By Sam Tullman
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) at age 8. Over the last 17 years I’ve learned a few of important things that have helped me live a good life. The first lesson was the hardest, and it came soon after diagnosis:
- Diabetes is hard, mostly because a constantly changing blood glucose (BG) makes everything else in life feel unstable.
As I continued to mature and learn to live with T1D, I eventually came to realize:
- The situation becomes even harder when I get really upset about my BG being out of range, as if I expected it to always stay in range or because when it is in range, I get anxious about it veering off track!
- Theoretically, the situation would be easier if I didn’t have such intense judgments about myself around my BG and actually just did what needed to be done rather than being upset about it.
So as I sit here in my apartment above a Zen temple in Seattle, it strikes me as exceedingly and almost comically obvious that I would find mindfulness practice so important to my own journey in living with T1D. When I first heard the philosophy that mindfulness practice is built on, the Four Noble Truths, I can’t say I really learned anything new! Instead, the Truths affirmed my experience of living with T1D, fleshed it out, and gave it a new look.
Here are the Four Noble Truths as I understand them in this context – see if they speak to your life experience with T1D at all:
- Life comes with pain, mostly from the unpredictable coming and going of things we care about.
- The root cause of that pain is our desire for those things to remain stable, to be a certain way.
- We don’t need to tether our happiness to our desire for stability (anyways, even when we do our best, stability is not generally a reliable pillar to lean on!).
- There are specific steps we can take to actually be a little more at ease with the this constantly-changing world – one of which is practicing mindfulness!
You may notice that the first Noble Truth maps pretty closely onto that first hard truth that everyone with T1D is confronted with, about difficulty in life and its unpredictability, and the second Noble Truth also matches a realization most of us with T1D develop over time – that we often make our difficult experiences harder for ourselves by our reactions to them.
The third Truth is where we can start to change our experience because life doesn’t need to be this way. Even though we will continue to do everything we can to keep our BGs in range and make healthy decisions, it’s probably best not to get so upset when things don’t go as planned, since that’s part of this experience, too. Simply experiencing life with T1D allows us to realize most of this on our own. So how do we make that final, crucial jump to be more at ease even when things go south, as they sometimes (or often) do?
Try this experiment with me: imagine a world in which even though we are confronted by the difficulties of T1D, we’re able to calmly accept that this thing is really hard. Imagine a life in which a bad BG reading didn’t reflect our worth as a person or our ability to make good decisions, but was merely a biological marker giving us information about the next important action to take. Imagine not feeling fearful about the next reading, or how it might limit us in the things we want to do. What would that be like? If you’re imagining it right now as you’re reading it, how does it feel even to read that?
That’s the world we’re going for. It’s a real possibility for us all and, in fact, you just experienced it! I’ve been fortunate enough to dip my toes into more and more with the practice of mindfulness. Of course, mindfulness practice is no magic potion. It’s just that, a practice, that lets us experience that world more frequently over time.
But beyond taking my own word for it, we are fortunate enough to be able to look to research: Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, the gold-standard of mindfulness training in the United States, has shown convincingly both for people with T1D and their caregivers that this training decreases stress and burnout and improves quality of life.
So, the question now is “Why not at least try?”
Certainly it’s difficult to sit still for minutes at a time, especially with the cultural conditioning we carry with us and it is difficult to carve time out of our chronically over-scheduled lives.
But what are we sacrificing when we avoid doing this? Why would we continue to subject ourselves to the same degree of unnecessary struggle within ourselves? What do we really lose by setting aside 5 to 10 minutes in a day? What can we stand to gain?
Mindfulness is not for everyone. But it can be for you if you feel motivated to make a change for the better. It is here for you and ready whenever you are. There are so many places to start – resources abound. If you’re curious, check out the short guided meditation below!
Whenever you’re ready, take a comfortable seat in a place where you can be undisturbed for a few minutes. No need for it to be the perfect space, you can make do with wherever you are!
In light of the added stress and major difficulty being felt around the globe, I am also beginning to host free, daily meditation periods, with time to talk and ask questions. It would be a pleasure to have you drop in any day. To learn more about this, please visit my website, secondcocoon.com, or my personal/teaching Instagram, @secondcocoon.
May you be well in every sense of the word on your journey.
About the Author
Sam Tullman is a mindfulness teacher with a background in neuroscience research and brain and performance hacking. He was diagnosed with T1D at age 8 and has made it a point to never allow it to limit what he could do in life from excelling academically and playing division one football to extended international travel by himself, often in remote areas. He now lives in Seattle above the Rinzai Zen temple, Dai Bai Zan Cho Bo Zen Ji, and is preparing for a year abroad to study neuroscience in Brazil on a Fulbright scholarship. You can find more about his work at secondcocoon.com, or reach out to him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.