The journey to combat my own for of diabetes-related "learned helplessness" (LH) in some ways began over 25 years ago. I learned an invaluable lesson about living well with type 1 diabetes in a most unconventional way. It has remained with me ever since. It was the early 1990's and I was working at the Texas Lions Camp diabetes sessions in Kerrville as the camp’s Medical Director. That afternoon I was covering camper activities at the high element ropes course. There was a new 75 foot climbing wall that the campers would attempt to scale and ring a small victory bell at the top. After all the campers had their turn to climb up and ring the bell, the adult staff were invited to participate. I was quite eager to do it.
However, every climbing attempt I made proved futile. I'd get no more than 10 to 20 feet up and fall back. Time and time again I failed. I soon became very frustrated. At that point the excuses began to flow from my mouth: I said there was no way I can do this. I was heavier than the kids, too old, too weak, and just about any other reason or excuse I could conjure up. It was a major whine.
The young man who oversaw this activity (and witnessed my frustration) was named was Todd. After watching me carefully, he said "Dr. Steve, let me show you". Now, Todd had only one arm, having lost his left arm above the elbow to bone cancer when he was a child. I watched as Todd scaled the entire wall in only a matter of seconds. With a feeling of combined awe, embarrassment, and deep humility, a warm feeling came over me. A true epiphany.
I realized a life lesson that day which has carried me forward to this very day: that while I can always find something to complain about, make excuses for, rationalize away, or simply dislike, the only thing that truly limits me is myself...my attitude and belief in my own abilities. You see, Todd WAS different…but hardly abnormal. In fact he accepted no limitations and placed none on himself. I decided that I wanted to be like that guy, not limited by my differences.
Such an incredible lesson I learned one sunny afternoon at diabetes camp in 1991. Type 1 diabetes may make me and many other people 'different', but we should never look at ourselves as abnormal. And most of all, never use our differences as excuses for the things we wish to do or accomplish for ourselves or others. In reality, many of the barriers we place before us are of our own creation. That day, ironically I chose to tear down a wall as I climbed another one. Perhaps I just climbed over an obstacle I had placed in front of myself.
After watching Todd scale the wall, I then made the trek to the top and rang the bell. He not only showed me the proper technique, but most importantly, the proper attitude. I often reflect on that summer day.
I respect everyone’s right to be unhappy, complain, or just simply be mad about whatever angers them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But as I’ve said so many times, life with diabetes is all about choices, and I CHOOSE to look at my condition differently. Todd made a similar choice about his life and I learned from his example. You see, in the natural world, I should have died in 1966. I am kept alive and relatively healthy each day by artificial means (injected insulin, meters, sensor, etc…) and my wits. That’s a gift I choose not to complain about. Every day of my “second life” has been a blessing and I’ll consider each upcoming day I awaken on this Earth with equal thanks and gratitude.
Some of you may wonder why many of my posts about diabetes are positive and empowering. Now you know why. I share this story with my patents and campers all the time. Many can and do relate, and some just listen politely. We can learn valuable lessons about living well with diabetes or any other chronic condition in the most unlikely places or situations. This is but one example of that. What's yours?