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Minimalism in Diabetes and Life

Thank you for all the emails of concern over my blogging break this summer and fall.  It was very nice to be missed.  I’m happy to be back.

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Over 6 years ago, when I ended my 7 year run with a Minimed insulin pump and switched to “the poor man’s” vial and syringes, I discovered something interesting about myself.  I functioned better when I practiced minimalism.  Not having so many balls in the air at once just feels easier.  I don’t even replace my syringes or lancets but once every week and several months, respectively.  I’ve never had an infection or any other problem as a result-at least not one I’m aware of.  And this makes me feel a bit more streamlined in my diabetes management.  I’m not saying I recommend being lazy about changing needles but practicing overall minimalism in my diabetes management works for me at the present time. 

In the past, all my constant logging, pumping, and the checks and balances that goes along with that overwhelmed me into not doing anything well.  Whereas now, I do the few essential things as well as possible, with A1c results I’m happy about.  It may be my personality type or my lifelong struggle with anxiety but either way it’s true for me and we all need to work with what is true for each of us.

I’ve been travelling a lot lately and I’ve been amazed at how I can go days with just a small carry on bag and my purse and not even need all that I packed.  And that includes carrying all my back up diabetes supplies which take up a good bit of room. The experience has taken away this fear I’ve always had where I ask my anxiety ridden self, “but what if I need it?!”  Now I just think of how much nicer it is to get around the airport with a small bag and how quick and easy packing is.  I’m less likely to forget something crucial, as well.

True and lasting change takes time and my moving towards minimalism has been a slow and deep process.  For the first time I’m truly aware of how ridiculous our consumer culture is.  I hate what we’re doing to the environment and ourselves.  I notice my sense of calm when I go somewhere that is totally uncluttered.  I can think and focus better in that environment.  I also have learned that more stuff does in no way translate to more happiness.  Though I can admit that being above the poverty level and therefore having sufficient safety and health affirming opportunities is important and absolutely impacts happiness levels.  But if we only refer to extras, I just spent the summer in a huge house at a lake paying zero in rent and I felt depressed the whole time. 

My favorite thing since childhood has been the computer.  I don’t know how many kids had a computer at home in 1993 but I did.  I saw the potential of this great mysterious box and as they took off better and better every minute, I became only more grateful that I had been born at a time when the world was at our fingertips.  Not to mention accessing information that was more real time than a book was super exciting.  Like most people, I love learning and the age of the internet has been my greatest ally, especially as a drop out college student married to a drop out college student.  We haven’t been hindered by our drop out status in terms of knowledge (unless you beg to differ) and that’s a righteous equalizing factor.  (Though in job searching we all know a degree still outweighs so many other valuable assets and qualities but that is a discussion for another day).

Part of what being globally connected has done for me is give me a very real view of how others think and live.  And it’s been impossible for me to ignore the fact that we have enough resources for all humans to have all they need.  We just don’t have enough for all of our wants.  Suddenly I feel greedy and I welcome that feeling because I don’t want to be talked about by my great grandchildren as the stubborn old woman that was gratuitously a part of a careless, destructive, insensitive, and idiotic generation that put greed before humanity.  I want them to know I was doing my tiny part to mitigate damage in my own home, community, and country.  I want them to know that I didn’t carry the attitude of a victim, of someone who says, “well, what do ya do” or “if you can’t beat em’, join em’”.  Bull.  Bull!  I want my grandchildren and great grandchildren to know that I felt guilty about how I was living and motivated and inspired by others to act and make any change I could to make something, anything, better. 

And that leads me to where I feel I’m now more quickly headed.  The movement of minimalism is becoming more popular.  Now there are those who criticize minimalists for being trendy.  But I’m glad it’s catching on and truthfully, it’s being criticized because every time someone talks about it we are basically causing others to self reflect and to feel that we are rejecting much of society.  It’s not like my life’s goal was to reject much of society.  It’s actually in my nature to agree with you as much as possible.  But self reflection and awareness has put me here.

Anyway, what’s great is that there is no right way to practice minimalism  The key is to be aware, to be conscious of how we live and to make changes where we can.  To reject it is fine.  But there are consequences.  That’s just a fact.  I no longer feel comfortable living the way most do in the US.  That doesn’t mean I judge you for not feeling the same way.  It just means that we should all be discussing this and supporting each other.  In other words, I tell you about my minimalism journey and stop right there and you tell me about all your shopping trips and stop right there.  I don’t tell you you’re doing something wrong and you certainly don’t tell me I’m nuts for trying to live with a lot less.  This has been a very recent change for me and even now I still waste paper towels like nobody’s business so I don’t have room to judge.  I do like talking about it because that’s how I got introduced-by others talking about it with me or writing about their experiences with it.  I am so thankful for their time and willingness to share how and why they do what they do.

So what is my family doing now?

Well, first of all, I’ve been getting rid of a lot of material goods this year.  It stung for a second and then I forgot I ever owned any of it. 

I also grabbed a few items by the dumpster and refurbished them with my husband.  He fixed them up and I painted them-which turned out to be some of the best meaningful fun I’ve had all year. 

Our cheap dining room table set broke years ago and we couldn’t afford to replace it so Alex (my husband) made a farmhouse style table with simple benches and together we stained it teak and Caribbean blue.  The entire project cost less than $100 and we are so proud of our table.  Our children loved witnessing planks of wood turn into something so useful. 

I’ve been scanning and backing up documents in order to free ourselves of paper weight. 

We sold our second car super cheap in an act of charity and just go everywhere together.  This works well for us because Alex drives a company truck to and from work.

My brother in law gave us his TV but we still don’t pay for cable TV, instead we use Netflix or Hulu to watch TV using the WII my husband received as a gift.  It’s cheaper and we spend a lot less time in front of the TV.

We just bought a 900 square ft house with no basement or functional attic.  My son and daughter will share a bedroom, which is going against the norm unless you go to other parts of the world where entire families eat, sleep, and entertain in one room.  We hope to have a smaller footprint that way and to be forced into not buying so much stuff because, “where on earth would we be able to put it?” 

Alex and I have never had credit cards. And when there is extra money, we’ve paid off tuition, medical debt, whatever we can, instead of taking a vacation. We haven’t had a vacation since our honeymoon 5 years ago but there is definitely less stress in paying things off when possible.  When people say “you can afford that” we say, “no we can’t”  And it’s a dignified, “no, really, we can’t and don’t want to be burdened with debt, be irresponsible with money, or give in to the seductive pleasure of mindless shopping and imaginary needs.”  And I am just like anyone else.  I get cheered up by buying things.  I love clothes.  I love books.  I love STUFF.  I have fooled myself into believing I can heal my anxiety with a shopping trip.  But, what I’ve learned is it’s a temporary fix.  And then I’m back to where I started, only, with less money.

We try to eat very simple whole foods with few ingredients just to make preparation and clean up that much easier.  We are slowly getting rid of kitchen supplies.  It’s a little scary but eventually we want to just have a bowl, spoon, fork, and mug for each of us and just wash after every use.  No more piles of dishes!  I know that sounds crazy but if you come over I will have delectable finger foods for you, great wine that we’ll drink out of, I dunno, something, and fun conversation-all to distract you from our primitive approach.  I’m trying to make my new mantra, “people, not things”.

We plan on growing some of our own food.  There will be a major learning curve but, we are committed to giving it a good shot. 

We plan on homeschooling the kids which will help us with having a more pleasant schedule and less hectic times throughout the day.  Less stress is always a plus.  Additionally, it has been brought to my attention that right now, the greatest indicator of a child’s outcome in school is their family income and not their performance or work ethic or testing ability.  I’m not playing that game.  If we can manage and meet everyone’s needs then we’ll do it, if not, then we’ll try something else.

I have been slowly getting rid of clothes.  I noticed a while back that my husband is always better dressed than me and I think it’s because he sticks with a simple routine:  button up shirt or polo, khakis or jeans, leather shoes-and done.  He gets colors that he likes and he gets high quality so he can use his clothes for years.  So I’m trying to simplify my dressing by getting rid of everything that isn’t awesome on me (because, really, why do I want to wear anything that looks less than awesome on me?)  As a result, I’ve gotten rid of 75% of my closet!  But, it feels great and laundry is sooo much easier!  I’ve heard of people who own two pairs of pants and two t-shirts and that’s all they wear and it sounds amazing but I’m definitely not there,  yet. 

I’ve discovered the magic of Goodwill.  It’s hit and miss and I’ve learned you have to be picky, but people have been amazed by what I get from there which cost next to nothing.  The key is to make sure it serves a strong purpose and doesn’t add to clutter, something I should write on my hand before my trips there. 

Well that’s it, I think.  Again, these aren’t things anyone else should do, this is just what we feel we can do and we have a long way to go but it’s a process.  We’re just going to do what feels right. 

A part of me does feel like I’m making a statement with my minimalist diabetes management approach.  I want to be an example to those with limited resources and say, “you can do it with the basics, and do it well.”  A lack of money absolutely harms health but just enough money is another story.  I have just enough money for the basics which does include sufficient test strips for each day-excellent blood sugar control is not up for discussion.  I don’t need a pump or continuous glucose monitor, though it’s relative isn’t it?  If I die tomorrow of a middle of the night low blood sugar everyone will say I did need it.  But, if I die tomorrow in a car accident, you could say that I needed perhaps a different car or that I needed to have taken a better route or skipped a dumb errand.  If I die from a stroke, you could say I needed to have changed some part of my lifestyle or taken some type of medication.  The point is with so many variables each day affecting our well being it’s just not cut and dry.  I feel that my very simple approach forces me to maintain an important discipline that extends into all parts of my life.  That discipline is ultimately responsible for my diabetes management and how well it goes.  And that’s what I really wanted to share today Smile

Do you practice any kind of minimalism?  If so, I’m interested in learning more, please share in comments.

Fighting Diabetes Stress with Diabetes Zen

 

Zen means whatever you think it means.  This is pretty much how Zen priest Susan O’Connell summed the meaning of Zen up during a recent interview.  Literally it means one can gain enlightenment from meditation or intuition rather than from faith alone.  In this article I’m talking about the more popular meaning for Zen which has to do with peace of mind, calmness, and simplicity. 

We all probably want peace of mind and to feel calm.  But, not all of us see the benefit of less is more and I think that this is because we live in a fun tech filled world that never stops (neither does the consumerism).

There is a major movement happening around the world right now.  It has to do with a newly inspired focus on achieving simplicity and peace.  Why?  Because we have 3 year olds interviewing for private schools, mothers multi-tasking to the point of breakdowns, and quantity assurance taking the place of quality assurance.  Is all the busyness, extra stuff, and running around really worth it?  Aren’t all those yard sales proof we have too much stuff at home?  The fact that I can’t buy a toaster that works properly for over a year? (I’m going on my third)  What about our need to buy tons of fun “green” products which are only fueling more and more harmful production?  And why can’t we just do less and enjoy more?  Why do we slave away for a golden retirement we may never see?  It is all interrelated and I’m loving the idea of being part of the movement to simplify life. 

Due to all of the above many people are starting to de-clutter their homes.  They are buying better quality items and maintaining them rather than frequently replacing them.  People are going home at 5pm instead of staying in the office until 6:30pm.  Some are part of a Slow Food movement that is rapidly spreading and creating an awareness and a link between which foods we choose to buy and consume and how we eat those foods-slow and mindfully, with our health and our community’s best interest in mind. 

Personally, I’ve been trying to take baby steps towards a more peaceful and less complicated existence.  I’ve been getting rid of clothing I don’t use often enough and household items that are not crucial and just get in the way when I’m trying to clean.  I don’t shop at Walmart because they pay their employees less than other places I can get groceries.  I also try hard to buy unprocessed foods and organic produce in order to support healthy farming methods.  I try to buy fair trade products which help support small farming communities everywhere.  I eat organic and humanely raised meat and poultry so I don’t have a hand in animal cruelty.  (These things are not easy to do considering the extra costs involved but the key is to do what you’re comfortable with)

The great thing about trying to simplify life is it can be done to your own standards-meaning there are many different levels suited to accommodate any of us.  Just do what you can.  A great way to begin is to think about what would give you more peace and joy.  Less clutter?  Eating dinner more slowly?  Maybe without the TV but your favorite relaxing music instead?  Maybe you want to focus on spending more money on fun experiences for the family instead of new clothes or gadgets.  It has been said meaningful experiences makes us happier than shopping.

I try to capture this entire idea of “zen” in my diabetes management routine.  I don’t use an insulin pump because it doesn’t suit me personally (if it does you-then great) and I find it more relaxing to give an insulin shot and not worry later if I have a knot in my tubing or an infusion site that won’t stay put.  I also enjoy sticking with minimal supplies-test strips, insulin, and syringes.  But again that’s just me.  It is what gives me peace, perhaps not you.  Having a good A1c gives me a lot of peace as well-perhaps more peace than anything else.  This is why I try to eat simple foods like fruits and vegetables, meat, and poultry which I find much easier to cover with insulin than I do processed foods.  And along the same lines I don’t want to stress over not being able to afford my healthy food and basic diabetes supplies so I have had the same cell phone now for four years (something people love to pick on me about) and my husband and I share the smallest phone plan available.  There isn’t a lot of money for extras but, being healthy is worth having as a top priority so more money goes to support that.  I remove the thoughts from my mind that tell me I cannot exercise because I can’t get out of the house with the twins on my own.  I try to remember that I can do some push ups and squats in my living room instead of give myself excuses as to why I am out of shape. 

So how can you “zen” your diabetes life?  By taking really small steps and thinking about what makes you healthier and what makes your diabetes routine less complicated.  Some people need their insulin pump and CGMS and yes that includes considerable supplies but there isn’t a need to linger on that.  Instead, if this is you, think about how you can clean out the space you have set aside for your diabetes supplies.  Can it be organized a bit more so you never have to rummage through to find your meter’s batteries?  Is there a way you can synchronize your supply orders so you don’t have to worry about ordering six different prescriptions throughout the month?  Or perhaps we can all begin by just living more in the moment and being very aware of our actions.  When I don’t live in the moment I tend to eat and give insulin without much thought and next thing I know my blood sugar is high or low and I’m wishing I had paid more attention.

The funny thing is, once you find a way to simplify a few things, you’ll often find a way to simplify more and more.  It is truly a liberating feeling.  And something that just happens to be very important to me is that simplifying things in life usually leads to an easier time cleaning and picking up.  Amen to that.

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