Last month, I attended my first-ever American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions conference, which was held in Philadelphia this year. ADA Scientific Sessions is a worldwide convergence of health care providers, researchers, the diabetes industry, and people living with diabetes walking the diabetes walk and talking the diabetes talk. I’ve lived with type 1 diabetes for decades, but here I was amid 17,000 people who had an interest in my condition, and I will admit that I was not prepared for the four days of intense information, wonderful social events, and evenings out with friends. Every night I tumbled into bed exhausted, my mind swirling with all there was to take in, from the lectures to the exhibit hall.
Amid the complex microbiology sessions, the intense conversations, and the exciting noise of it all, I spied one poster that caught my attention and made me smile, quietly. It was titled Understanding Diabetes Self-Management: Thai Buddhists with T2DM; and examined how specific Buddhist principles could potentially have a positive affect on blood sugar management. The idea was that certain traditional ways of thinking – such as making diabetes part of a normal life cycle and the idea of “doing good and receiving good” – may encourage healthier lifestyle choices. As I read it, the idea was that the dharma, or practice, of Buddhism may help control cravings, relieve stress, and encourage moderation in all aspects of living, including eating.
This made me reflect on how age-old ideas may become modern ways of thinking and benefit even today’s busy Americans, especially those of us living with diabetes. The current concept of “life coaching” is a newfangled way of helping people transition from one less healthy emotional place to another stronger position; something that may help in so many aspects of life, even blood sugar management. I began thinking of it as finding your “diabetes zen!”
Truthfully, I struggled to find my own diabetes zen at the ADA Scientific Sessions as I went from session to session with throngs of people around me, so I used a few tricks to survive the massive meeting. My first “trick” was walking the eighth of a mile from my hotel to the conference center rather than taking the bus. The walk was meditative and calming, and also allowed me to see stores and famous sites I would have just passed by without noticing, had I been on a bus. Walking also forced me to put down my iPhone and focus on the journey, which gave me time to absorb the messages from the research I had heard. As a bonus, the walk helped me with sustaining good blood sugar management throughout the conference.
My second trick was discovering a hidden coffee shop along my walk. At least once a day, I snuck over and enjoyed a cold bottle of water with my feet up in a comfy chair, benefiting from the free Wi-Fi. With one more bottle of water for the road, I was back at the conference in half an hour, feeling refreshed and ready for more (not to mention well-hydrated)!
My last trick was asking the hotel for a restaurant that served fresh food, and luckily they had some excellent recommendations! My favorite was a place that served tapas, which are small servings of delicious dishes such as fresh (made that day!) hummus, baked eggplant, feta cheese, and olives served with pita and cut vegetables. There was also an Italian restaurant that served gluten-free pasta and wonderful light salads. Both of these were within two blocks of the hotel, so it was well worth asking the concierge for recommendations that met my specific needs.
I’m so glad I was able to maintain that diabetes zen of mine, because there was so much to be gained from the ADA Scientific Sessions! In addition to the huge amount of brainpower and research that was focusing on a disease that affects me and so many others every single day of our lives, I learned that, even at a huge, exhausting event, we should never forget to appreciate the power of individual friendships and communication. I had the pleasure of meeting up with Kelly Kunik and David Edelman, among so many others. Allison Blass and I bumped into each other and wandered around the poster section together, talking about life and pens versus pumps. You know, the simple things! My friend, Anna McCollister Slip, also type 1, teamed up with me to cover different products at the expo, then we met and went over everything at dinner, which was a lovely way to end a day packed with learning and truly helped me keep my diabetes zen.
When I was a kid, my very wise mother drilled into my head, “The only constant in this world is change, and you have to learn how to adapt.” She was not a Buddhist, but that is actually a Buddhist principle. Today, I understand that to mean that transitions – and change – are hard, whether you have diabetes or not. And with each transition, whether it’s coping with a lifelong challenge such as diabetes or simply attending a massive conference as a first-timer, we have to listen to our bodies, figure out what we need and how to get it when we are in a new and different place. That’s my moment of zen for you!
Ann Bartlett is the owner and partner of Body in Balance Center in Alexandria, Virginia and has been a certified massage therapist for twenty-five years. She is a blogger and writer on diabetes and lifestyle and has lived with type 1 diabetes for 43 years. Bartlett believes that the challenges that face us are the spice of life, and diabetes is just one of them. Bartlett is a paid contributor for The DX and is under a consulting agreement with Sanofi US. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2012 The DX: The Diabetes Experience