Quieting the Storyteller Mind

My mind is a storyteller.

My mind, like yours, has one job – to keep me alive. One of my mind’s favorite tools to do so is to tell me stories. It tells me stories to keep me safe, to keep me alert, to let me know I can always be doing better. It tells me stories for very good reasons but it never knows when to shut up.

It has no automatic off switch.

If I do not make a deliberate space in my life to stop and notice the storytelling, it will just run amuck with me creating needless anxiety and feelings of depression or being overwhelmed.

Each time I prick my finger to test my blood sugars or to get an A1C at the doc, the storyteller kicks into high gear. Before I even see the number, my mind begins to tell me stories about how I didn’t walk enough or do intense enough yoga classes over the last few months. It will tell me, “In four seconds, that number is going to pop up and you’re going to see that you didn’t give enough insulin. You should be a better carb counter.”

My mind has an infinite list of “shoulds” that doctors, loved ones, strangers, and even other diabetics have participated in helping me acquire.

Sure, these people are generally just concerned for my wellbeing or trying to offer me something that has worked well for them but, the problem is, this leaves me in a constant state of striving. I am perpetually holding myself up against an imaginary, ideal diabetic that knows all and does all things related to diabetes management perfectly.

As I am sure you can imagine or relate, this leaves me in a state of exhaustion. And, like a diabetic hamster stuck on its wheel, it is unsustainable.

When I notice that I am being dragged underfoot by my desire for things to be other than they are, I must remind myself to sit. To set an intention of cultivating what Jon Kabat-Zinn called an attitude of “non-striving” in his book Full Catastrophe Living. This is the beginning of giving myself permission to exit the story my mind is getting wrapped up in.

As I begin to cultivate this attitude, I am careful to remind myself that this is an active practice of non-doing, of being with things just as they are in their present reality. It is not a passive resignation to forego my diabetes management but rather an invitation to open up to my experience in the present moment just as it is. An invitation to notice my breath, my physical body, to notice the quality of my mental state and where I am emotionally.

Most importantly, it is the action by which I get my head out of the whirlwind of anxiety caused by striving for things to be any way other than they are and feel my feet planted firmly in the rich soil of my embodied experience where I can connect to and execute the next right move for me and my diabetes management.

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12,000 Days

When life and mortality collide

I began this blog with a whole slew of ideas and subjects in mind. Many of them partially started and some just floating around in my mind. When I started this endeavor, the number one piece of advice I received was, “make sure you have lots of content ready to go.” To be honest, I never thought there would ever be a time when I didn’t have content. I mean, I am in recovery from addiction, a type 1 diabetic, a new dad, a therapist, and my mom was fighting pancreatic cancer. How could I possibly run out of things to write about?

Well, we launched the blog, put a few posts out there, and then my mom died. It was as if this abstract thing, pancreatic cancer, suddenly became real and swept through our lives turning everything end over end, kicking up dust, sending us scrambling, forcing everyone to hold their breath, and then just left.

As the dust settled and we all re-oriented to our surroundings and our lives, we discovered that Mom was no longer here. It’s what I imagine a landslide is like. Some unseen-to-the-naked-eye force of nature shifts and creates this great path of destruction that forever alters the landscape of your life and then leaves you to ponder how it is that some things truly cannot be reasoned with, bargained with, or prepared for.

That moment when I knew I would not see my mother again stole the breath from my lungs and the words from my voice. I sat down to write over and over and could only weep or rage. In these last few months, there has been no sufficient assembly of words or articulation of the grief and sorrow I feel for the loss of my mom but there has been a number that occurs to me again and again: 12,000.

Why 12,000?

Soon after losing Mom, my oldest brother and I were consoling one another over a phone call. This particular discussion kept coming back to how strange the normal, every-day stuff feels now. We talked about how hard it is to go to work, how hard it is to leave your kids at home, how hard it is to not get mad at other people upset by trivial day-to-day life challenges and so on. We talked about wanting to run into the mountains and live wild and free, soaking up every moment.

And after we hung up, I thought about the reality. My mom was the healthiest woman I ever knew. Her personal history and mine are wildly different. I smoked and used tobacco for years. I drank heavily and abused drugs. I have had type 1 diabetes for nearly 20 years and I have never not had weight to lose.

In thinking about this reality, I started doing the math: this model of health died at 71. I am almost 40. Without being maudlin, let’s just say that gives me a general idea of how long I have if nothing terrible happens in between. 31 years. 365 days a year. 365 days multiplied by 31 years equals 11,315 days left on this earth that I can reasonably expect. Then I rounded up to 12,000 because 11,315 scares the shit out of me.

The Lesson of 12,000

I am so proud to be my mother’s son. She was a wild thing. A wild thing that never let us see her feel sorry for herself. There will be times when I do feel sorry for myself, but my mother’s standard will not allow that to be a place where I dwell.

I have 12,000 days to be more loving or more fearful.

I have 12,000 days to be mired in regret or fueled by enthusiasm.

I have 12,000 days to hoard money or practice generosity.

I have 12,000 days to get to know Utah and Montana better.

I have 12,000 days to get to know my family better.

I have 12,000 days to know my daughter and discover exactly who she is.

I have 12,000 days to learn how I want to live any grace afforded to me thereafter.

One of the many gifts my mom left me is to wake up each day and ask myself, “if this is one of my only 12,000 days left on earth, am I living it the way I want to?”

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On Fear

on fear the mindful diabetic therapist salt lake city

Fear is a powerful driving force

For as long as I can remember, I have been driven primarily by fear in a thousand different ways. I have been afraid of being too tall, too husky, too uncoordinated, too boring, too needy, and on and on. I have been afraid of heights, fish, public speaking, women, men, people that are different from me, success, and failure.

Being afraid has driven a wedge between me and good people in my life. It has cost me many experiences that could have possibly enriched my life in ways I will never know. It has undoubtedly saved me from the risk of injury and/or vulnerability from time to time but, at what cost? I will never really know and I am grateful that I won’t because I am certain this would lead to monumental regrets.

Perhaps this is biological hardwiring or the result of adverse childhood experiences. Research and lots of hours in therapy tell me it is a combination of the two. Seeking to understand the roots of my fears has not cured me of them but it has given me a clearer orientation to them. This has, in turn, given me a better understanding of what to do my fears.

Turning fear into joy

I am pretty open and chatty about my fears because acting like they aren’t there hasn’t been very helpful to me. I also believe my secrets keep me sick and historically, keeping my fears hidden in shadow turns them into cancer. I also share my fears openly because they have become a source of great joy in my life. They really have.

You see, each time I feel a fear welling up inside me: my body tensing up, my heart skipping a beat, butterflies in my stomach, or, the urge to run tingling in my feet, I know therein lies some great direction. It isn’t hard for me to look back and see evidence that all of the very best things in my life waited just beyond the scariest moments of my life.

I remember the crippling fear of even considering a life of sobriety. The years of anguish I willingly endured rather than ask for help or walk through the doors of a treatment center. Eleven sober years later, I am full of gratitude for this life.

I still feel the nervous dread of walking into my yoga teacher training with almost zero yoga experience. How this fear compounded upon realizing I was the only guy in the group and considerably less fit than my cohort. Seven years and thousands of hours of training and practice later, it is still a source of so much joy in my life.

Swimming with dolphins in the ocean, floating the insane whitewater of the Lochsa River, jumping off an old bridge into the Gallatin River, opening my own business, having a child, and writing my first blog; substantial fear and anxiety precipitated all of these accomplishments.

Choosing love as a guide

Every time I feel this fear rise up, I think of the song Cautious Man by Bruce Springsteen. In the song he writes, “On his right hand Billy tattooed the word love and on his left hand was the word fear; and in which hand he held his fate was never clear.”

I don’t want to live like that. I want it to be clear that fear doesn’t run my show. I want to live life from a space of openness and enthusiasm and love, so, I ask myself, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid? What would you do if you were driven by love instead?”

When I ask myself these questions and listen for the answer from my true self, I am never disappointed with the direction I receive.

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Diabetes Awareness Month

diabetes awareness month

Thoughts as another awareness month comes to a close

Today is the final day of Diabetes Awareness Month which doesn’t really mean anything to families living with diabetes. I know that might be a strange thing to read but the end of Diabetes Awareness month doesn’t bring an end to anything for families living with diabetes.

These families will go on posting and talking about diabetes. Many of our profile pictures will continue to have a light blue circle in them. We will continue carb counting every meal and administering lifesaving injections of insulin multiple times a day. Questions about the pump attached to our hip will continue.  And so many caretakers will go on preparing snacks and lunches as part of a medical equation designed to keep their children alive with little to no praise, relief, or thanks.

These parents are amazing and they show up day after day after day. I see the initial sleepless nights following diagnosis where they are on the Internet doing research between doctor visits and where they are simultaneously playing interpreter, advocate, parent, and nurse. I see them adapt and persevere as the bodies of their little ones change and, as a result, so do their reactions to exercise, food, and medication.

I see the panic in their eyes as they prepare for the first sleepover or weekend with friends. I see divorced couples rally and overcome their differences to put the needs of their family member struggling with this illness first. I see them struggle to trust the job they have done as their child prepares to leave for school. The fear of alcohol and insulin meeting on a college campus. The precarious waters they have tried to navigate of giving their child independence, but also keeping them alive.

I see how parents change their savings plans so that their own child never has to make career decisions based on the availability of or access to medications, but rather on their dreams and ambitions. The way they turn around, as soon as they possibly can, to see if there is another family in need of support. I see them give what they can and sometimes what they cannot.

I see them activate for camps, retreats, late night hospital stays, spur of the moment emergency room visits, 504 plans, 5ks, 10ks, and century rides. I see them volunteer and start their own nonprofits. I see them fight. Like bruised, battered, anxious, terrified and courageous scrappers in the 12th round, I see them fight.

I am inspired daily because I see them fight with such conviction. They fight like that because they know there is no better person for the job. No one loves their child more than they do. No one will keep such detailed records. No one else can be guaranteed to rise as quickly, to keep the vials straight, or to know their child’s history.

My heart breaks because they are so often the last to ask for what they need and the first to sacrifice. My plea, on the final day of Diabetes Awareness Month, is that we all take a moment to pay special attention to the caretakers in our lives. Those that love those of us with chronic conditions. That we help them get their oxygen mask on first as they guide us back down to earth. My plea is that we budget in a massage, a movie of their choice, a lunch, a single flower, a bit of extra time to say thank you, or even just to acknowledge what a badass they are.

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Why Having a Diabetes Community is Important

Group of participants engaging in discussion at JDRF's 2017 Type One Nation Summit in Salt Lake City, UT

Group of participants engaging in discussion at JDRF’s 2017 Type One Nation Summit in Salt Lake City, UT

I often hear people living with diabetes say that they don’t want to participate in diabetes-specific groups or activities for a couple of reasons: “Just because I am diabetic doesn’t mean I am going to be friends with someone because they have the same disease” and “I don’t want to be defined by this disease.”

I understand these sentiments, I really do, but I think we might be missing a perspective here that could be much more useful to us as diabetics.

The point of a diabetes group or activity is not to come together to celebrate the illness. The point is to come together and share a common experience or language so that we can stop talking about it. The point is to have a baseline – a shared starting line. One where we understand the feeling of having a low in a yoga class or at work without having to explain it. One where we all can relate to the complexities of exercise and diet or what it is like to have your pump or meter start beeping during class. The list goes on and on.

In my experience, there is always a time of orienting to one another where we discuss these diabetic novelties. It’s like a ritual to establish a frame of reference as to where we all are on our journey. In time, however, this fades and people get to the real stuff. The stuff beneath pump sites, insurance woes, and the smell of insulin. In time, it is my experience that diabetics would rather get to talking about how they are going to get to the top of the mountain than how diabetes is going to keep them from the top.

Like I said, I understand thinking that a shared illness is a contrived notion for a friendship but what could be more amazing that building a friendship on how you want to build the life of your dreams? A friendship built on celebrating the struggle for liberation from medications and perceived limitations strikes me as a beautiful foundation for a friendship.

As a person living with diabetes, it is super important that I know that I can do this on my own. It is paramount that I am able to take care of the math, medicine, and mental pressure of living with the illness.  That being said, I also need to be aware of that feeling of connection and excitement I get when I see a pump on someone else or I see them dose in a restaurant.

That is the part of me that is yearning for connection and understanding. That is the part of me looking for my tribe and I could do much worse than finding a tribe that is down for fighting for our lives.

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