Just a few months ago, I was introduced to the actual practice of Buddhism, not just an image of smiling man spreading peace through the world through inspirational messages. I'd always been fascinated by a religion that was based on a positive foundation and what seemed like the go-to belief system for pacifists. You never hear anything bad about exploring zen or a negative experience with meditation. It turns out that Buddhism (as most things) has transformed over the many years since its establishment and the specific branch that I was welcomed to was Soka Gakkai Nichiren Buddhism. It's a more contemporary group that encourages mostly youth to become more active in the community by creating a better world through chanting and helping others find happiness. The Nichiren tradition is closely related to Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, and SGI is a lay organization that focuses on the Japanese teachings of Shakyamuni and the Lotus Sutra. There is a lot to their history and vision of the future, but I will keep the bullet points to how I found Buddhism as a perfect model for my relationship with Type 1 Diabetes.
If you have a spare moment, try looking up the branches, doctrines, schools, and history of Buddhism... it's mind-boggling. There are several essential points that are common to all, and I won't risk disrespecting the religion by attempting to explain things I don't yet fully understand. I do encourage everyone to explore other beliefs and values among world religions, it's beautiful to see an underlying connection of loving oneself and others in other cultures.
Here's what spoke to me the strongest in my newfound immersion of Buddhism: we all possess a Buddha nature, are worthy of respect, and can each achieve enlightenment. There are some leaders but the people founding and organizing the groups are just as capable of becoming a Buddha as anyone they aided. We each exist as a bodhisattva, on the path to enlightenment and striving to bring others along with us. How beautiful is it to be surrounded by people who want what's best for themselves just as much as they want the same for you?
SGI members chant Daimoku as a large part of their practice as it calls forth our inner potential to reach Buddha status. There is a founding faith that all people are worthy of respect and humans have an equal right to dignity. There is no set path to enlightenment, nor can anyone do it alone, and I see that as a close parallel to living with Type 1. Enlightenment would be ultimate well-being, and we are all able to achieve such health while existing with the same amount of potential, Is it possible? The belief is yes. Is it easy? Heck, no. Are there levels along the way to reaching perfect health? There sure are! Buddhism is a very encouraging religion and phrases a lot in the positive, which my psychology-minded self appreciates. It's not about "you HAVE to be perfect, there's no other option" or "don't mess up or else terrible things will happen" the way some religions focus on sin and how we are not worthy of a deity's acknowledgement.
Buddhism is also blissfully impartial to given circumstances and rather emphasizes the way that you can succeed on your journey. It also supports counterdependence, where we all share a common goal and the way to get anywhere is by helping others to do the same. While we can work together to great a greater community, remember no one can create your happiness except for YOU. You have the power to be the greatest you possible, no one else can do that.
The teachings of the Buddha have the sole purpose to alleviate suffering by valuing positive mindsets and actions more than our attachments. If we let go of our wants to HAVE and CONTROL, then our mind will find peace and a pure mind will become enlightened. This is a bit tricky because we do indeed need things and want control but I think on a subtler level, if we focus on what's in our hearts and not the noise of the outside world, then we can be better in touch with our own health and improve upon our individual process.
So be a Diabetic Buddhist: Free yourself from harmful actions and words, be mindful of your own thoughts and feelings (both emotional and physical), do right by others, and be a creator of good. Whether you're a monk in Tibet or a Type 1 warrior in Minneapolis, these are words that we can find as anchors to our often tumultuous situations. Love is possible if we first understand, so by quieting our minds and understanding ourselves, we are able to recognize the quality of life we are capable of.
Acknowledge what is weighing you down and meditate on ways to find freedom.
Reach out to others and help all you encounter.
Show yourself compassion, you are deserving.
Believe the good you do will be returned to you by the universe.
Be present for all the moment is worth.
Have you ever been so drawn into an image, a song, a thought... just something that touches a piece of your heart and you recognize it? This picture speaks to me, so now I want you to intentionally look at this quote and picture.
Take your time.
I actually came across this from a post my mom shared with me, which makes it even more significant to me. The woman that made me everything I am today can still encourage me like no one else, and I am grateful. So here I share a ray of mental light with you. There are many quotes about bravery, but above all, it is absolutely getting up to face the battle that you are still recovering from.
First, the quote is just such a profound description of exactly what we do with a chronic condition. Often Type 1 diabetes is a demon we live with, wearing us down and making us compromise what we want to do for what we need to do. Energy we have intended to enjoy an adventure sometimes is spent instead to get essential tasks done while our glucose levels are shifting out of our target ranges. We may look like everyone else in that can fully function in society but the struggles we face are mostly only known to us, how we think and feel. We work so much harder than is apparent to complete as much as possible in our day.
I understand, it's frustrating to feel limited by diabetes. I've found that journaling about what I achieved and am grateful for at the end of every single day is such a fulfilling activity. It's simple, fast, and effective... can't beat that! It helps as a form of positive reinforcement when I conclude a successful day, and my night begins with a mind at ease. I highly recommend everyone conveniently keep a notebook and pen next their bed or even your toothbrush so it happens every night. In the morning, you may be off to a rough start if you've woken up overnight to check or worries kept you awake, but you shine on and start another day of deliberate self-care. You are a warrior every single waking moment, and bravery is what anchors us in a whirlwind life with our diagnosis. Bravery is just as invisible as Type 1 but equally and even more as powerful because we CHOOSE to be brave. Making conscious decisions is an exercise that shifts our mentality from feeling defeated to feeling accomplished. The more we make, the stronger the skill.
Second is the image itself. I love that the girl is smiling at something that we normally perceive as a fear. Just because something seems horrific doesn't mean that's how we have to react to it. Diabetes can absolutely be a tribulation, but the what the diagnosis entails is not necessarily what we inevitably surrender to. A vital organ no longer creates a life-sustaining hormone, and if not for modern technology, medicine, healthcare authorities, and a tribe of support, we wouldn't be here... there's no sugar-coating that. However, bravery is what drives us to give that extra effort and manage our conditions. We can look at the demon and say, "I see you and you don't scare me."
What really got to me is the little red string on the girl's finger that connects her to the demon. She is holding one end while the other is wrapped around the demon's finger, essentially tethering the two but showing her as the "master" that is the leading them. It's so subtle and I think it's perfect that she's holding the leash behind her back as she grins at the demon. She knows she is the one with power, but it isn't about proving that she's in charge. Her secret is what gives her strength, and that's her control. Bravery is knowing you are stronger than the demons you fight, but proving you can win isn't as important as proving you can fight.
Be brave, smile at your demons, and fight to exercise your strengths, not lose them.
I had a therapy session August 27, 2016...
I'd been struggling with diabetes burnout, and taking on the challenges of other diabetic clients is like having multiple lives with disabilities. The newly discovered CGM was amazing but I am constantly aware of my numbers, which is a blessing and a burden. Every waking moment is defined by a number, how I feel is dependent on my glucose level. I have no idea what it's like to have a normal feeling of exhaustion, and it's been weighing heavy on my heart that I'm fighting a daily battle I know I can't win, I just get up and try harder. And some days, no matter what I do, my numbers still make me feel like less of a person with rises and drops.
The arrows in my tattoo show "I am greater than my highs and lows". No matter what my target vs. actual glucose levels are, they don't dictate my self-worth. Am I less of a person who is at 90 when I am running in the 300's? Absolutely not! The dotted arrows are incorporated because there is no up without a down and vice versa. The combined arrows makes a slight infinity symbol because the movement is a constant cycle, but a reminder that things will recover, and this too shall pass. There are highs and lows with glucose readings and in life, but I am greater than any number. Above all, there is ongoing balance.
Finally, the diamonds are created from the arrows because it's the highs and lows that make us unbreakable. Diamonds were pieces of coal that handled pressure in an extraordinary way. And many people want to be a diamond but few are willing to be cut. I take chances because I have faith that putting good out in the world and staying positive will allow me to shine even brighter. As a final note, I appreciate that diamonds take in light and then disperse it in a prism so that others can see the beauty of it.
I love this ink and the peace it brings me more each day, this is my way of coping and remaining grounded while also bringing awareness to others.
We hear it all the time from doctors: “Well, we need to keep an eye on this because of your diabetes.” Yes, my diabetes, which affects every part of my health and can complicate things. When I was diagnosed in 2002, I remember researching diabetes and while I had expected an informative tool, I instead endured a foreshadowing of impending misery because of diabetes. It was a morbid warning at age 12 that the life ahead of me was a minefield of new diagnoses and complications due to diabetes. And not just any diabetes, but MY diabetes. I felt that this confusing condition was my burden alone to figure out so get used to the idea now. All of a sudden, my medical charts were marked with that little extra flag to double check my eyes, examine my toes, prod my gums, give a routine flu shot, and administer incessant cautions about walking through life on eggshells “because, you know, of your diabetes.” Thank goodness times have changed.
I can only imagine what life was in the past decades of Type 1 life, since in the last 16 years alone I’ve watched diabetes go from a tragic label to an empowering platform. I’ve personally experienced a leap from dark to light “because of diabetes.” The impression I’d had initially was to see MY diabetes as a hindrance to my health, but today I embrace it as a foundation for my self-care. I emphasize the term “embrace” because I don’t love it, I don’t glorify it… I accept MY diabetes as a factor in how I choose to go about my day. I move as a celebration of what my body can do because MY diabetes has not taken any physical capabilities away from me. I connect with others because MY diabetes has opened up a community that is stronger than people can fathom. We work to bring each other up because we’ve all been there and those that have gotten through it share their fortitude. I’ve been on an extraordinary adventure learning how to train diabetic alert dogs over the past six years because I want others to be able to take their management from good to great through the unique partnership of a canine companion. Do you see a pattern here?
I’m not saying diabetic lemons always make lemonade, you do have to respect that your health requires additional measures to maintain a high quality of life. And even if you do everything perfectly, the outcome may not correlate exactly to your efforts, which is an opportunity in its own way to exercise learn coping with frustration. Honestly, if you ended up reading this blog post, you’re on the right track and have found a tribe that will help you with as much as we possibly can. You’ve already left your comfort zones behind and taken on more challenges because you know you have to find your best level of management of life with diabetes. You are incredible.
I am so proud of you.
I’ve actually found it fascinating to use type 1 as an advantage. If I’m out to eat or at a party and junk foods abound, I know how miserable they’ll make me feel so I politely decline or take a smaller portion. People will generally say something along the lines of, “Oh, someone’s on a health kick, huh?” to which I reply, “Well I enjoy my life just as it is so better choices make MY diabetes much easier to manage.” In an instant, I can go from being slightly mocked for depriving myself to profoundly respected for proper self-care. Our eyes have been opened to self-awareness which most people take for granted because we feel new things that demand attention. Before diabetes, I hardly checked in with myself, but since my diagnosis I listen to my body and am much more responsive to correct problems. I went from passively dismissing my health to actively enhancing it because now my good days are even better than non-diabetic people’s best.
So write down something that you’ve accomplished because of YOUR diabetes. How have you changed for the better? How have you grown into a more focused, stronger, inspirational person? It can be anything from a new friend, more water, better coping skills, a few hours of good numbers that make you feel so proud, or a new fitness routine… some positive aspect that you recognize because of your diabetes. It can be anything from a new friend, more water, better coping skills, a few hours of good numbers that make you feel proud, or a new fitness routine… some positive aspect that you recognize, well, because of your diabetes.