I decided to write this story in order to “celebrate” my twentieth diabetes anniversary this fall. In this article, I’m going to tell you a bit more about how it is to live with this particular medical condition and what you can do to improve your overall health — from an entrepreneur’s perspective. Read on to learn how to balance your diabetes when you are your own boss, and the boss of others.
A few words about life with diabetes
Let me just start with this: It’s not that bad. I was diagnosed with Type-1 Diabetes at a very young age — 6 years old, to be exact. And I have this haunting memory: as optimistic as I may sound, I was devastated when I found out that I had it.
For almost a year, I stayed indoors, didn’t go to school, and thought it can’t get worse than this. Then, something happened during a family trip. There was this parking lot we entered with our car. In a car close to us there was a girl, probably around my age at the time. She waved and smiled at me. I half smiled and waved back. I expected her to run towards me when her dad stopped the car. But then the door opened and she didn’t get out. Her dad came and picked her up and placed her in a wheelchair. And that’s when it hit me: it CAN get worse than my diabetes. Stupid me!
From that point on, I was a different person. The first thing when you get diagnosed is to accept it. It took me a year, but it shouldn’t have. This year, in May, I turned 26. And now, closing in, is my twentieth diabetes anniversary this fall. Growing up with Diabetes, it sort of became part of who I am as a person. I talked about it two years ago in an interview for DiabetesMine.
The bottom line: you should know that you are a fighter, a survivor, a “doer.” You know that you can’t give up. You learn to live with it and adapt it to your lifestyle. Note that I’m not advising for the opposite, to build your life around your condition. And that is the perfect foundation for entrepreneurship, as well — one of the reasons why I encourage people who have a medical condition to go into business. But this isn’t enough to trigger the hunger for being someone above average, for starting your own thing and for doing an amazing job at being happy and balanced.
Family support, before everything else…
I remember clearly the impact my family had on me.
My dad is the type to always encourage me to find my own way. He would always be there to remind me if I screwed up, but I don’t think there is one person more proud of my achievements than he is.
I remember, in forth grade, he came home after sealing a deal and showed me this 100 USD bill: “This is money, sweetie.” I reached out to grab it. He then added: “Sweetie, this is our money. If you want your own, you have to earn it.” That’s how I became “obsessed” with American dollars. And it’s probably the earliest business advice I ever received.
Since we’re both diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, I feel he gets me better than anyone in a way. The scariest thing is when one of us is sick or when things get out of hand. As twisted as it may sound, I’m lucky to have someone in the family with the exact same medical condition.
My mom helped me in another way: she made me feel comfortable with my diabetes and never settle for less just because “I have it.” I had to own it. She also taught me that no matter the situation, I should always take my work seriously: as an employee or as a self-employed individual. And she taught me about responsibilities, how you should feed the mouths you’re responsible for before feeding your own. That’s a great lesson when you have your own business: always pay the people you work with, your employees, your collaborators, before you pay yourself.
My big brother is the one who told me about remote work. He also encouraged me to learn design and HTML in 2004. He would bring me home software versions from the University (he studied IT), so I could have access to Flash, Photoshop, and later on, Adobe Creative Suite. Whenever I had trouble with fixing something or installing a program, he would just say “Google it,” or “Read online about the new upgrades.” That educated me in searching and eventually finding solutions on my own, without relying too much on others.
It’s important to have support from your loved ones. My brother and I always say that it’s truly sad not to have a family in this world, because you won’t find genuine support elsewhere, no matter the quality of relationships you have with other people. That includes support for your diabetes. Here’s the thing: in life, as much as in business, you need a leap of faith. Just like Yoda says “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” You either do it, or you don’t. I know it sounds a bit like a cliché, but taking your weaknesses and limits and transforming them into strengths is not impossible. It’s just a matter of perspective: what might seem an early disadvantage could later become a core advantage.
Rule of thumb: keep your diabetes at a conversational level
Let me explain: imagine you are out in the park, every day, jogging. Jogging is healthy and sports in general go hand in hand with a healthy diet. I’ve always had a healthy diet and sports were always present in my life. Just like jogging, Diabetes should be kept at a level that allows you “to make conversation” – or at least, that’s what doctors say: “Don’t stress too much,” “Don’t laugh too hard,” “Don’t drink more than one bottle of beer or a glass of wine,” “Don’t stay up late working,” “Don’t cry or overexert yourself emotionally,” “Keep it at a decent level,” “Slow down.” The truth? These things are close to impossible when the adrenaline of starting your own business kicks in. Or when life kicks in, in general.
I’ve been there too and I get the impression that people with diabetes feel double the pressure and the stress compared to those who don’t have it. Maybe because we are more sensitive. For me, there were times when, no matter how hard I tried to keep that healthy mindset, I lost the secret recipe. Anxiety, stress, fear of failure, and the burdens of a “must succeed” mindset. I told myself that life doesn’t happen so that you can keep it to a “conversational level.” Life is tough. Business is tough. And it’s a challenge worth taking if you can take responsibility for your actions. But then you see your family hurting each time you don’t take care of your diabetes. And that’s not a good habit, is it?
So, the rule of thumb is to keep it at a conversational level. Try everything until you find the secret recipe for a healthy balanced “D” life.
The Secret Recipe
I might lie if I say there’s a universal one, but I’d like to outline what worked for me and my diabetes in terms of sports, meditation, and natural remedies.
I loved all the dancing activities I did. I originally started with ballet around the age of 7, but had to quit at some point due to personal reasons. However, 2 years ago, I rediscovered dancing through tango. The dynamics are amazing, it’s one of those activities that you share with a dancing partner and that can help you in many ways. It starts with personal development, which is key in any stage of a medical condition. It helps in accepting and moving on, while being aware of it. I wrote an entire post about how tango changed me personally and professionally.
Bonus points: it helped me get over a breakup, a big step in the healing process.
2. Sports and the outdoors as forms of meditation
I love biking, jogging, playing basketball, football, badminton, and volleyball. To add more, I travel a lot, so walking long distances by foot is also included in the outdoor activities. Without sounding too funny, occasional mushroom-picking excursions also happen, especially during summer or autumn, when it’s “the season” in the mountainside of Romania.
I think sports and outdoor activities are amazing if there is fresh air involved. Combine it with some time off from the city ruckus and you get the perfect combination for a special type of meditation. Here is what you need to do in order to make it feel like meditation:
- Be surrounded by fresh air, nature, and silence.
- Be alone or surrounded just by people that you are absolutely comfortable with.
- Either listen to nature (birds singing, rivers whispering, wind blowing) or to a relaxing tune.
- Be relaxed and don’t let your mind run off to stressful places.
- Induce yourself into a state of wellbeing, where your only goal is to have no goal.
- Meditation is a journey, which involves a Start and Finish line, most of the time in the form of a cycle.
- As you get into a state, you live through it, you also have to get out of it, in order to complete it.
- Take everything at your own pace. No rush, no pressure.
3. Mindfulness as Meditation
I’m not a big fan of classic meditation techniques. Personally, I don’t like to sit in just one position to help me channel my energies. I like to work with my mind and body in creative and dynamic ways. Though I’m not also not a fan, yoga is highly recommended to Diabetes patients, due to its complexity and relaxation attributes.
Getting back to the topic of Mindfulness. I love practicing a series of simple-yet-efficient exercises, which I will list below.
The first thing you can do in order to restore peace and bring your heartbeat to normal is to become aware of your breathing. When things get nasty for me and my blood sugar is in danger of rising at any minute, I take some time off, lie in my bed or on my couch, play some relaxing lyric-free music, and do breathing exercises. In order to create an even more relaxed environment, I either opt for aromatherapy or for Himalayan salt. If you own a Himalayan salt lamp at home, you can also leave that on, maybe 30 minutes prior to your exercises. Here is more info about its health benefits.
Back to breathing. I try to focus on my breathing as much as I can, and gradually breathe in and breathe out at a slower pace. Warning: don’t fall asleep, as you may induce yourself into a state of self hypnosis without planning to do so. I usually set a playlist with 10-15 minutes of instrumental music, after which I add more vivid songs with lyrics that are sure to wake me up. You don’t necessarily have to lie down, you can do it in a park, on a bench, or just by sitting in a nice lounge or café. The idea is to have as much comfort as possible and to center your attention on the breathing, not on the people passing by or the background sounds.
Concentration and Deconcentration Exercises
This one is a simple exercise you do in the morning and in the evening.
In the morning. After you wake up, while still lying in bed, close your eyes for 5 minutes, but be careful not to fall asleep again. Then, start counting from 0 to 10. Note that you won’t be just counting the numbers, you’ll also be drawing each number, slowly and in detail, with your mind. Without distractions. It takes time to be able to do it correctly, and if it gets boring with just numbers, try adding shapes, letters, or even an entire equation each morning. It works great by improving single-tasking and increasing the ability to focus.
In the evening. Just as you concentrate, you also have to “deconcentrate” — to disconnect, to undo it. So, at night when lying in bed before falling asleep, take another 5 minutes and count down, from 10 to 0. This time, you’ll be erasing the “drawings” you did in the morning. For extra relaxation, add some “breathe in, breathe out” breaks of 3 breaths for every 3 numbers. It works amazingly for getting a good night’s sleep. And with blood glucose running high in the morning (we call it the “Dawn effect“), you need a good sleep to temper the sugars down. Remember that any aggressive dreams or bad sleeping episodes can send the wrong signals to your liver, which may trigger a release of glucose deposits located in the organ.
This one is also simple: an awareness exercise is something you practice everyday by being extremely conscious about it. For example, drinking your coffee in the morning. Here’s what I like to do:
- Go to your favorite café and scan the place. Look for the best seat there is, with the best view.
- Sit down, and before pulling out your devices from your bag, just be aware of what is happening next to you.
- Smile when the waiter or waitress comes to get your order. Ask them how is their day with a positive tone.
- While you wait for the coffee to be served, again, scan the café and notice the people around you. The decor. Look if anything is new, changed, or improved.
- Sip your coffee while noticing the taste, the temperature, the texture, the feeling it gives you when you drink it.
- Enjoy every last drop of it. And, if preferable, don’t add sweetener or sugar. Just enjoy it bitter and in its natural state.
4. Natural Remedies
While there is a huge debate surrounding the actual benefits of natural remedies for Type 1 Diabetes, I won’t argue in saying that as long as you don’t fully replace your daily insulin dose, you are safe.
I’ve always treated natural remedies as a way to add more value to your wellbeing, compared to using them as a sole healing method. Not to sound sarcastic, but after 20 years of Diabetes, it’s not like drinking herbal tea or rubbing minty oil will make my pancreas work like new. So, while treating this topic with extra care, here are a few things you can do or eat to balance your diabetes like a boss:
- Herbal tea. Go to the countryside or look for organic/bio gardens where people grow their own herbal plants. Make them an offer they can’t refuse and get that stack of healthy benefits. Freshly picked plants from the field, if infused in hot water, usually taste like hay. And that, my friends, is healthy!
- Salty and spicy. Don’t be afraid to try salty and spicy — just not in the usual way. Try Himalayan salt lamps, or any “salty” things that burn or melt really slowly, in order to recreate an environment similar to the seaside’s salty breeze. Spicy things are also good, especially if it’s really hot, because it makes you sweat. Did you know that we eliminate sugars and toxins by sweating? Not bad for a diabetic person.
- Bitter fruits. There is nothing like eating raw bitter fruits, starting from grapefruit and continuing to wild fruits or (really) green bananas. They have little sugars, which is great for a snack and, in case you didn’t know, everything bitter helps the kidneys. Homemade remedies made by mom, passed down from her mom and grandma, always contained bitter plants and bitter fruits. And they always worked when our kidneys (my dad’s and I) would act finicky.
- Raw fruit juices and homemade flavoured water. Keep in mind that fruit juices, even homemade, have more sugars than fruits eaten separately — possibly even doubling the amount of carbs. And that’s where flavored water comes in. As a member of the Diabetes gang, most of the time you end up enjoying something sweet only if your blood sugar is sort of low. Hence, my final “natural remedy” is actually water with different flavors. And since it’s summer, I’m carefully placing pieces of fruits in my ice cube forms, so that I can drink water at a room temperature with fruity ice cubes in it.
Some conclusions of my own after 20 years with “you know what”
I’ve seen cases of people who gave up fighting and just found an excuse in having diabetes — to justify their failures or, even worse, their complete ignorance. I don’t think I mentioned what could be perceived as a limitation when you’re a “D” Entrepreneur. Here is a list I came up with:
- You need sleep, a quiet environment and a healthy lifestyle
- You can’t afford to have too much pressure in your life
- You need to keep your health in check all the time
- You need positive people to surround you, because being depressed with diabetes is really bad for you
- You can’t eat too much sugar, too much greasy food, or junk food
- You have to take a break every now and then, otherwise your body won’t take it
- It’s ideal that you don’t smoke and keep your alcohol consumption limited
- You have to undergo regular check-ups
- People won’t understand you 100 per cent, and you can never expect them to
- People won’t know what is wrong with you unless you tell them what’s going on
- You have to stay focused and stick to your program
- There’s no other way but to live with it
- It’s difficult if you have a full-time stressful job, because just how much medical leave can you have access to?
If you take a look at it, what diabetes does to you is to send warnings that you have to be in control of your lifestyle, decisions, and choices.
Even a healthy person needs plenty of rest, a healthy way of life, and can’t afford to have too much stress and pressure. Everyone needs a check-up every now and then, and everyone needs positive people around them. Eating junk food is bad for everyone. We all need a break from time to time. We shouldn’t shouldn’t smoke or drink too much alcohol and so on. However, not everyone keeps these things at the forefront of their minds all the time — it all comes with being aware.
I’ll end this article with a favorite quote from another young entrepreneur, one who touches on the need to not be perfect:
I don’t need a mask. You don’t need a mask. I don’t need to hide my imperfections. I’m human. You’re human.
I think it supports the healthy attitude towards having a “special” thing about yourself, even it it’s a medical condition. I think having diabetes helped me, because I learned that I had to live with it and deal with it. Which proved to be a good principle in my line of work and life in general.
Featured photo credit: [Photo credit: Dialysis Technician Salary] via flickr.com