to crack
She said, "You best believe it, you ain't goin' nowhere,
Unless you get that monkey off your back"
Well, I make believe the devil made me do it
I was the evil leader of the pack
You best believe I had it all and then I blew it
Feedin' that fuckin' monkey on my back
If you put it in a spoon then I won't do it
Some timbers made my house was just a shack
And then you draw the line
When all your friends are dyin'
You got to get that monkey off your back
Crystal ball is where you chase the dragons
She said now, "Bring me home his head inside a sack"
But now you'll find your crystal balls are draggin'
Got to get that monkey off your back"

What I got from the song: Steven Tyler’s addiction to crack cocaine kept him from truly living. Aerosmith did really well in the 1970s, but drug addiction haunted the band, holding them back from influencing the rock scene, and it would take rehab to become one of the best rock bands of all time.

You can find many stories of people facing their battles and finding insiration out there nowadays. Oprah has a million of them for you. What I found interesting about this particular story though - from 1989 - is that Tyler calls the song 'Monkey on my back' - and not 'Get this monkey off my back'. Tyler clearly wants to stop abusing drugs, but this song is more about awareness. He is aware that the addiction has kept him from living life to his potential. Just read the lyrics again if you don't see it. Tyler looks into the future as he stares into the crystal balls, in other words, the drugs, and he is absolutely aware that he 'ain't goin nowhere' as a drug addict. This song isn't about rehab. It's about the moment when he looks into the drugs, and sees a dark future if he continues on that path.

In that moment, he becomes aware of his monkey, of his pain, and is able to transform his suffering into realizing his potential.

Steven Tyler's lesson became my lesson. Am I aware of the monkey on my back? Is this a lesson in realizing potential? Goshdarnit, my monkey isn't the pump; it's the diabetes.

I wasn't always conscious of my diabetes. I believe I am now on most days, most of the time. But I must confess that I have to become aware of the diabetes every morning when I wake up, and remind myself that it's there, and that there's work to do. I propose that it's much like being a drug addict.

I'm not talking about going with the motions. I've been doing that for over 35 years. I'm talking about awareness that only comes when the mind is clear of clutter. Some call it meditation, others creativity, and others prayer. But when you become aware of whatever dis-ease is holding you back, awakening naturally follows. And potential is realized.

Shock the monkey to life...

Monday, November 9, 2009

What's in a number?

I seek epiphanies. I love that moment when a light bulb goes off, the heavens open, light streams through the skies, and whatever discovery I've made lightens my world for a moment and ultimately changes my life, and sometimes even those around me.

That's how it felt when I had my blood sugar epiphany.

Some background: Diabetics are supposed to check their blood sugars on a regular basis. The blood sugar check provides us with a number that lets us know if the amount of sugar in our bloodstream is right on track, too high, too low, or borderline trouble-waiting-to-happen. I check my blood sugar around 8 to 10 times a day. The good part about checking blood sugars is that the number provides all diabetics with information for taking appropriate action - bring the sugar up, take the sugar down or leave it as it is.

The trick is keeping the numbers at a healthy level, and trust me, that is not an easy feat. You see, lots of things affect blood sugars besides sugar - exercise, food, amount of insulin injected, stress, hormones, and more. The unpredictability of all this can be quite frustrating and physically exhausting.

The big epiphany - and inspiration for this blog - came one day about 4 years ago. I was sitting around with some friends at work. I felt a little funny, and knew that I needed to check my sugar. I pulled out my meter, pricked my finger, and tested. When I read the number, I must have let out a good, "Uffff," while thinking to myself, 'Why is it so high? What did I do wrong????'

That's when my friend said to me, "Wow, it's amazing. You judge yourself based on your blood sugar reading," and she smiled. (I'm still incredibly impressed that she came to this eye-opening and deep reflection based on nothing more than my loud, frustrated grunt.)

Time froze, the heavens opened, the angels sang, and suddenly I realized that I had been basing my whole self-value system on that unpredictable blood sugar reading. I had become attached to the numbers. What's really crazy is that the number would probably just wind up changing 10 minutes later. I felt absolutely ridiculous at the time. Seriously, it's a number. How could I base my whole self-worth on an unpredictable, ever-changing number????? Years of frustration, and my friend refuted those awful feelings in an instant.

This discovery was so big for me that I spent lots of time really thinking it through. Could these value judgments based on numbers hold true for other things as well? We all have so many numbers surrounding our lives: age, salary, zip code, weight. Have I based my self-worth on other numbers besides my blood sugars? You betcha!

Could this be true for others as well?

If this feeling rings even slightly true for you, as it does for me, or if you are getting thoroughly annoyed by my even mentioning it, then, it's a real possibility that numbers mean more to you than just a piece of information.

So here's the real deal: Our age is constantly changing - every millisecond of every day of every year. Salaries go up and down, as this economy has taught us all. Zip codes are really there to help the postman deliver the mail, and not a judgment on where you live. Weight fluctuates constantly.

The reality is: We are all valuable for who we are. It's really that simple. The numbers are simply there providing information. They let us know how many candles to buy for a birthday cake, keep a budget, and google an address. The numbers do not hold emotion or feelings. They are not making a statement as to who or what we are. The numbers are for information purposes only, knowledge to help us take appropriate action. With my blood sugar reading, I know whether to adjust my insulin or food. It's that simple. Really, it is.

Numbers do not judge; people do. I may not like the numbers I see sometimes, but that's for me to decide, not the number.


Have you had any moving epiphanies that you'd like to share? Please do in the comment box below!

Monday, November 2, 2009

In the beginning...

I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1974 at the age of three. Okay, yeah, living with diabetes is tough. You may already realize that. But this blog isn’t meant to focus on being a victim or how hard or challenging this diabetic life has been.

This blog is about taking those challenges and using them for everything they’re worth – figuring out how to live the most fulfilling and satisfying life possible. A diabetic life is a quest, a journey, filled with questions and realizations. Yes, we're all faced with challenges, and you may find that some of those diabetic challenges, questions, and realizations apply to you too.

The first really big question I remember asking myself is: Why me? I was actually advised not to ask myself that question when I was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy when I turned 19 years old. Let me just be blunt: This meant that I had a 50-50 chance of going blind. When sitting on my bed feeling really pathetic and crying endlessly, I was advised not to wallow in self-pity. You see ‘Why me?’ can be considered a wallowing in self-pity kind of question. But it kind of depends on the tone in which you are asking.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I was not all enlightened at the age of 19. Oh no, it took 20 years to reach a place of relative peace living with this disease. At the time (and for many years after), I totally beat myself up for drinking alcohol at late night parties, but more so, I beat myself up for eating all of those cookies, candy bars, and tubs of whipped cream. All of those filled with unhealthy ingredients. I would sneak bites of cake when no one was watching, and stop at convenience stores and down Rollos before anyone came looking for me. What a rebel!

But seriously, after the you-may-be-going-blind diagnosis, I strongly felt that the answer to ‘Why me?’ was that I was a bad diabetic. I didn't take care of myself. That sure is a lot for a person to take on at such a young age! So, I ate a Snickers bar and a tub of Cool Whip, does that mean that I’m meant for a lifetime of blindness? That didn’t feel so good.

So I got angry: I didn’t choose to have diabetes! I didn’t bring this on myself! I didn’t know that if I ate all that sugar that I might go blind!

And so I did the only thing I knew to do. I prayed. I asked that I not go blind. I made a deal. I asked that if I continue seeing, that I, in return, would do what I can to make the world a better place, be a more giving and peaceful person. My prayers were heard, or perhaps science is just that fantastic, or both. Either way, it worked, and I received an answer.

Why me? Because it woke me up. I began to live consciously. I began to learn how to thrive with diabetes. And I can see.