I was recently asked on Instagram: “How do you deal with the emotional burden and sadness of living with type 1 diabetes?” This question is almost always presented in terms of how can we stop the suffering. I want to look at this differently: how can we use the suffering to build something bigger than the pain. I’ve been thinking about that question in the context of my own recent loss. I think the answers are the same regardless of the specific source of the suffering.
Acceptance: This is the missing link. Trying to substitute avoidance in its place is just kicking the can down the road. If you wake up each day wondering why you have to struggle with diabetes it’s because it hasn’t become normal. Yet. Some part deep down is expecting or wishing that the struggle is a bad dream and that you will wake up one day and return to an easier normal. That fantasy is often cultivated on social media and it’s the surest path to misery and feeling every bump in this road that we are unable to exit. Once the battle is accepted type 1 diabetes stops being special. It stops standing alone, out of reach of all the solutions that seem to work for everything else. My diabetes isn’t it’s own thing. It’s a facet of my climbing. My travel. My photography.
You have to fully let it in so that you can let it out. Struggle needs an outlet. Accepting diabetes fully allows it to access and permeate the conduits that inspire us–and we are no longer left playing the good against the bad. The hardship adds value to what we create, if we can recognize the need to let our adversary out to play.
Influence: I know that the term “control” in relationship to diabetes is inelegant because it sets us up for an unrealistic outcome. I don’t intend to get into the technical aspects of managing blood sugar here. Still there is tremendous psychological value in exerting all possible influence over our health. Diet matters. Exercise matters. Lifestyle and happiness matter too. There is much we can’t control and that is much more bearable if we are making the best use of the variables that we can control. It won’t solve all your problems but you will certainly learn something and even if it improves one small facet of your life it’s a win. Small wins add up.
Investment: As I wrote in an earlier blog, the only thing that endures beyond us is the way we make people feel. The “good shit” we create in our lives and the lives of others that they can hang onto when times are tough. The truth is that sadness is inevitable. There’s no way to be happy all the time. There’s no way to have stable blood sugar all the time. I’m meticulous with my diet and exercise and lifestyle and I can tell you that the sadness and “burden” is always there. The trick is that I don’t expect it to be otherwise, so I make sure to set that burden aside at times so that I’m not buried beneath it. I fully feel the low points in order to move beyond them. I’ve given myself permission to be vulnerable but not to wallow.
This understanding of alternating periods can guide the way we invest the time we have. Between the waves of sadness we start to see opportunity and hope. We exploit those moments and expand them. The alternative is waiting for the undertow to return, cringing at the knowledge that we are powerless to stop its inexorable onslaught. We use that harsh truth as motivation to invest the moments between and put good things in the bank–because the inevitability of suffering will certainly make it worthwhile.
The whole world is trying to remove burdens. Remove suffering. We are told to think of that as a solution. I don’t believe that’s the case. Burdens are the foundations for the monuments we are building that will carry the legacy of what we stand for, long after we have fallen by the way. I don’t climb things because it keeps me from being sad. I climb things because I know that I can’t help but be sad at times–and when those times arrive, I need to look back at the photos of the joy and times spent in the mountains and they become windows beyond my current sadness. They are an outlet for my diabetes and an escape hatch for my soul; reminding me that there is a reason to go on because sadness is just a middle, not the end.