Noy Pullen shares how she made peace with a life-threatening illness and offers guidance on how to make peace with your diabetes.
Have you ever looked back in your past at those people who made your life a misery? During the nineties, I was in England as part of a self-schooling course at the Centre for Social Development. Most of us were there because we wanted to make sense of the difficulties and hindrances that life had thrown at us. We did lots of biographic exercises to try to ‘read’ and write the real story of our lives
When you look back at your life whether it be the last 70 or the last 20 years, you can trace a thread that belongs uniquely to you. No one else has had the experiences you have had, all in service of your own development.
During the past months while everyone has had the opportunity of reassessing their lives, I joined an online creative writing group. Our writing prompt, Sally, offered the theme Memoirs. Every week she gives us a written topic to compose during the week about our lives which she reads and gives valuable feedback on how individual each one is when writing about a common topic. She shares our stories with the others in the group.
On Wednesday mornings when we ‘meet’, she gives us an impromptu speaking prompt to share. We have another opportunity to see and hear just how unique each one is, how differently we respond to a common theme.
When I share these written stories with my sister and brother we are often shocked by the difference our experience was of the times and events we shared.
During the past year, I was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition. The doctors give a catalogue of symptoms, treatments and lifestyle modifications. It’s all so overwhelming. You can be pulled this way and that by the experts who have different opinions on how the condition should be managed. It’s rather like going to buy a coat. We know that the coat has a certain design. Yet each of us needs to find out what suits our unique body; the texture, colour and cost. Just so when faced with a diagnosis, like diabetes for example, how does one tailor-make the avalanche of information to accommodate individual needs?
Looking back to the schooling course in England, I found one of the exercises was helpful, in coming to terms with my condition. We were asked to recall someone, whether it be a teacher, parent, bully at school, sibling or employer, who made life miserable.
Even though we might have hated or feared them at the time, when looking back at this person all of us, without exception, found that the difficulties made us stronger. Perhaps more courageous, more tolerant, enabling us to grow. Let’s face it, we don’t grow when we’re sitting in our comfort zones, lazing about in the sun, visiting with friends. That’s where we recharge our energy.
Recall this person in the greatest detail; replay the experiences exactly as possible, but with the eyes of a stranger. Look at the consequences of the encounters. You’ll find you developed in some way. Looking at this person with hindsight, you can only think of them with gratitude for the lesson learnt. You’ll be surprised at what you discover if you think of this person objectively without bitterness. What has this to do with a life-threatening condition?
The theme of this issue of Diabetes Focus is Making peace with my diabetes. Making peace implies that a war had been going on. Fear, pain, dread and an enemy. What started the war? Who is the enemy? What are they fighting about? What does the winner get?
Having learnt so much from my so-called enemies of the past, I tried this same exercise on my new situation on the battleground of health. There was no escape. I was wounded and scared. I needed an arsenal of ammunition to fight this monster. Perhaps you can look at these questions and write down your own experience on what your war is with diabetes. What are you afraid of? What do you dread? Who is the enemy, what the fight is about, who is the winner? And is there a loser? You may be surprised by what you discover about you and your diabetes. You may get to know each other better.
Are you ready to die?
Then I met with a priest who had had the same diagnosis as I had been given. Her first question was “Are you ready to die?” This was not what I wanted to hear. She said that this was a wake-up call for me to face my own mortality and then to embrace life fully.
As I went through the dreadful first stages of physical medical aspects of my condition, I realised that what she said could free me. I got my will and the list of all my personal papers in order. Quite an ordeal considering one of the items was my elaborating my funeral arrangements! I placed them all in a drawer and felt totally liberated as I had conquered a fear and could get on with living.
I may or may not have a long time. None of us knows how long, yet we can choose how to live these years our best way under the circumstances. This included listening to my own inner voice for clues. My life has led me to this point, living the only way I knew how until I got the wake-up call. The battle had begun. Now many options opened-up. What do I need to do differently so that I can change the trajectory of my life path which has led me to this situation?
Choosing the path where peace reigns
I chose a medical path that I trust and agree to follow. Not being told what to do, but choosing what to do. I embraced singing lessons, writing and drawing to widen my horizons.
Many people I had not seen for a long time contacted me. My family started a family chat group which has connected us all over the world; each member has said it is a true gift.
Is it easy living with a chronic condition? No, but in this battle, we are both the victor; it has changed me for the better. I am grateful; my opponent has become my teacher. My eating habits have benefited my body. The lifestyle changes have been brought joy and pleasure, despite the health challenges. There is a new bond between my community and me. Suddenly it does not feel necessary to sweat the petty stuff. The war is over; peace reigns in the newly acquired self-knowledge and gratitude for what has happened to me and why.
Enjoy your own voyage of self-discovery and appreciation for who you can become.
AGENTS FOR CHANGE IS A DIABETES SOUTH AFRICA PROJECT