Monday, February 22, 2010

Discovering your inner Olympic athlete

I have been watching the Olympics over the past week and have been completely amazed by the talents of extraordinary athletes. Many of us have seen Shaun White’s daring McTwist 1260 on the snowboard half pipe winning him the gold medal after his coach told him ‘to go and have some fun’. Or Apolo Ohno’s graceful focus as he speed skates his way to win medal after medal after medal.

But even more than their athletic ability, I am truly amazed at how these young men and women have set their eyes on a goal and have done whatever it takes, practicing for hours, days, and years, to achieve their dreams even when adversity arises.

Speed skater J.R. Celski cut his leg with his own skate, missing his femoral artery by an inch and nearly bleeding to death, during a race in September 2009, and yet he faced the challenge, continued toward his dream and won a bronze medal a week ago in the men’s 1,500 Meter relay. Or Kris Freeman, pronounced America’s best cross-country skier, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 19, and yet continues to ski during the Olympics on behalf of the U.S. team while closely monitoring his blood sugars and diet so that he can still make his dreams come true.

I never thought it was possible for me to be an athlete, let alone athletic. Besides the fact that I have never been the most coordinated or flexible person, I dismissed athleticism from my repertoire at an early age because of the diabetes.

As I’ve been watching the Olympics, I have begun to remember days when I was a kid and would play tennis and soccer, go sailing or for a hike, and ride my bicycle for hours. I loved being outdoors and active. I didn’t necessarily have what it takes to become an all-star, but I honestly didn’t care. I would just go out and have fun.

I switched schools when I reached the ninth grade, and I decided that I wanted to join the track team. I had never jogged a day in my life. I went to the track on the first day, probably wearing the wrong kind of sneakers, and tried to jog around the track a few times. My shins were killing me. I couldn’t keep up with the others. And I decided after only one try that I wasn’t an athlete. I quit the next day. I blamed the pain and I remember saying to myself, “Well, it’s probably for the best since I have diabetes”.

I limited myself, like many of us do in various aspects of life, inventing reasons not to do something rather than just trying and sticking to it. Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t have tried running track without ever going for a jog, but that’s beside the point.

I didn’t know that a goal or a dream takes time and lots of practice to achieve. I did not know about the right kinds of foods to eat or how to monitor my sugars properly for endurance training. I was trying to be the best on the first try and forgot to have fun.

I decided that I was more of the intellectual, creative arts, social activism type. And for years, I continued to start projects but without ever sticking to them, seeing them through adversity, and reaching the goal. I wasn’t having fun, living in the moment, and finding my zone like an athlete does. I was focused more on the prize or let adversity get the better of me.

So here I am watching the Olympics again, and I can’t help but feel a pang of jealousy telling me, “Why can’t I be an athlete? Why can’t I achieve my potential? See the dream and just go for it!” Okay, fine, I still lack the hand-to-eye coordination, but I bet I can take those characteristics of an Olympic athlete and apply them to other parts of my life as well. We all can.

There’s an adage that says, “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.” But perhaps what we can learn from these Olympic athletes is to have the dream and also the strength, endurance, and dedication to doing whatever it takes to getting there even when adversity arises. Being an athlete means discarding self-limiting beliefs, remaining focused and remembering to have some fun. You are living your dream, after all.

So I have decided that I do have a dream, actually I have a few dreams, and I am going to achieve them like an Olympic athlete.

Monday, February 15, 2010

My thoughts on Oprah’s show on diabetes: Part 2

Last week’s blog entry was on Oprah’s show on diabetes. Many in the Type 1 diabetic community were angered, hurt, and/or upset by the show, including me, and I left you last week saying that I would use the show as a lesson in awakening.

“Hopefully, it will leave us all inspired.”

Just to recap: There were two main points that upset me and my fellow Type 1’s.

1) Dr. Oz presented inaccuracies regarding diabetes. First, Dr. Oz claims that Type 1 diabetes is a genetic disease, but although I am not a doctor or medical researcher, many of us in the diabetic community know that this is not necessarily the case. There are plenty of Type 1's out there who do not have any Type 1 diabetes in their family history. He also stated that Type 2 is a product of lifestyle, which again is not always the case. Lifestyle is an important component of both types of diabetes, but it may or may not be the whole cause for Type 2. There are many Type 2's out there that live a healthy lifestyle, but triggered the disease through genetics.

Dr. Oz also claimed that we Type 1 diabetics don’t make “enough” insulin, but actually, the key is that we don’t make any insulin. Then, he claimed that 90% of diabetes is reversible through lifestyle, but did not point out that this is only the case with Type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes can be managed through lifestyle, but this disease is not reversible. And as Kelly Kunik states in Dear Oprah & Dr. Oz- The Diabetes Show- Major FAIL, these statements only perpetuate the stereotypes that diabetics are the makers of their own fate. Thank you, Kelly, for pointing that out!!!

2) Drama with inappropriate follow-through – the part that bothered me the most. As I wrote last week, “Dr. Oz visited a 44-year old woman in the hospital with Type 1 who had had both of her legs amputated and was undergoing kidney dialysis. It was painful to watch.”

Dr. Oz prodded the woman to share her feelings, and I believe that we were all in tears and/or fearful that it might happen to us. Yes, this is a wake-up call, and a much-needed one. “But then, after watching this woman with Type 1 diabetes crying with two legs gone, we the audience were informed that the show would actually focus on Type 2 diabetes. Why? Good news, 90% of the diabetic cases can be prevented. I felt slighted.”

What about us, the Type 1 diabetics? As Kelly Kunik also stated, why didn’t they show a Type 1 who is living a healthy, vivacious lifestyle as a result of self-care and proper management after showing the woman with amputated legs? How about Halle Barry, Nick Jonas, or the Type 1 diabetes cycling team?

And herein lies the reason for writing The Conscious Diabetic. I must use this show, this statement of fear and anxiety, for awakening.

The first step I took was to really diagnose what was bothering me about the show. Forget about the responsibilities that Oprah and Dr. Oz have as conveyers of the Live Your Best Life message. What really, really, really bothered me about the show irrelevant of what they should or should not have done?

For me, that was the case of the woman with amputated legs. They left us hanging, and didn’t make us feel better about the severity of complications involved with mistreated Type 1 diabetes.

It’s actually quite simple: Watching the woman with amputated legs undergoing dialysis reminded me of my own vulnerability, my own likelihood of winding up the same way. I don’t want to think of myself as potentially hooked up to a machine without my legs. Who does? But it is an underlying fear of diabetes. There is no way around it. That fear is there, festering quietly, and we typically choose not to discuss or think about it. By bringing it to the forefront, we can use it as an opportunity to listen to our bodies, our authentic voice, and through awareness, we can accept that the fear is there and take inspired action.

The problem is that when I saw the show, I started to think about all of the times I have eaten the wrong thing, and wound up with high sugars, then low, then high again. And I ate those things knowing very well what the consequences may be. I beat myself up for not taking care of myself, and forget to applaud the times that I have taken care of myself.

So yes, the show is a huge wake up call, and a scary wake up call. Maybe that’s not only what I needed, but maybe all of us needed it, even the non-diabetics? The mistakes that Dr. Oz and Oprah made only drew greater attention to the problem. It forced me to look at it more closely, as does this blog.

So what to do with this fear now that it’s out there in the open? There’s only one thing to do: Face it. I accept that the fear is there, and I choose to take inspired action. So, I am setting an intention here today. And I will do my best to act on it – every moment of every day.

FYI, Deepak Chopra talks about the Law of Intention in the Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. I highly recommend this book. So, with the guidance of our friend Deepak, I set my intention for managing my self-care, and you know what? My intention is to live a long, healthy, balanced, and fulfilling life.

What is one step I can take to do that? As it pertains to me, it means eating a healthy diet all of the time, not just most of the time. How can this be an inspired action? Take a breath before each bite, be thankful for the food I eat, and be present while eating.

I don’t know if I may wind up with foot ulcers and the need for amputations, and I don’t know if I’ll wind up still doing yoga and going for walks at age 85. I hope for the latter. I don’t know if I will wind up with kidney problems, but I actually reversed some kidney damage diagnosed when I was 21 through proper diet and exercise. The past is already behind all of us, and we can't change it.

So, the only thing that I can focus on is right now. And so I ask myself: Is there anything wrong at this very exact moment in time? Nope, everything is just fine. Actually, it’s great.

Monday, February 8, 2010

My thoughts on Oprah’s show on diabetes: Part 1

Despite disappointments, I have decided to use Oprah’s show on diabetes as a lesson in awakening.

Oprah Winfrey ran a special episode on diabetes last Thursday, as they called it: “America's Silent Killer”. Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely adore Oprah and her consciousness-raising show, but lo and behold, I was disappointed by parts of Thursday’s quick fix-it summary of diabetes, along with many in the Type 1 community.

Oprah and her team of doctors, chefs, and personal trainers spent much of the show talking about Type 2 diabetes while also touching upon Type 1 as well.

Dr. Oz, Oprah’s medical guru, was invited to provide a medical description of the disease. Dr. Oz used virtual diagrams of the human body and described how the body digests sugars and the important role of insulin in this process. Of course, he also addressed what happens when the body has too much sugar in its system.

So far, no complaints, and quite frankly, the virtual diagram of how blood sugars affect the body – the scars that affect the heart, the eyes, the kidneys, and circulation from too much sugar - is much more moving and enlightening than the textbooks and pictures we were shown of diabetes in the 1970s, 80s, and even the 90s.

Then, it was time for Oprah and Dr. Oz to really shock the audience and hit home the importance of self-care. Dr. Oz went to visit a 44-year old woman in the hospital with Type 1 who had had both of her legs amputated and was undergoing kidney dialysis. It was painful to watch. I’ve known all my life about diabetic complications. It’s another to watch it on TV. And Dr. Oz asked difficult questions like: When did it hit you? She described what it felt like to lose both legs and began to weep. Who could blame her?

So far, yes, a gripping show, and a huge wake-up call also for someone like me who makes huge efforts to take care of myself.

But then, after watching this woman with Type 1 diabetes crying with two legs gone, we the audience were informed that the show would actually focus on Type 2 diabetes. Why? Good news, 90% of the diabetic cases can be prevented. I felt slighted.

Oprah explained: Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90% of the diabetes population and oftentimes can be reversed with proper diet and exercise. They called it “the silent killer” because many people don’t realize that by mistreating diabetes, they are slowly and silently leading themselves to horrible complications and perhaps even premature death.

I do understand that Oprah and her producers felt it necessary to raise awareness because of the sheer numbers of those with Type 2 diabetes. And quite frankly, a show on Type 2 diabetes was long overdue.

Dr. Oz did say that there are treatments for Type 1 diabetics after defining the differences between Type 1 and Type 2 incorrectly, and not mentioning what the treatments are. But the rest of the show focused on Type 2. The un-reversible were left in the dust.

Bob Greene and Celebrity Fit Club’s Dr. Ian Smith went out to the community, talked about exercise and food with church groups, and then Art Smith, Oprah’s former chef, came out on stage after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes to show the crowd that he had lost 85 pounds. Wow!

I agree. We should all eat healthy. So why am I upset?

I felt ignored when it mattered most. Why did they show a Type 1 woman with amputated legs on a dialysis machine and then not address it? Why did they suddenly switch to Type 2? I did not expect them to start talking about the different kinds of insulin pumps, but then why freak us out with Type 1 information we already know if you aren’t going to discuss?

This isn’t new. Type 1 diabetics are often left out of the BIG diabetes discussion. Since we ‘only’ account for 10% of the diabetes population, we do not receive as much awareness, education, or funding for Type 1 research. It must feel good to be able to reverse 90% of the diabetes population, but what about the rest of us? And in this case, we didn’t even receive Oprah’s full attention.

I’ve gone through many thoughts on this episode. But as I sit and write this blog, I have come to realize that I can use this situation, the diabetes show and tell, for awakening. That's all I can do. Isn’t that how Oprah would have wanted it?

After four days of pondering, I’ve come up with some theories, but this will take more work. I’ll let you know what I come up with. Hopefully, it will leave us all inspired.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Abundance when you least expect it

Opportunities exist all around us to feel abundant, and they happen when you least expect it.

I went down to my parents in South Jersey this past weekend. My mom, a retired teacher, was being honored among her other retired colleagues at an evening event.

That afternoon, out of the blue, or perhaps more literally out of the gray sky, eight inches of snow fell on the little island town where I grew up. No one expected it; maybe an inch or two was expected at most. Neither my husband nor I brought the right shoes or coat, and no one had salted the driveway or roads prior to the storm either. And as the snow kept falling, we began thinking that maybe we shouldn’t go at all.

Sure enough though, when you least expect it, help arrived. The phone started ringing. It was her old friend and colleague. She was going to the event despite the snow, and she lives an hour away! (We live five minutes away from where it took place.) My parents lent us shoes and coats, and my husband along with all the neighbors went outside to shovel the path. My husband drove and dropped us off at the front door so my parents wouldn’t have to walk through the snow. We made it to the event, in time, and so did over 100 other people.

Despite the challenge of getting there, we had a great time! We saw old friends, met new people, heard great music, and were touched by the words of what former students had to say about their teachers.

This may seem like an ordinary story, or perhaps not worth even mentioning. But I am. Why? Because we can find so much goodness in this every day story, which quite frankly would cause most to complain - including me.

If it hadn’t snowed, would I have realized how helpful our neighbors are? Would my husband have been called gallant by at least five people that evening? Without that help, would I have had fun conversations with old and new friends? Would my mom have received the honor of being honored for over 30 years of hard work and dedication?

Just a simple story, yes, of everyday life, which at first may seem annoying, painful, worth a complaint or two, or even too mundane to even speak of. But within these ordinary life circumstances, there are also opportunities to show us all the goodness and riches in our lives. They give us an opportunity to feel abundant.

And they happen when you least expect it.