Adventure has an undeniable way of delivering perspectives and truths about ourselves that we often overlook or even miss through the hustle of our daily lives. I’ve lived with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) for more than 20 years and I’m proud to say I do not let the condition hold me back; instead, it empowers me to reach out and learn through my experiences. A chronic condition can be an obstacle. It can change you, but it doesn’t have to stop you. T1D keeps me going and it keeps bringing me to stunning places and inspiring people. We are capable of doing anything we set our minds to, though, some things take a little bit more perseverance than others.
Here are 10 lessons I’ve learned through adventure with a chronic condition:
..or you’ll miss the view. I never have more time to myself than when I’m in the mountains. There’s no wi-fi, no cell signal, no social media buzz. It’s just scenery and my thoughts. Being outdoors gives me the opportunity to slow down and follow a path for the sake of the journey, one foot in front of the other. I’m not in a hurry to get anywhere.
Adventure has taught me to slow down and enjoy the views. I’ve learned to apply the same concept to diabetes management. When the CGM display doesn’t coincide with a manually checked blood sugar reading, when ‘low’ symptoms need to be left untreated because my sugars aren’t actually low, or when my pump fails insulin delivery for no apparent reason and I need to change the site – these things can easily send us into a rush/panic.
It’s good to remember to slow down, listen to your body, and focus on what’s at hand.
Ok, that’s a lie. I like my packs small and lightweight, but that’s not always possible. I used to get upset seeing minimalist hikers and trail runners powering past me and my 35L, 20lb daypack on the trail. I’ve often complained about having to carry extra diabetes supplies: insulin, test strips, syringes, infusion sets, etc. and extra food, water, and clothing in case the 6-hour hike I’ve planned turns into an overnight trip because something went wrong with my blood sugars.
For the few times things have gone wrong, I’m very grateful to have had the supplies I needed to take care of myself; it’s worth the extra weight and massive pack size.
For those of us with chronic health conditions, we can’t afford a small margin for error, and that brings me to my next point…
If there is only one common factor between adventure and Type 1 diabetes, it’s that there is only so much you can control. The rest is out of your hands and the focus shifts to how you deal with the cards you’ve been dealt. This is reaffirmed time and time again when I have unstable blood sugars (too high, too low) which keep me from reaching a destination as planned.
It has taken a long time and I’m still learning, but I can understand the outlook of ‘look on the bright side’ when things start to go haywire. Believe me, there is always a bright side and patience is a virtue.
Think about a bad situation you handled well. Now give yourself some credit.
Practical contact with and observation of facts or events is worth more than ‘things’.
Admittedly, in my late teens/early twenties, you could find me ‘painting the town red’ most weekends. Nowadays, on a typical Friday night, you can find me winding down for bedtime by 9pm to get a ridiculously early start on Saturday for a day trip or overnighter that’s 2+ hours away.
Somewhere along the line, between spending 2 hours to get ready for a night out with my friends and wanting to spend every waking minute in the outdoors, I learned to re-evaluate my priorities and value experiences more than clothes, make-up, etc.
On a trail, it’s not unforeseen to come across a massive washout along a forest service road or a raging creek I didn’t expect to cross. Whether I have to pull over and walk extra kilometers along the road, or I have to wade through or rock-hop across the creek, I meet the challenge as it arises.
With Type 1 diabetes, I try to focus on managing what I can, for example: my post-meal blood sugar level, my daily water intake, the number of simple carbs in meals. I try not to get caught up in things outside of my control.
Imagine worrying about the washout or creek crossing before you get there. Seems silly, right? The same applies to our condition.
With the recent inundation of travelers and professional adventurers on social media, I find myself constantly comparing my trips to others and, of course, mine are never good enough. It has been a bit of a struggle to be happy with the places I’ve visited and the things I’ve seen. Luckily, I have a very level-headed hiking partner who always reminds me to enjoy our hikes for what they are – beautiful perspectives and personal accomplishments.
Have you ever felt similarly in a room full of Type 1s? When people share stories of obtaining low hemoglobin A1Cs or accomplishing the unimaginable WITH great blood sugars? Truth is, we all have our good, bad, and ugly days with the condition. Try to take a step back and focus on what you’ve achieved, what you want, and how you plan to get there; external factors not considered.
Type 1 diabetes has helped me find my own path in life. I’m always excited to meet fellow Type 1s and get to know them, but I’m mindful of the fact that we are all on our own unique journeys – on and off the mountain.
Not every trip to the mountains is a successful one. There are times when I don’t reach my goal and it can be disheartening. What I like to do to bring myself out of the resulting mindset is plan to explore new areas. New areas bring new perspectives and there’s something inspirational about traveling unfamiliar ground to give yourself a chance to gain more experience and thrive.
When it comes to diabetes, has your control ever let you down? Setting new goals with your health care team can help you understand the different aspects of treatment and management, and in turn, can help boost your confidence.
When was the last time you did something for the first time?
If the mountains have taught me one thing, it’s that an adventure doesn’t just happen – we make it happen. I’ve met people through my blog who mention my pictures are beautiful and I’m lucky to be able to experience the things I do. It’s not luck, it’s hard work! If I want to reach a ‘big’ summit, I go after it with my head down and my feet on the ground. I make sure my gear is in order, I train by completing smaller hikes with a heavier pack, I set small goals to achieve the big one, and I make it happen.
Take a minute to think about your condition. What would happen if you ‘wait around’ when it comes to diabetes? If you want to lower your A1C, would it be very productive to wait to cut back on carbs until after dessert? If you hit an unmanageable stretch of blood sugar levels, would you wait 2-3 weeks to contact your health care team for help?
Being proactive through adventure has taught me to be proactive with my diabetes management.
When we’re out in the mountains, we learn to accept a lot of little things. For example: the incorrect weather forecast, the lack of water source, an abundance of people on the trail when we were looking for solitude, or a socked-in summit with no views. Depending on how we handle these situations, the trip can still be very enjoyable.
Similarly, with T1D, we accept a lot of ‘little’ things each day. For example: the need to bolus carbs we eat, the need to check our blood sugars to address ‘funny’ feelings. If we spend time resisting things, diabetes-specific and in general, we will create a lot of turbulence in our minds.
On every adventure, I’m out there constantly testing myself, breaking barriers, acquiring new skills and sharpening old ones. These achievements are seldom realized without overcoming some degree of self-doubt. I reflect on past successes and realize I’m stronger than I give myself credit for.
If asked about your last Endocrinologist visit, you could probably give the date, time, and the conversation that was had. If asked what your blood sugars were yesterday evening, you would probably struggle to provide the numbers. Fun fact: Memory is based more on the importance and usage of information than it is on time, detail and facts. <- Use this to your advantage!
Reflect on an accomplishment you initially doubted. You pushed forward and succeeded, yeah? That’s your strength showing through.
What’s one lesson you’ve learned through your adventures? Go! (leave a comment!)
– Ash 🙂