I open with a pivotal incident that sheds light on my self-image as a person with diabetes. I’m re-examining this image.
When my oldest son was a teenager, we went to a huge mall and looked high and low for a particular thing he wanted to buy. At one point, after much fruitless searching, he began walking–again!–to the opposite end of the mall. In desperation I said, “Are you going to drag your poor, diabetic mother all over the mall for this?!” Of course I was kidding–I had never referred to myself as “poor” or “diabetic,” a word I seriously dislike, and my tone was teasing, but he stopped in his tracks, looked me straight in the eye with a funny look on his face, as if what he was going to say next had just occurred to him, and said, “You know, mom, I never think of you as diabetic.”
I melted. I didn’t care where we went after that, I was so proud of having taken such good care of myself that he didn’t feel burdened by my condition. I’ve related that story many times. In part, I was proud because so often, when I disclose my diabetes, I immediately hear about uncle Bill who drank like a fish and had both legs amputated, about the brother who spent his adolescence in the ER and was now on kidney dialysis, about the co-worker who regularly passed out in his cubicle because he “never paid attention to his blood sugars.” I was secretly glad I wasn’t one of “those people” who burden others with the consequences of their lack of self-care. Then there was my first visit to the Joslin in Boston–so many elderly folks shuffling around, using walkers and canes. I secretly vowed I wouldn’t be “like them” either! But now I’m not sure I should have been quite so proud.
The fact that I used these stories and images to initiate better self-care wasn’t wrong (though the underlying judgment was, which I’ll discuss in another post)–the stories and people represented my fears about the future. As I got my own demons under control–compulsive eating etc.–I focused on micromanaging my diabetes. That’s not necessarily bad either–micromanaging to “control” my fear of complications kept me healthy–but I want to examine how that desire to “take care of it myself” came to mean I didn’t need to ask for help, or indicate in any way that I might need help, either in the present or in the future. I’ve spent many years cultivating an image of self-relience, for others but also for myself, and I suspect there’s an element of secrecy and of course, shame, in doing so.
Caring openly for oneself, without shame, is a balancing act. I don’t want to make others uncomfortable, or be vulnerable to stupid or unpleasant questions–but I’ve become more alert to opportunities to be open about what I’m doing, or about the condition itself. I try to bring affectionate curiosity, the mindful process of self-reflection, to this process. I’ve learned it’s not wise to share with everyone, always do self-care in public, etc. but one outcome of affectionate curiosity, and the willingness to be open-hearted and vulnerable, is the flowering of discernment (awareness of right action) and eventually wisdom. When I’m willing to be vulnerable, sometimes I do the right thing, sometimes I make mistakes, but in an open-hearted state, I’m kind with myself about making mistakes and more likely to learn from them, and cultivate discernment.
Can we look at our motivations in a friendly, affectionate way and be open to change? I’m learning to work more skillfully with the shame that interferes with self-care. We can be well and be happy. Always.