Wednesday, April 11, 2012

On Parole

Without actually participating in the Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge, I saw the Day 10 prompt "Dear 16-year-old Me" and decided to offer some thoughts on that topic. Not exactly in letter format, but close enough.
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In a particularly powerful role, you may remember Morgan Freeman's passionate monologue in Shawshank Redemption about how he wished for the chance to travel back and talk some sense into his younger self.

"Am I sorry for what I did? There's not a day goes by that I don't feel regret... I look back on the way I was then, a young stupid kid... I want to talk to him. Try to talk some sense into him. Tell him the way things are. But I can't. That kid's long gone, and this 'old man' is all that's left. I gotta live with that."

For this type 1 diabetic of 28 years, I regret my actions in one formative phase of life just like Red did in Shawshank. If only I could do travel back to the 90s, confront my Rebellious Teen Diabetic Self and tell that stupid kid firsthand how important D-Management is. How you aren't invincible and won't live forever. What an opportunity that would be.

But, this isn't Back to the Future. I'm not Marty McFly, and there is no Flux Capacitor or 1.21 Jiggawatts. (What the hell's a jiggawatt, anyhow?) There's no going back.

Awhile back, Renata over at The Diabetic Duo wrote about a parent's perspective about teenage rebellion and the impacts that can have on someone with diabetes. This is my version, as someone who was one of those "teen rebels" who someone miraculously lived through those Years of Rebellion. With that, for any children, teens, or families reading this: Please do as I say, NOT as I've done.

My Type 1 diagnosis at the young age of 5 means that Life Before Diabetes doesn't stand out in my mind. This lifestyle of balancing insulin, exercise, blood tests, and meal planning is really the only lifestyle I've ever remembered. In a way, I am thankful for that because I didn't have to "retrain" my brain as those diagnosed later in life - even as adults with Type 2 - must do. I was also incredibly fortunate to be the only son of a Type 1 D-Mom, who was diagnosed herself at the same young age. She has lived through this now for more than five decades, watching incredible changes that have materialized and not materialized since the late 50s.

But despite this early adaption and parental wisdom, my D-Care hasn't always been adequate. Nope. Far From It.

My A1C numbers reached into outer space. Like how the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory Elevator crashed through the glass rooftop and soured above the city. Numbers hovered in those teen years at 13% for too long, at one point hitting as high as 21. Only by A Higher Grace did I manage to get where I am now, without feeling significant repercussions from those days. One day in my later teens, I recall my Endo At The Time brandishing a disappointed look as he glared point blank at me and said: "If you keep doing this, you're going to be dead by the time you're 21."

Finally, it sunk in. I listened. For a while. The College Years and My 20s saw many of the same cycle. Swings where I'd push for tight control, but then periods where I'd slack off completely. Meeting the woman who'd become my wife changed things for the better, and over time with her help I've gotten to a point where D-Care is a priority in my life.

At age 33 now, I regret those past decisions every single day. Magically and miraculously, I have not experienced any significant complications and my life isn't impacted by them. Maybe I'm proof that you can slack off in your teens and 20s and somehow avoid complications... I don't think of it that way. I think of it as pure luck, with uncertain results as I continue traveling down this path. In the end, I don't know what real impact that rebellion and D-Denial has had on my body and if it's cut anything off the end.

That is certainly possible, but it SO could have prevented.

If I could ever write a letter to a 16-year old version of myself, and deliver it to that younger ME, the writing would essentially reflect what I've mentioned here in this post. But I can't, so all I can do is live for the future, starting right now.

Am I rehabilitated? Like Red says in that same monologue,  I think that's a bullshit word. I'm just doing my best. Not fail completely but learn from my failings to do better in the future. I won't repeat the mistakes of the past, and I'm not going to be trapped behind the bars of regret. No, I'm on parole. Hopefully that will mean I won't be sent back to any kind of metaphoric diabetes prison later on in life.

Reflecting on these D-Regrets brings to mind a particular pertinent quotes from poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau that have been with me since my college American literature days.

"One can't too soon forget his errors & misdemeanors. To dwell long upon them is to add to the offense."

&

"Make the most of your regrets. . . To regret deeply is to live afresh."

 Both are particularly relevant here. Or, as we'd hear in Shawshank:

"It comes down to a simple choice: Get Busy Living, or Get Busy Dying."

3 comments:

Jane K said...

Mike,
Thanks for this awesome post. I LOVE what you said here: "I'm not going to be trapped behind the bars of regret" and I also love the quotes. This post really resonates for me (with me?).
Thanks.

Lilly said...

Michael,

Thanks for sharing this. I am guessing that many people with diabetes have these regrets. But . . . all you can do is move forward, and do the very best that you can.

It has always struck me that a diabetic can never take a "vacation" from diabetes. It is always a constant companion, like it or not. I can only imagine how hard this is.

Take care,

Lilly

Scott E said...

Interesting metaphor... we're not rehabilitated, we're just on parole. Whatever was done in our past is still there and could haunt us at any time. (I use the term "us", because I feel like I'm the guy you wrote about in this post. A total D-slacker until well after college, who seems to have lucked out so far).

I think that recent research that shows that veteran T1's still have a living beta cell or two making a teeny-tiny bit of insulin explains what's saved people like you and me all these years.