The see-saw of life

Noy Pullen tells us about the see-saw of life when living with diabetes.

When I got the email with the theme, The highs and lows of living with diabetes, for the winter issue of Diabetes Focus, two parts of me start wrestling, like Jacob and the angel – the informed scientific one and the creative artist. One instance of the see-saw of life.

One thing you can learn from the creative process is to use what comes to meet you. The material is not always obvious. You need be awake to possibilities, to recognise the miracle in the day. Or, to use the modern term – be mindful.

The day I got the emailed theme, two things happened which energised me. A radio interview with South African, Paddy Upton, a renowned cricket coach, about his new book: The Barefoot Coach. Something drove me to go and buy his book immediately.

Then came a post on Facebook from a friend whose younger daughter, aptly named Faith, has certain mental and physical difficulties. It read: When she can’t do something, Faith doesn’t say “I got it wrong”, she says, “I’m learning!”

This and Paddy Upton’s use of a quote of T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, where the wizard, Merlin, gives advice, “You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then – to learn…That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”, 1showed me my direction for the article. We can learn.

How do we communicate? From autocrat to collaborator

Living or working with diabetes affects everyone nowadays, even if it is only being aware of the dangers of a careless lifestyle.

The current way of giving so-called health education (via recommendations, instructions and advice) when dealing with patients, whether with diabetes awareness, prevention and management, has been found to be ineffective according to many of our participants on the Agents for Change modules.

Comments that are shared are: “The patients are non-compliant.” The term that is used on patient records is defaulter. All health providers are trained in what is called health education. This is a similar model of that of the coach who has the strategies, the answers and the plan that the players need to obey.

Paddy Upton introduces a refreshing possibility of collaboration through questions, self-reflection and opportunities for growth in both the player and the coach. Learning effective ways based on conversations.

Our philosophy was to create an environment that empowered the players to think and decide for themselves. For the players to be able to make good decisions, they needed to become and be treated as the leading experts on their own lives, physical, mental and spiritual. No one knows you better than you do, and sometimes you just need a bit of help in allowing that understanding to emerge from within you.” 1(p103)

When my son, who is living with Type 1 diabetes, had to undergo surgery, his surgeon said to him, “You know your body better than anyone so please advise the surgical team on how your insulin should be administered.” The staff nurse had the same request. An empowering discussion followed and all ended well.

See-saw of patient-focused rather than disease-focused

The individual who has diabetes is not a diabetic, but rather a person with aspirations and unique talents who also happens to be living with diabetes.

It is by unlocking the potential within that the healing becomes reality. So, that people can radiate their individuality, and not just aim for acceptable blood glucose levels. Vibrant health is not absence of disease; it is empowering self-knowledge and the possibility of development.

Upton explains that when one is criticised, the negative emotion causes the body to produce cortisol, triggering a shutdown in thinking. This can cause one to go into conflict or defence mode, and generate unnecessary stress.

The way to manage so-called failure is to view it in terms of a solution in the future – a learning moment. The person can be asked, “When you are faced with a similar situation in the future, what will you do differently?” Possibilities can be explored in relation to the suggestions, offered by both the person and the coach.

See-saw of head-thinking and heart-thinking

There are two kinds of knowing: head-thinking –  the left brain, logical, academic, instructive, outer and scientific aspect. The kind that has the motto: ‘If it can’t be measured, it can’t be managed!’1

Then there is heart-thinking: the inner space, creative, sensing, inspired and intuitive knowing. The kind when you just know something. You have a hunch, or it just feels right.

Why did I go out to by The Barefoot Coach? What does diabetes have to do with cricket? It is not logical. Within the heart-thinking one finds an ‘ear’ amid the word heart. It has to do with subtle listening with every fibre of your being, to find the direction that the moment wants to go. The health provider or loved one of the patient who can practise this kind of sensing/minding will help develop the sense organs for finding the healthy option in any situation – a truly collaborative effort.

Minding or sensing – being in the zone or in flow

Paddy Upton refers to what he calls the small wins. The ones and twos that are often the runs that can make a difference between winning and losing.

Changing micro-habits that you practise daily. Perhaps ,just one eating habit, a small change in physical activity or a decision to meditate, can deliver significant results.

Tick your own tendencies

Look at the lists of the words below. Invite yourself to tick your own tendencies to add to your self-awareness.

These are natural tendencies which we can acknowledge and treasure as bits of self-knowledge. It is not a self-corrective tool, but rather one to make one more aware of your own one-sidedness. Knowing this may help you with managing micro-habits. This may highlight what you are very good at and you could use this when planning a change.

Upton also shares an amusing thought that some of us are born optimists while others veer more to the pessimistic side. According to George Bernard Shaw, both contribute to society, “The optimist invented the airplane and the pessimist invented the parachute.”

Enjoy finding your position on this verbal see-saw. The right side tends toward flair, flamboyance, exaggeration while the left is strict, law-related, rigid, cold or paralysing. In between these extremes are the lessons we are given by life to become more centred.

Optimist                          Realistic                      Pessimistic

Confident                        Present                       Doubting

Artistic                             Intuition                    Scientific

Feeling                              Holistic                      Thinking

License                             Foster                          Instruction

Success                             Practise                       Failure

Win                                   Grow                            Lose

Flattery                             Collaborate                 Criticise

Fun                                   Play                             Rules

Addiction                        Compassion                Violence

Abandon                     Rhythm                       Rigidity

Enjoy finding your special uniqueness and working with that to change what you choose to change. Change is like singing (or cricket). Anyone can do it with a bit of practice and enjoy the see-saw of life.

For information about the Agents For Change project, contact Noy Pullen.


  • Paddy Upton: The Barefoot Coach LIFE-CHANGING Insights from Coaching the World’s Best Cricketers. Published by Paddy Upton Coaching

Please contact Noy Pullen if you would like more information: [email protected] or 072 258 7132.



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