Monthly Archives: February 2014

Diabetes as a sport

If three weekends ago I skied on slurpee, last weekend I skied on wet cement in almost whiteout conditions. I did not realize before how demanding tons of fresh wet snow can be. It took me one hour, if not longer, to ski down a slope that usually takes me minutes. Most of that hour was spent hauling my bum off the deep snow and looking for lost ski. That was Saturday. On Sunday, we couldn’t ski at all as a blustering wind prevented the lifts from operating.

Whiteout

While I was moping how unfair the weather can be, I observed to my husband how skiing (and any sport for that matter) was so much like diabetes. In both diabetes and sports, we plan and do what we can to achieve good results but so many variables, many of which may be out of our control, can thwart our efforts.

Diabetes as a sport

A number of advocates and diabetics compare diabetes to a marathon and not a sprint. The comparison stems from the fact that diabetes is not a short-term treatable disease (i.e., not a sprint) but a chronic condition that we have to live with for the rest of our lives (i.e., a marathon).

As a runner, I initially bought into the marathon imagery. But over time, this idea seemed insufficient and incorrect and eventually stopped working for me. A marathon is more than just a race longer than a 100-meter dash, and short distance running is definitely more than just finishing quickly. Marathons and short races are both challenging in their own ways. The preference for a marathon over a sprint creates the false impression that short distance runners put in less time, commitment and effort compared to their long distance colleagues, which is certainly not the case. I also noticed that for the past few years, the thought of diabetes as a marathon drained my energy and dampened my spirits because of the image of a long, arduous, dreary and seemingly unending race. The idea tired me, not inspired me or kept me going. Hence, I replaced the image of a marathon with that of sports in general, which was more appealing to me.

Running

Make no mistake. I have accepted that diabetes is for life. There is no getting around that reality. But viewing diabetes as a game makes it more manageable for me. I break down each year into quarters, each ending with my next A1c test. I also have a treatment plan (like a training plan) which I review with my medical team and as I go along each quarter. This reduces diabetes burn-outs, and lets me adapt to life’s surprises and adjust my diabetes treatment. I also continue to learn what I can about this disease, plot my strategies should certain events arise (e.g., attending buffet parties), and train some of my behavior (e.g., ignoring pasta dishes). 

Like doing any sport, however, I falter and stumble, fumble opportunities, miss my goals, fall on my bum, or strike out in my diabetes care. I may not always follow my strategies. Just last Wednesday, I ate a small box of Belgian chocolate covered hazelnuts in a matter of minutes despite knowing without a doubt that my blood sugar level will go through the roof. Many fellow Type 2 diabetics have shared their experiences of going through periods of not caring, not taking their meds, gorging on pasta and soda, or sometimes simply giving up. I too have many similar moments and beat myself up for not being in control.

Illusion of complete control

I’ve come to terms with the idea that I am not in full, complete, 100% control over everything related to my diabetes. Not only do I lose control every now and then, there are things about my diabetes that I have no full control over. But it does not mean that I do not care. Far from it. I strive to always remember that I can be and am in control most of the time, that I can recover if I falter, and that focusing on what I can do is more productive than worrying about things I cannot change.

In sports, whatever it is, whether it’s an individual, pair or team event, you train, build your skills and plan your moves. Yet despite all that preparation, many things can go wrong. The weather may not be accommodating that day. The terrain or the sports venue may be different from what you are used to. Your competitors may be better prepared, has a better strategy or may be more driven than you. The judge may give you a low score or the referee may rule against you. Your own body may be uncooperative and you can wake up tired, too stressed or too nervous, all of which affects your performance.  The pressure may be too much for one, even the most prepared and trained athlete, to bear.

That is not dissimilar to diabetes. You may eat the same food and exert the same physical efforts, and still end up with a high BG or plunge into a hypo. We get sick, we stress out, or our hormones (especially for us ladies) may not be in their best behavior, resulting in high BGs. We try hard to stick to our chosen diets but once in a while we give in to temptation, despite what certain diet gurus may otherwise promise us. Sometimes we cannot resist the call of our sofa or bed and choose to stay in, for days on end. We forget to take our meds. We stop testing because our fingers hurt.

The question is, when these things happen, what do we do?

Control over our choices

Tram tracks

Do we stay down, whine or quit, or do we get up and try one more time? If we lose a match or a game, or fall off the wagon, do we retire and opt out? Or do we learn from our loss or mistake, train harder, rethink our strategies, and try again? With diabetes, as in any type of sport, we may sometimes lose but, with knowledge, experience, commitment, perseverance and strategy, we often win, as many people with diabetes can tell you.

How do we behave when faced with an unavoidable loss? In the women’s figure skating at the Sochi Winter Olympics, Japan’s Mao Asada performed poorly during her short program. She who once was a favorite to bring home a medal was in 16th place. She could have feigned injury or performed her free skate with unexceptional ordinariness. After all, she was out of the medal race. Instead, she gave the best performance of her life, and finished 6th overall. She will not be remembered for her disappointing short program but for her strong, passionate and magnificent redemptive free skating. I can give you more examples, and I’m sure you can come up with other athletes and teams who simply did not give up.

Of course, we can also complain loudly, whine like a spoiled brat who feels entitled to things he or she does not deserve, or blame everything and everyone but ourselves for our poor performance, or just show up and perform with undeniable mediocrity.

If there is one thing we have control over, that’s our choices. Our choices are what define us. We are what we are, not because of our successes or failures, but because of the choices we make.

One thing is for sure, we will not win if we choose to hang up our skis, running shoes or gloves because of a disappointing performance. In diabetes, we increase our risk of developing complications if, just because of one moment of giving in to a box of chocolates, we give up and completely abandon our diet, glue ourselves to our couches and neglect testing our blood glucose. Like any other athlete, if we want to succeed or come close to success, if we want to have as much control over diabetes as we possibly can, we simply have to start again every time we fall. 

Jon Bon Jovi once said, “Success is falling nine times and getting up ten.” There is only one difference between success and failure: success is getting up one more time, playing one more game, pushing harder for one more chance.

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Sugar

The sky has been dumping snow all over Japan, with snow starting to fall in Tokyo from sometime last night or early this morning. Snow continues to fall, accompanied by strong winter winds. Hence, hubby and I cancelled all plans of going out and stayed home watching a Metallica concert on disc and the Winter Olympics on TV. There is still a blizzard out there as I write this. I wish we had these conditions (even with the wind) when we skied last weekend.

Tokyo snow storm

Tokyo snow storm

Last weekend was unusually hot in Japan for February. Although the skiing in Nagano last Saturday morning was not that bad, the temperature started to rise in the afternoon. By Sunday, the temperature was between 6 and 7 degrees C (perhaps higher?) and the snow had turned to slush. I was complaining about how hot 7 degrees was, which I’d say was anomalous for someone who grew up in a tropical country and was standing on a mountain top surrounded by snow! We were literally skiing on wet table sugar, with some portions looking like the Coke slurpee I used to love years ago. While I was trying my very best to spring ski, I was spewing waves upon waves of unspoken expletives. Because the snow was like sticky sugar, sugar was inevitably attached to those swear words. 

Spring in Feb

Spring in February

Why can’t sugar leave me alone?  

Sugar. As a Type 2 diabetic, I shudder when I hear the word sugar. Literally. When I was diagnosed, the first thing that my GP told me was to ditch sugar and it was not easy. To anyone who has a sugar addiction, please know that you can get rid of it – you can do it.

I never thought I’d actually get over my fondness for sugar. I grew up in a society which, like many other societies, loves sugar and sweet things. Although my mother tried her very best to discourage us from sugar-laden foods and drinks, sugar was unavoidable – desserts, snacks, slurpee, and sickeningly sweet coffee, iced tea, soda and fruit juice. But now, sugar is no longer such a big or unsurmountable issue with me, which makes my life with diabetes a lot easier to manage. I mean, I now drink black coffee and unsweetened tea. Who would have thought? So, now slurpee no longer bothers me, unless it’s slurpee on the mountains.

I guess that’s sugar’s way of trying to own me. If it can no longer tempt me to eat loads of it, it will call on its distant cousin on the ski slopes to make life difficult for me. How sneaky; much like how sugar finds its way into our bodies these days. But, I got the better of it, because at the end of the ski day, my blood sugar was low.