A journey of small steps
A couple of summers ago, my family and I spent four days in Yellowstone National Park. Each day, we entered the park with our guidebooks, maps, binoculars, snacks, a full tank of gas, and a good attitude. And every day, we had a new adventure, some planned and some spontaneous.
Of course, we also had to endure some delays, and make a few detours and attitude adjustments along the way. But as I write this, I realize it was the little things that made it the trip of a lifetime: walking around colorful geothermal pools, coming across an elk while hiking, and stopping wherever we saw cars pulled over – since that’s a sure sign of a wildlife sighting in Yellowstone!
Since then, I’ve often thought that living with diabetes is somewhat like our Yellowstone trip experience. I don’t mean that diabetes is a vacation! I mean that it’s not a destination, but a journey that requires planning, flexibility, curiosity, frequent course corrections, and an occasional attitude adjustment. And just as you wouldn’t stop at the gate outside the park and say, “This is Yellowstone!”, living every day with diabetes is like driving through that gate to enter the ever-changing landscape of optimal health.
What is optimal health?
I define optimal health this way:
By “optimal health” I don’t mean perfect health; you are living with diabetes, and perhaps also dealing with other life challenges. Optimal health is the best health you can attain right now, given your current level of understanding, effort, and circumstances. It includes the wellness of your body, mind, heart, and spirit. It’s not a destination but a dynamic, changing landscape.
Let’s take a look at some of the little things you do each day that may contribute to optimal health:
- You take small steps to increase your physical activity throughout the day: climb a flight of stairs instead of the escalator, play catch with your kids, stand on one foot while doing the dishes, and get up to walk around your office every hour.
- If you really enjoy sweets, you fit them into your diet in moderation and include their carbohydrate content in your meal plan, instead of depriving yourself, then possibly overeating.
- You ask your health care team to explain your medications (if you take any): what they’re for, how to take them, what to watch for, and what to do if you miss a dose. You take your medications as prescribed because you understand that the goal is to keep your glucose in the target range. You have your medications written down, and you keep your list with you at all times.
- You approach blood glucose monitoring with curiosity, rather than fear and judgment. You check your blood sugar even when you haven’t been “perfect,” because you know the information helps you learn. When you don’t feel quite right, you check your blood sugar to see if that’s a factor. You take your glucose log (or whatever method you use to note levels) to your appointments so your health care team can help you learn how eating, physical activity, and medications may impact your blood sugar.
- You notice symptoms of stress before they overwhelm you. You pause and take a few deep breaths to calm your nervous system. You decide what stress factors are within your control so you can focus on that and let the rest go. You make an attitude adjustment when necessary to keep you on course. (Read more about stress and diabetes here.)
Try taking small steps like these each day on your journey of living with diabetes. Each evening, look back on the day’s small successes, and adjust when necessary to find your own path toward joy in life with diabetes.
Michelle May, MD, is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes and Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle. May is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience