I had recently performed in a summer recital which my teacher mounts annually for her students. Although preparing for the recital can be stressful, I look forward to performing every year. This year, I was especially excited because I would be singing a really famous Italian aria which for years my husband had been asking me to learn. My excitement spilled over to what I would wear, what make-up I would use, and even to what color I would paint my nails. I actually had my nails done, something I’d never even bothered to do in the past recitals. I wanted to look my best. Continue reading
The early days of March promised an exciting and action-packed month. On the first two days of March, I was on a ski trip to Zao, a resort I have never visited before, and stayed at an old lodge that was taken over by a fun, young and genuinely hospitable snow-loving couple. Then a couple of days later, I went to the Rolling Stones concert On Fire, and they sang my three favorite songs, which as far as I can tell on youtube they have not done before.
But the promise quickly turned to nought. On the Friday after the concert, I woke up to a massive headache, pervasive joint aches, slight fever, cough, loss of voice and painful tonsillitis. I was confined to bed that day and for the next three days. I had no appetite and no energy, and spent those days sipping Bovril beef tea, English tea and my husband’s lemon-ginger “tea” with a dash of whiskey. I lost close to four kilos – no, I do not recommend getting sick to lose weight. My BG was surprisingly low – no, I do not recommend getting sick to lower one’s BG (on the contrary, illness is bound to raise a diabetic’s blood glucose).
I wish I can actually say I had three days without diabetes, but I can’t. But, I can say that I had three days where diabetes was not at the center of my life, as it has been for the first couple of years since I was diagnosed and for most days from the third anniversary of my diagnosis. What happened on those three days?
November 23, Saturday. My husband and I joined a couple of friends for a very pleasant lunch, and an even better time at a karaoke afterwards. There are few better ways to spend an afternoon than with people whose company you enjoy, sharing a meal, and singing songs you all love and know.
November 24, Sunday. On this beautiful day and amidst a spectacular autumn scenery, I completed my scheduled Tanzawako 10-K run. I’ll post my report on the run later. But for now, I’m posting the photo above which I took on the way back home – trees on fire against a clear almost cloudless blue sky.
November 25, Monday. I gave speech no. 10 of the Toastmasters’ Competent Communication Manual (Inspire Your Audience). I titled my speech “Do Not Desire Mediocrity”. Based on the feedback from other members, I did fairly well. Unfortunately, I got carried away and did not pay attention to time, so I went past the time limit and did not qualify for “best prepared speaker”. That’s a bummer, but that was my fault. I should have been more aware, since I was giving my tenth speech. (I’m doing this speech again, and this time I’ll make sure that I’m well within the time.)
So, where was diabetes during those three days? It was still there, but those days were a strong reminder that diabetes is not the whole of me. I worry about it from time to time. I watch my diet. I exercise. I check my blood glucose. I take my metformin. I visit my endo regularly. I visit the DOC. But after the first couple of years or so, my life as a Type 2 diabetic has actually become mostly boring and uneventful. Maybe because I’ve settled into some sort of pattern in dealing with this condition, or perhaps I’ve gotten past worrying myself to death and assuming that diabetes is the cause of all my aches and pains, or it could be that there are other things beside diabetes worth worrying about. Diabetes will never go away, but it doesn’t have to take up so much of me either.
In fact, I noticed that the more I focused on Type 2 diabetes for most days of this month through this blog, the more I became more mindful of the wonderful, exciting and fulfilling life outside diabetes; problems and issues other than my own that are equally deserving (if not more deserving) of my attention, time, efforts and resources; and people other than myself. It was almost as if when I focused on diabetes, the rest of me was actively resisting my inattention or what it may perceive as an inordinate amount of attention on diabetes.
But there is more to life than diabetes. I have work, family, friends, hobbies. There was also the super typhoon that devastated parts of my country, or the major earthquake that preceded it by about a month, or the great earthquake in Japan two years ago. And there will be more typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions. There is global warming. There are wars going on all over the world. There is poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, ignorance, religious and other forms of intolerance, and other important issues. There is also the beauty of nature and the existence of countless other species on earth. Beyond our planetary home, there is the solar system, and beyond it, a whole expanse called the universe, and I am but one small drop.
Sometimes, when I get overwhelmed by Type 2 diabetes, I reflect upon how small I really am in the universe, and how much smaller diabetes is than me (after all, it is just a part of me). Through this, I can in my mind free myself of diabetes and apply my thoughts and actions on other more important things. Even if it’s just for three days, or even just one day, at a time.
Monday a week ago, I wrote about my faltering preparations for a group recital. Well, after less than a week of flurried final preparations for the recital, the performance came to pass last Saturday. I had a couple of glitches (hmm, maybe a couple more) during the song, but I was very happy with the outcome.
This was me, trying to stay calm and collected, adorned with sparkling paste, before I went on stage. (Please no comments about my tan lines, I’m embarrassed enough as it is.)
I learned more about myself in the past few days and hours leading up to the actual performance. I would list them down if I didn’t think it would bore you, but I can tell you that I was so glad that I was not satisfied with a so-so performance, that I did not give up, and that I continued to practice and improve what I could in the last few days. Based on what I saw and what I gathered from chatting with the other singers, I have no doubt that they, regardless of their skill and time spent studying singing, did the same.
I spent quite a lot of time back stage and in the dressing rooms observing and listening to the other performers. The dressing rooms were not just places to change clothes but where we vocalized, warmed up, and did last-minute practice without being heard in the concert hall. Imagine a room full of vocalizing singers, and you end up with a cacophony of voices. But no matter how discordant we may have sounded back stage, we were all united in one goal – and that is to sing to the best of our abilities.
But, we arrive at our best singing selves in different ways. Some, like me, need a lot of time to vocalize. Others need a last practice with their accompanist. Some spent time meditating, while others were chatting and playing catch up with each other. We also had different learning periods. It may take some several months to learn a 6-minute aria, while others may only need a few weeks. Some may have had only an hour each day practice time, while others may have had lesser or more time. That does not make one’s preparations better or worse than others’. We all arrived at the same concert hall, on the same day, for the same recital; and we all acknowledged everyone’s efforts to get there and to actually be there.
Interestingly, some people imagine that singers try to scratch each other’s eyes out in the effort to be the best singer of the lot. I’m sure each of us wants to be the best singer of any group, but, no, we don’t stab each other in the back. We all know that it won’t help our growth as singers and certainly not our own performance. If we try to out sing others, then we end up ruining our own voices. Conversely, we know that imposing our singing and vocalizing ideas on others may end up ruining their voices. But we freely offer our support, practical tips and encouraging words (both before and after the performance). Often, a whisper of “good luck” before going on stage, and applause and a pat on the back after our song, are all the support we need from each other.
I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with this. Isn’t it so much like dealing with Type 2 D (or diabetes in general for that matter)? The main goal is to keep our blood glucose level as close to a normal person’s as possible, and stave off complications the best we could. But there is no single right way of achieving that goal. Some do it with diet alone. Others with diet and exercise. Still some may need help with some medication, while some may need to insulin. Or, it may be through a combination of some form or other of these treatment methods. Just as performers hope for a good performance on stage, we as diabetics hope to arrive at an acceptable blood glucose level, no matter what path and how long we take to get there.
August 12, Monday, was not my day. It’s five days before my recital on Saturday, five very short days away, and my training is not going well at all.
Recital? What recital?
Singing is a passion of mine, and I take lessons in Western classical singing. I attend our school’s annual school recital in the winter, and I choose to participate in the yearly summer recital organized by my teacher for all her students. This year’s summer recital is scheduled for this Saturday.
Today, I had a session with my accompanist to make sure that we will be in sync for Saturday. We did not have any issue in the past, but this afternoon, I just could not get it right. My voice was either too high (that is, reedy) or too low (that is, heavy), neither of which was good as it showed lack of control, exhaling too much air, heavy consonants (which lead to the vowels being sung late), among other problems. If I couldn’t keep my voice even, I was not being efficient with my breath, which in turn made my singing choppy instead of smooth, my tones uneven, and my voice too weak to get to the far end of the hall. All not very good.
One problem was probably that I did not have time to vocalize in the morning before leaving for work. And I need a lot of time to vocalize. Some people can vocalize in 10 minutes and are ready to sing a full aria, while others like me need more time. Today, sufficient vocalization was important as today was the only time my accompanist and I had for practice, unfortunately for me. We are both busy and neither of us can take frequent long lunch breaks, so I can’t schedule another session with her before Saturday (we agreed to meet early at the recital hall on Saturday and practice, before the actual recital – hopefully that’s sufficient).
But whatever the problem is, it’s more than lack of vocalization. My voice itself was not the problem, but the way I was singing. Every single minute of our practice session was horrendous. I tell you, I had to fight back my tears. Something was blocking my concentration, which in turn was affecting my performance. Right now, I don’t know what it is, but I intend to find out. I only have a few days, so I have to figure it out soon if I want to turn in a good performance.
On my way back from practice to the office, while I was mulling things over, I noted that it’s not so different from handling my blood glucose levels. When I think I’ve nailed it, a higher-than-usual BG level for no clear reason will remind me that things are not always as they seem. Keeping my BG level is not a breeze. It requires continuous work, attention and adjustment. With singing, even if you have mastered the technique, you have to continue practicing and adjusting, but also to learn to sit back and be confident that you’ve done all you needed to do and could do, accept the results (whatever they may be), and (if things don’t go as planned) commit to doing well at the next performance. It’s the same with running. Despite the best preparations, something can go wrong at the race itself. It takes a lot of physical hard work and dedication to even get to the starting line. And if you have done all you can do to prepare for the day, then accept what you have achieved for that day. Just vow to lace your shoes for the next run.
But I can always choose to walk away from running and singing, although I’ve not done that yet (I can’t live with myself otherwise). With T2D, though, you can’t walk away from it. Even if, for the sake of argument, that you’ve forgotten about your T2D or have decided to ignore it, it is there, slowly destroying your body. Even if I say it doesn’t dictate who I am, because it doesn’t, T2D remains a major part of me, as are running and singing. The only difference is that while I can choose not to run and sing, I cannot “unchose” being a T2 diabetic.
What to do? Accept and fight. I can’t think of any other way to go about it. Can you?
Accepting is not acknowledging defeat. No, it is only by realizing that there’s a problem that we can actually begin to understand and address it. Then, we fight it. We fight high BG. We fight depression. We fight self-pity and guilt. We fight complications. We fight judgment, not just from non-diabetics or people with other types of diabetes, but also from fellow Type 2 diabetics. Hopefully, with success on our side.
As I’ve said earlier, it’s not so different from running or singing. I’ve done 4 marathons now and some shorter races. As John “The Penguin” Bingham said, “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” I can say the same of singing on stage in front of strangers. The miracle isn’t that I got through my song, but that I had the courage to get up there and sing in the first place. I can easily pretend that I have sore throat and back out from my performance, but what does that make of me? If I think that I can’t do a personal best at a race, I can fake an injury, but again, what does that make of me? So it is with T2D. I cannot opt out of diabetes, but I can choose not to fight it. But if I don’t face it and deal with it, I suffer. So, every day I choose to fight T2D. That is the miracle, and for me that is the only way to go.
I can’t say if my passion for running and singing contributes to how I deal with my T2D more than how I deal with my T2D contributes to my singing and running. But I can say that each contributes to the other. I firmly believe that every experience we have, every decision we make, and every mistake we learn from, make us stronger, inform other aspects of our lives, and shape who and what we are.
My immediate problem at the moment is my singing recital, but I’m not defeated yet. I will only be defeated if I don’t show up and try my best, and I have no desire to do either. I still have a few more days to fine-tune my performance, and that I have every intention of doing so.