Anniversaries

Sorry about my silence yesterday. I was up until well after midnight trying to finish my editing job. It was a very frustrating evening. I had a formatting issue I couldn’t resolve. I finally went to bed after I figured out a formal solution—but I still had hours of work to do on it today. I sent it back to the author with one issue still pending. More research ahead!

Even while I was beating my brains for solutions to the format issues, I was aware all day yesterday that it would have been my friend Matt’s sixty-fifth birthday, and the sense of grief and loss added to my distress.

Today, I slept in a little after my late night, but of course I had to get up and prepare for my Wednesday student. I think she was sleepier than I was this morning!

This afternoon I took Jasper to Walmart and then went back to work on the editing. What a relief it was to send that manuscript off! I took Jasper to youth group and had a great walk and even got some much-needed work done in my kitchen today. Now maybe I can get back to some of my own writing.

And finally, while yesterday was the anniversary of a late friend’s birth, today was an anniversary of another kind. It was two years ago today that I had the doctor’s appointment that changed my life—the one where I was told that my pancreas was “wearing out.” I didn’t start my “pancreas rescue plan” until two days later—but the appointment on February 6, 2017, was what started this journey that I’ve been on ever since.

Those of you who’ve been with me since then may remember that I was able to get completely off of insulin in just three weeks! But other victories came much more slowly and with much more effort. I’ll write more about this on Friday, the anniversary of the day I started actually taking action, but I wanted to at least remark on the significance of this day in my life.

My Diabetes Miracle #20: Steps

This whole health journey of mine has been like climbing an endless flight of stairs. I pull myself up one step at a time, and often I seem to stay there for much too long before I am able to climb to the next step. That’s just how it’s been for me.

But today I want to just talk for a minute about actual, physical stairs. Stairs have been my nemesis ever since I dislocated both of my kneecaps after Jasper’s birth. Even after my knees “healed,” climbing stairs was painful and difficult for me. Four years ago,when we went to Master’s Mission for the spring break work trip, the stairs just about did me in. I had to use the hand rail to pull myself painfully up one step at a time. I was told by someone who should know that I should have had knee replacement surgery years ago. (Not an option because of the cost.)

On the few occasions when we have stayed in a place with two levels, I learned to arrange my life to include the absolute minimum of stair trips. Last spring when I started walking for exercise, the biggest challenge for me was having to climb the stairs to the running track.

Then came our trip to Colorado last week. When we couldn’t get the car up the driveway, we parked at the base of the long flight of stairs leading to the front door. I felt a little daunted when I saw them, but I had no choice. I climbed up all those stairs easily. Once inside the house, I saw the layout included two bedrooms downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs. The stairs were steep!

Two years ago, I would not have even gone upstairs to check out those upstairs rooms. I would have chosen a downstairs bedroom and let the kids take the upstairs, because I would have known I couldn’t handle going up and down those stairs multiple times a day. But guess what? This time I went right up those stairs without even thinking about it. One of the upstairs bedrooms was perfect—and it had an electric fireplace!

That first day while we were settling in, I know I was up and down those stairs at least ten times. My muscles felt it a little by the end of the day, but I didn’t really mind having to go up and down. My knees were tired, but not in agony. This is a HUGE sign of progress for me. Turns out that removing 120 pounds of the load on your knees is very beneficial! I’m sure they’re still arthritic, but life is so much more doable now that they don’t hurt all the time.

Going up and down those stairs was my primary form of exercise during our stay in Colorado. Up and down, up and down—many times each day. Not once did I look up at those stairs and think, no. I just can’t face that right now. If I had to go up more than once in rapid succession, it took a little more effort the second time, but it was easily achievable. This is literally life-changing for me. For the first time in a couple of decades, stairs don’t scare me. I am not limited to a one-story existence. My family didn’t even notice this milestone, but I still can’t get over it.

Stairs. Not a problem.

Handicapped

For the most part, my health has improved dramatically over the last twenty-one months—but I still have some little glitches, and one of them is that occasionally I wake up in agony, because the middle finger of one of my hands is severely inflamed (it can be either hand). I can’t bend it, I can’t straighten it, and I certainly can’t touch anything with it because the pain is excruciating. Today was one of those days.

A few years ago, I learned that sometimes running hot water over the affected hand for a few minutes will make the pain go away quite suddenly. Not today though. No matter how many times I tried the hot water treatment, the pain remained. Usually, even then the pain goes away by itself by lunchtime—but not today. And wouldn’t you know it—everything I planned to do today required the use of my left hand? Typing on my computer keyboard was out of the question. Every task on my to-do list was undoable without the use of my hand. Even closing my car door was a real challenge.

While dealing with all this pain, I had to get dressed, so I put several articles of clothing  together, making an outfit that I thought would be whimsically bohemian. Instead, I looked like an aging vagrant who was wearing her entire wardrobe at once. I had to change, even though undoing buttons was extremely difficult and painful.

One thing I could do was go to my watercolor class, but I was pretty apathetic about it because by then I’d been in pain for several hours and I was just so tired of it. I painted a vase of roses and a rather roguish-looking pumpkin that I ended up being kind of happy with. It was just such a relief to focus on something other than the pain and what it was keeping me from.

By the time I returned home I needed a nap. I find pain very exhausting, and it didn’t help that I was also chilled most of the day. I couldn’t really rest, however, because the pain wouldn’t let me. That’s when I gave up. I broke my fast so I could take some pain meds. (I can’t tolerate ibuprofen on an empty stomach.)

When I got to my writers’ meeting this evening, the meds had taken the edge off the pain, which was great because my more immediate concern was the possibility of frostbite. Our public library is always cold, but today they outdid themselves. I am so thankful I wore my warmest sweater! I kept my hands in my sweater to keep my finger from getting worse.

The bright spot at the meeting was the lady who hadn’t seen me for a while and didn’t recognize me at first because I’ve lost so much weight!

Back home afterward, I finally had enough relief to be able to type! Not pain free, but doable with gritted teeth. So it’s been a rough day. Tomorrow will be better. I’ll be sleeping with warm socks on my hands in hopes that my hands will be back to normal in the morning.

 

Facing Rosacea

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Monday post on my health journey. I don’t really have anything new to say about my fight to keep my diabetes under control without insulin and to continue to lose weight and improve my health. I continue to be faithful to the plan and to see slow progress.

However, I have experienced what is for me a rather stunning success on another health front, so I thought I’d share it with you.

For probably the last ten years, I’ve been suffering from increasingly severe rosacea. At first, my face just looked sunburned all the time. Then it became rough and scaly, and I began having frequent breakouts every bit as distressing as the ones I had in my teens. At first my doctor thought I might have an autoimmune disorder (not exactly comforting!) but she eventually became sure that it was “just” very severe pustular rosacea.

As a result, I have become even more camera shy than I was previously. I can hardly stand to see myself in a mirror. I have doused myself with potions, essential oils, and herbal preparations. None of it seemed to help at all. I resigned myself to slathering my face with foundation if I knew I might be photographed (I am not much of a make-up enthusiast at all).

The one thing that has been more or less a constant in my facial regimen has been my soap. Four years ago, trying to deal with multiple skin issues, including fungal infections and painful reactions to every deodorant brand I tried, I switched to a new soap. This soap, Defense, has been a godsend in so many ways. My fungal infections cleared up and have never come back. It has eliminated the need for deodorant (shocking but true!). So I figured if it was so good for so many different skin issues, it was bound to help with my rosacea, right?

Not so much, as it turns out. Last month, before we left for Colorado, my face was getting worse. I could kind of keep it from getting too bad if I conscientiously washed it twice a day, but even so a crust had started forming on both sides of my nose. Immediately after washing, the skin would be smooth, but within hours the crust would begin to form again. I hated it.

So you can imagine my despair on the first night of our road trip, when we stayed in a motel, and I discovered I’d left my all-important soap at home. I’ve never seen it for sale in a store. I had to use the hotel soap that night, and to my amazement the crust was barely noticeable the next morning. That day I bought some facial cleanser and used it for the rest of the trip.

The crust was gone by the second day and it didn’t come back. My face stayed softer and smoother. Breakouts were less severe and less frequent, though still exacerbated by heat and/or sun exposure. I realized that the soap which has helped so much in other ways is not at all helpful for my face. In the last month, I have seen amazing improvement. I still have to be very faithful to wash my face twice a day if I don’t want to experience breakouts. After washing, I add a few drops of frankincense oil to my moisturizer. Some days my face almost looks normal and is barely red at all.

This is the first ray of hope I’ve had in many years. I don’t know if I’ll ever get my “real” face back, but for now I’m pretty happy with the progress I’ve made.

If you have any rosacea success stories, I’d love to hear them!

 

My Diabetes Miracle #5—In Celebration of Small Victories

I have not posted much about my progress lately, because my progress has slowed considerably since the first whirlwind successes in my fight against my Type 2 diabetes. I have had to be content with much smaller and less frequent victories, and I have had to make adjustments that would have been very daunting to me in the beginning.

When my progress slowed in May, despite my faithful efforts, I knew I’d have to make some difficult choices. Now I have settled into a pattern of fasting from Monday through Friday, and eating two meals on Saturday and two meals on Sunday. If an event comes up during the week where it would be awkward for me not to eat, I will eat a small meal (no carbs) and not feel guilty. In practical terms, this is working out to mean four to six meals a week for me. I have begun to realize that I will never, ever be able to go back to eating three meals a day, and that even two meals a day is probably more than I can hope for.

I still take my half-dose of Metformin, but my Glyburide usage is way down. It actually sends my blood sugar too low if I am fasting, so I only take it after a “largish” meal, and then only half a pill. So instead of one pill per day, I am using less than one per week.

Mondays and Tuesdays are always hard, but by Wednesday not eating seems normal again. I don’t experience any less energy than usual–but then I always have low energy. I certainly have never experienced the euphoria that some people report when fasting. I go the gym most days and put in 30 minutes on an exercise cycle, that being just about the only exercise that my arthritis permits me to do at the moment. It doesn’t seem to have any effect on my blood sugar.

Saturday being the first of the month, I weighed myself with great trepidation, and experienced my first “big” victory since getting off insulin. I have now lost a total of 50 pounds. It has been agonizingly difficult and slow, averaging exactly 10 pounds lost per month. As far as I know, only two people have noticed that I have lost any weight. I expected this, yet it is still discouraging. I imagine it will take quite a few more pounds lost before I get any positive comments about it.

However, remember I am not doing this primarily for weight loss, although I do realize that the more weight I lose, the better it will be for my blood sugar issues. So I will continue on and who knows? Maybe by the time winter rolls around, my winter clothes won’t fit me anymore . . .

Bumps in the Road

I haven’t done a health update for a while, so I thought I’d let you know how I am doing. I was very discouraged and dismayed to find at the end of May that I had only lost four more pounds. As you know, I am not doing this for weight loss, but weight loss is an expected and desirable side effect of my efforts to fight my diabetes. In May I fasted more, ate less, and started doing some exercise. I expected that all these things would contribute to accelerated weight loss instead of hindering it. So that was very hard to accept.

I tried going off one of my medications but then ended up going back on, which was also discouraging. I traveled for almost two weeks and spent much of the time fasting. It still feels wonderful to be able to go somewhere and not have to take a cooler with my insulin.

Later this month I will be having my birthday, so I have decided to give myself a birthday gift consisting of more deprivation. I know, it doesn’t sound very appealing, but at this point I’m convinced that prolonged fasting may be the only way to reduce my medication further while giving my pancreas a long enough vacation to be really useful.

So, I haven’t had a meal since breakfast yesterday and am planning to continue my fast until my birthday—almost two weeks. I know there are probably going to be a couple of “breaks,” events where it might be awkward if I abstain from eating. I now know that I don’t need Glyburide when I am fasting, so my hope is that I might be able to stay off it when I start eating again.

Despite what others report, I don’t find fasting invigorating and I don’t find the hunger disappears after the first day. I miss food a lot, even though I can no longer eat many things that I truly enjoy. I hate being antisocial and having to leave the room when others are eating, but that is often still my best strategy. And of course, I continue to give myself little pep talks all the time. Here are some things I tell myself:

  • I am saving my life.
  • I am extending my life.
  • I am being kind to my body.
  • I am undoing some of the harm I’ve done to my body over the years.
  • I am saving so much money! (On medications and food.)
  • I am greatly reducing the likelihood that I will suffer from diabetes complications.

And of course, as my clothes get looser and looser, maybe I’ll be able to get some new things and not hate the way I look in them! While on my trip, I saw a dress I liked that was on sale, but it was a size smaller than I normally wear. I bought it anyway, thinking it might inspire me to keep fighting the fight. Today, I couldn’t resist trying it on. I not only got into it, but it was not alarmingly tight and actually fit quite well. So I think I will stop with that one piece of encouraging news!

My Diabetes Miracle Report #3

So, another month has passed. I continue to refine my pancreas rescue plan, and I think I may finally have a piece of the puzzle that has eluded me for decades. I often spend time researching Type 2 diabetes and looking for tips that might help me continue to treat it naturally. Somewhere in my cyber travels I came across a recommendation for the book The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your Body Through Intermittent, Alternate-Day, and Extended Fasting. I know. Long title. But it was highly recommended, so I got it for my Kindle and have been reading through it.

I have been aware for years of the fad of “intermittent fasting” and have actually tried various permutations of it, but never with the goal of controlling my blood sugar. I was hoping it would lead to weight loss, which it didn’t. Since starting this journey I have found myself fasting more and more, because I am so focused on resting my pancreas, and because I do have excellent blood sugar readings when I am fasting. This book gave me a piece of information I had missed, which is that the primary predictor of both obesity and Type 2 diabetes is high insulin levels in the body. It further goes on to say that if you are injecting insulin, it is virtually impossible to lose weight because the insulin will keep your body from burning fat for energy. I certainly found that to be true.

So, it seems I am on the right track. The discouraging part is that I will probably have to continue to fast a lot for the rest of my life, in order to keep my blood sugar under control without medication. For the time being I am upping my pancreas vacation days (fasting) from two to three per week, with a longer fast at the end of each month. It is not hard to do if you go on a very low-carb diet first. It’s not so much that I’m hungry but that I miss eating food. The benefits do seem to be worth it though. I have cut my Metformin dose in half as of today and am hoping my results will continue to be good.

Today being the first day of the month, I also got on the scale, and again it was a good thing I didn’t have very high expectations. In my youth I could go on a diet and lose sixty pounds in three months, with a much less draconian regime than the one I am currently following. Right now I would say I am eating less than one third of what I did before I started, yet in three months I have only lost thirty-five pounds. I have decided to be happy with that. After all, in my case the weight loss is simply a side effect of working on my blood sugar, and at this point I’m just thrilled that I haven’t started regaining yet—and I’m beginning to hope that might not happen now that I’m off insulin and fasting regularly.

I’m still working on fitting more exercise into my daily routine. My past injuries make it a little tricky but I am determined to figure out what will work for me. I don’t expect it to have any impact on blood sugar or weight loss, but there are plenty of other benefits that make it worthwhile.

I am also still experimenting with supplements. I won’t post another list this time, but once I feel I’ve pared it down to the supplements that are actually beneficial to me, I will let you know.

Bottom Line: When I started this adventure, I was hoping to follow a low-calorie, low-volume diet for 8 weeks to see if I could cut my insulin dosage in half. I am now three months in and have been off insulin for the last two of those months. I hope by the time I report next month I will be off all my oral diabetes meds also. This is working so much better than I could have dreamed and I have no plans to stop.

Days in the Danger Zone: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

I knew that Easter weekend was going to be a challenge, right? It’s hard to keep saving your life on family holidays. For one thing, there’s the candy: jelly beans, peeps, Cadbury eggs, Reese’s eggs, etc. My family loves those seasonal goodies so it’s not as if I could just not buy them, even though I love them too and can’t have them anymore.

But for me, even a Cadbury egg pales in allure compared to my homemade hot cross buns. Our long-cherished family tradition is to have hot cross buns on Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas morning. We all are pretty passionate about them. In recent years, I’ve had to make a gluten free version, but now even that poor substitute is off limits for me.

Times like this are very dangerous for me. The temptation is overwhelming to think, hey, it’s a holiday that only comes once a year. What would be so terrible about sampling a bite or two of this or that? I think we all know the answer to that. For me, a bite or two leads to many more bites–not right away, but eventually. It’s times like these that my zero-tolerance rule about moderation is very hard to stick to, and as a result I tend to be grouchy and out of sorts because I am feeling sorry for myself. To help myself out, I got rid of the last of my insulin so I don’t have that to fall back on. I can’t “cheat” and eat something that will spike my blood sugar, because now I can’t flood my body with artificial insulin to get it back down.

I didn’t want to just sit there and stare at an empty plate though, so I did plan ahead and make my first loaf of paleo bread. Paleo bread has no grain in it. It is made from seeds and nuts and eggs. My kids would say it tastes like pencil shavings and they are not far off the mark. I don’t really think of it as bread. It’s more of a convenient way to convey cheese to my mouth.  Since everyone else was having hot cross buns, I had cheese crossed bread:

4-14-17 cheese crosses

 If you pile enough cream cheese on it, it tastes mostly like cheese. It hardly takes the place of hot cross buns, but it also did not spike my blood sugar, and that is the point. So I focused on being there with my family and enjoying our traditional Good Friday teatime.

Easter was easier in some ways. I had to forego hot cross buns again at breakfast, but at least I made an egg-and-sausage casserole that I could eat. I had to do without ham for dinner (which I love) because it wasn’t done when I had to eat, but of course I will have some leftovers tomorrow. Today is a pancreas vacation day, otherwise known as a fast. In the afternoon, I opened all those bags of Easter candy and divided them into “goodie” bags for my kids and our “adopted” college kids. I didn’t even eat a single black jellybean.

I wish I could say that all this self-denial is getting easier—but it isn’t. Not yet. I am also struggling with a weird form of guilt. When I have to be in the kitchen a lot, preparing food for other people, I find myself feeling very guilty, as if I’ve totally blown my whole pancreas rescue plan and have eaten far more than I should—even when I haven’t actually eaten anything, let alone something that’s off-limits for me. At some point I suppose I will be less afraid of screwing up, because I’ll have more of a track record of success, but for now, I find myself often fearing failure.

Hard Choices

I am going to try to confine my health-related posts to Mondays, so they will be easy to find for those who are interested.

Embarked as I have upon this road toward more health and less diabetes, I freely admit that it often is not easy or fun. I have made choices for myself that cannot be unmade unless I want to be a slave to insulin once again.

Our trip to Indiana was a case in point. On the one hand, traveling without insulin feels tremendously freeing, but on the other hand that means there really is no margin for error. I knew meal stops would be hard. I had made and brought some chicken salad, which we ate for lunch the first two days (the kids had theirs on bread and I had mine on celery). For supper, though, I drank my unpalatable protein drink in the car at the appointed time, and then we eventually stopped at a fast food place so the kids could eat.

The problem was that by then I was hungry again, so my plan to sit and keep the kids company was fraught with danger. It is incredibly hard to sit and watch someone eat a juicy burger and crispy French fries, while the fumes taunt your nostrils and your stomach growls in anguish. No matter how many times I silently told myself “I’m saving my life,” I still wanted more than anything to steal one French fry.

Remember, though, that moderation does not work for me. You might be able to eat a single French fry every now and then, but I cannot. There can be no cheating for me. When you think about it, who would I be cheating? Myself, that’s who. I’d be cheating myself out of my own future.

It reached the point where I had no choice but to flee the temptation. I went back out to the car and took a few deep breaths. By the time the kids were done eating, I had more or less recovered.

One thing I did to reduce stress on that trip was to not test my blood glucose. I was very, very careful with what I ate. I did not eat a single bite of anything I shouldn’t have. However, I was not always able to eat at the exact times I’m used to. I figured if I tested my blood glucose and it was a little high, I would just fret and feel guilty and there’d be nothing I could do about it. I knew it was not going to be dangerously high, because I didn’t eat a single thing that would have caused that, so I decided I was better off not knowing. As soon as I got home I started testing again and everything was fine.

At home it is often easier for me to make my hard choices, but sometimes it means staying away from the dinner table when everyone else is enjoying a meal that I can’t eat. And this weekend it meant not even licking a single drop of batter or icing when I made yummy-smelling chai flavored cake! I just keep giving myself that same pep talk: I’m saving my life. I’m saving my life. It really does help!

The Mendacious Myth of Moderation

I’m going to say something here that I fear some people may disagree with—but others are going to maybe find it helpful. I’m going to talk about “moderation,” and how my feelings about it have changed.

For all my life, I’ve been taught that if you’re a good person, you do everything in moderation, whether it’s eating, exercise, hobbies, etc. Moderation has been held up to me as the gold standard of prudent behavior. The implication has always been, if you can’t do something in moderation, then you are morally deficient.

My mother loved to point out how wonderful her father was at doing things in moderation, especially when it came to eating. He knew exactly how much he could eat and still maintain his svelte shape, and he never overindulged. If we had sandwiches at lunch, he only took one piece of bread—but he would cut it into four pieces and spread a different topping on each tiny square. He was the kind of person who could count out and eat six potato chips—but no more.

I am not that kind of person. I consider myself a smart and mighty person in many ways, but I have not been able to master moderation in some areas. After more than half a century of striving for moderation in those areas, I have recently admitted defeat. Maybe it makes me a bad person. Maybe it means I have glaring personality flaws that are unfixable. But, when it comes to certain things, I have become much more pragmatic. I no longer even have moderation as my goal.

For the purpose of this essay, I am referring primarily to food. The unreachable goal of moderation has done me no good and has caused a great deal of harm over the decades. I have gone sugar-free for years at a time, and every time it has been the seductive dream of moderation that derailed me. People would say, “You don’t have to pig out. You can have just a few bites of dessert.”

So I would have just a bite or two. After a few weeks, I would be indulging in four or five bites. Then a whole serving—but a small one, and only once a week. Then twice a week. Then it would be Halloween or Valentines or Easter and there would be candy. By then moderation would be so far behind me I couldn’t even see it from where I sat on my big pile of sugar.

So part of the journey I’m on right now involves admitting and accepting that for me, moderation does not work and will never work. There can be no “cheating” on sweets or starches because I know my body can’t handle them and I don’t want to go back to needing insulin. Some people can do things in moderation—but I am not one of those people, and I no longer am willing to keep trying. I am so done with that.

In a way, it’s a huge relief. For me, it is easier to just do completely without certain foods than to try and enjoy them in moderation. It takes away massive amounts of stress. No more dithering about whether I should indulge in a few potato chips or a brownie or a baked potato. The decision has been made, and moderation is not an option, now or ever.

I feel like I need to have a big sign on the wall saying “No Moderation.” In case, you know, I forget and start thinking I can do it again. Because I can’t. Not ever. For me, there can be no compromise.