Often when I embark on a new endeavor, I am fueled by excitement. The prospect of trying something different and learning speaks to my sense of adventure. But like many, that appeal of novelty can wear off and my motivation lags. Has that happened to you? It happened to freelance writer and Diabetes Health Contributing Editor Patrick Totty about two years after he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I recently had an enlightening conversation with him about what he did after his healthy motivation lost momentum and am pleased to share his story with you today.
When a routine checkup in 2003 revealed Patrick lives with type 2 diabetes, his investigative nature took over. “I was in a funk because I didn’t know what to eat,” he remembered. “So I sat down and looked at my patterns to try to establish how my blood glucose level behaves throughout the day. I had to know, what’s my fasting blood sugar? What’s it like after I eat breakfast? What’s it like after I exercise? What’s it like during the afternoon lull? That cost a lot of test strips, but I figured understanding my patterns was worth it. By the end of the month, I came to an elementary understanding of sugar. I understood that I’m not forbidden sugar; I can’t consume great quantities of sugar. So bit by bit, the darkness lessened. By the end of one month, I was walking around in a gray murk instead of total darkness.”
In his diagnosis, Patrick saw an opportunity. “In a way, it was almost a blessing because it’s made me wake up to the potentials of living healthily,” he said. “I realized I had put on pounds. I had become sedentary. I was eating junk food. Bad habits had crept in. I thought, ‘Okay. Let’s use this as an occasion to shed some bad habits.’”
To combat his sedentary routine, Patrick hit the streets, walking a mile every day, and working up to three miles twice a day. Patrick’s diet also got a makeover, cutting back on portions, beer and carbs, and adding more vegetables. “With a beginner’s enthusiasm, I got into good physical shape,” he said. “I shed almost 20 pounds. I drove down my A1C to the target level my doctor and I discussed. I happily took on more house repairs and maintenance. I felt more social; I was more inclined to say ‘yes’ to an invitation from friends.”
About two years after adopting a healthier lifestyle, however, that enthusiasm began to wane. “After a while, I just felt like, ‘I got to get up and do this’ all the time,” he said. “‘I got to do this’ is not the happiest first thought of the day. I was still dutifully exercising and watching my diet, but not as enthusiastically as before. Sometimes, I was going through the motions. My A1C crept up a little. I got back a few pounds, enough to realize I wasn’t being as diligent about things as before.”
Fortunately, as his numbers crept up, Patrick saw another opportunity. “I realized that this is probably one of the setbacks that isn’t always talked about when you live with type 2,” he said. “As a former runner in high school, I’d say it’s like running a long race. You have to learn to pace yourself. You have to learn that your initial enthusiasm may ebb, and so what are you left with? You struggle to reach a goal, and then you reach it. What then? You are left with the adult intelligent decision to do a certain amount of work. It may not always be towards something that gives you an immediate gratification or thrill, but ultimately it’s probably worth it.”
The experience brought new perspective for Patrick. “I realized that, while I have to make healthy choices for the rest of my life, I don’t always have to be a star here,” he said. “What I have to do is to manage this disease, but not become obsessed about managing it, and to understand that there will be setbacks. I went back to doing what I had done before, with one adjustment. I added a new element to it, which was not trying to be perfect. So I became content with ‘good enough.’ I have to keep my numbers down, within a reasonable level. I’ve accepted ‘reasonable’ as a reasonable thing.”
In 2013, Patrick and his doctor noticed his numbers start to rise again and decided it was time for another change: adding insulin. At first he was concerned that this signaled a lack of self-control. “It was kind of a boogeyman thought in my mind, ‘Ooh! You have to take insulin because you’re not exercising enough or eating right,’” he said. “But then I realized there’s a reason why they call it a progressive disease. So, it had progressed for me, and reached the point where I realized I didn’t have the level of control that I thought I had.”
Now Patrick is pleased with the decision to start taking insulin. “I got used to the notion that this wasn’t a terrible thing that I had to take insulin as I saw an improvement in my numbers,” he said. “It’s like in some comic book, where the hero puts up his big, beefy hand and stops the oncoming horde just by telling them to stop. These blood sugar level readings that were creeping up were no longer creeping up like they had been before. They were able to be kept under better control with the new regimen. My fasting blood sugar, right now, averages around 120, 125, which is closer to my target fasting level.”
Through it all, Patrick manages to be appreciative. “I think that the thing is, even if it’s hard, to have at least a small sense of gratitude,” he said. “People should thank their lucky stars they’re not living in the 60s or the 70s. Look at the medicines and devices available to us. I can know, within approximately 30 seconds, what my blood sugar level is. It’s good to have just a tiny bit of gratitude about the fact that we know much more now about what to do about diabetes, and we have much more control in terms of things we can do to feel better about ourselves and also make our bodies feel better, such as exercise and diet. They’re not cures, but they’re good tools.”
I really appreciated Patrick’s metaphor comparing diabetes management to a long race. I can appreciate that motivation to keep making healthy choices does wear thin – I know I struggle with that myself. The idea of pacing yourself in order to stay in the race makes sense. Does that resonate with you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. My thanks to Patrick for sharing his story and insights.
All the best,
Disclosure: Patrick Totty received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.