Man vs. The Empire Brain Building

epiphany / iᴵpif ǝ ni/ n. pl – nies 1. a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something 2. an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking.
A shining forth

In the summer writing classes I teach at a local university, I talk to the students of there being two epiphanies in storytelling. There is the one most people think of when you ask, which comes at the climax of the story when the characters must decide how to deal with whatever force is working against them. This is the point where we, the audience, are most riveted, as the suspense surrounding the character’s fate is at its most intense.

The second epiphany, which the author James Joyce pointed out and actually comes much earlier in the story, is the moment in which, through sensual detail, the deepest yearning of the main character becomes apparent. It is, to relate it in non-storybook terms, that moment when we suddenly realize that things aren’t exactly as they appeared and we’re brought to a change of heart.

It comes not without some effort, though. You mull and turn it over, you allude to it, catch a glimpse of it at the edge of your mind’s eye. Then you see it and the object falls into focus, and with it comes a deeper understanding. Of work, of one another. Of happiness. How we live and who we are. A catalogue, were it written, according to Joyce, of our most delicate and evanescent moments.

Diabetes can be like that, I think. The outlines are a little bit fuzzy, the colors washed-out, too many of the puzzle pieces are missing to form a wholly complete, perfect picture. The aha! moments, when they arrive, help us mostly to be better caregivers, but sometimes they come and you realize just how alone you are; but even those times are good, too, as you know beyond a shadow of doubt that doing better is up to you.

Because writers are meant to record, I offer here just a short list of D-epiphanies I’ve experienced in terms of treating Lia’s diabetes in this first year and a half. Some you may recognize from previous posts. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

  • Doctors are there to keep patients alive. Anything more than that’s up to you.
  • Passion is great. But don’t confuse passion with need. Before turning your attention to curing the disease, spend time learning to treat it.
  • Shots hurt. That’s why they’re called shots, dummy. It’s stupid to think that anyone can ever get used to them.
  • Most adults, no matter how many times you tell them a thing, hear what they want to hear.
  • Food can be our enemy.
  • Sometimes the road less envied produces the more spectacular journey.
  • Community. Community. Community.
  • How you do everything is how you do anything.
  • It is the experience of our hands that we learn from.
  • There is no bad mood that putting on your pajamas and taking a walk can’t fix.

What a Wonderful Wonderful World

So, seven days, seven things to write about what I’ve discovered is one annoying, rude, sometimes laughable, non-discriminatory disease; and what do I have to show for this most opportunistic effort? Well, plenty.

First, to those who do this every day of the week, I commend you. Because I’m a writer I had some inkling of how difficult it might be to write every day about your lives and diabetes, but I underestimated your compassion, your drive and the regard you must have for this community to share your stories day in and day out. You are really superheroes. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Second, I may bitch and moan and sob, like plenty of others out here in the blogging community, about diabetes and the effect it has on our family, but there is nothing like putting all that into perspective by taking a stroll around the block in someone else’s narrative shoes. Truly illuminating.

Third, it doesn’t take long when you spend time together sharing so much about something so personal as type 1 diabetes to realize there are shades of differences in to what degree it’s accepted, differences in the treatment, in the worry and sometimes the hopelessness of it all, and through these subtle — and some not so subtle — nuances you learn a certain tolerance for others and because of your own experience you are reminded time and time again of that most notable of kindergarten teachings: treat others the way you want to be treated.

Fourth, there is incredible strength in numbers. History is full of examples (see Blogger). One day someone will write that type 1 diabetes, though afflicting only a small percent of the population (but rising), was cured because those living with the disease believed so strongly in fighting for it.

Fifth, they say it takes a village to raise a child and while that may or may not be the case, what certainly stands up to any debate is the unparalleled courage it takes for a child with diabetes to grow into a healthy, caring, contributing adult. To those adults of this community, we look to you to set the example. Thank you for not letting us down.

Sixth, there is a way of life attributed to Ernest Hemingway’s characters and style of writing that comes to mind whenever I think of Lia, her d-peers and their parents, adults T1s and everyone else so deftly managing their diabetes: Grace under pressure. Poise. Grit. Guts. Whatever you’d like to call it. It is, for me, the quality that best sums up the nature of those I’ve read of and about these last seven days. You are old men in the sea in my book, and I mean that as a compliment.

Now for lucky number seven, and it is lucky — and fortunate — because without it diabetes would just be an incurable, life-threatening disease void of possibility and hope. It is the steadfast belief that better is not just a word that people who don’t understand diabetes use to show how much they care but an unquestionable certainty, defined not by numbers, technologies, or even by a cure, but in the wisdom, dream and the purpose by which we live our lives, without pain, without fear, without envy.

From the poet, Alexander Pope, who brought us the line, Hope springs eternal:

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan
The proper study of Mankind is Man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A Being darkly, and rudely great:

That is those who live with diabetes: finding respect in their neighbors, sharing fresh perspectives, learning through tolerance that strength is as much about one another as it is about ourselves, and discovering that courage and grace may carry us through the valley, but it is hope that moves the mountain.

What a wonderful world after all.


The Bright Side

This is a tough one. Today’s post for diabetes blog week is to write about something good that diabetes has done for Lia. The problem I’m having is that accomplishing this tiny task is made a bit more difficult by any number of obvious reasons: It’s a disease. It’s incurable. And mostly it acts like a dick. So it’s kind of like asking the guy who got shot by Dick Cheney to be thankful for the face-full of lead because the quail hunt he was engaged in with the VP wasn’t going all that well for him.

But I get it, positive thinking is all the rage today and so in setting the whole chronic, dick-headed disease thing aside, I wonder where to begin in revealing the flip side of the coin, that is the bright-sidedness of diabetes.

Should I start first with the physical and mental courage it takes to confront diabetes everyday? Courage to endure pain. Courage to not be intimidated. Courage to face fear and take measure several times a day, through the tiniest pinprick of blood, of one of life’s greatest and most ultimate uncertainties. But is it fair to say that courage sprouts out of hardship, or is it already inside us, and rises forth like a bad-ass commando out of the depths and fog where it’s been keeping watch all along?

If not courage, then what of humility? It cannot be easy sharing the stage with such a pinhead of a co-host, when diabetes behaves like a persistent April Fools joke, acting contrary every day of the year. How else do you explain the steadfast grace needed to put up with such mischief if not with humility?

Or might the gift from diabetes be best described as empathy? This is one I could point to were it not like saying in order to better understand the blind one must walk the world with their eyes closed. Honestly, empathy needs no point of reference, just as hope needs no foothold on imagination. They just are, if we let them.

So where does that leave me?

Gratitude for the fact that diabetes is not something worse than it already is?

The experience of overcoming one struggle so that it makes her stronger for the next?

The motivation that turns fear into an advantage?

An appreciation for life?

A sense of community?

The peace of self-content with what is versus what should be?

The truth is Lia is who she is in spite of diabetes. Putting a positive spin on this life-threatening condition — while invigorating to write about — feels strangely like falling into the trappings of a culture driven by the ideological desire to find something happy in everything (though the numbers suggest otherwise). But how can I not play along, if only to satisfy myself that I did everything I could for her physical and mental well-being?

Yes, she’s stronger.

Yes, she has more courage, more empathy, more appreciation, more everything.

I would steal for her the naming rights to whatever life-affirming attributions have yet to be identified if it could mean that for just one day she didn’t have to think about diabetes. But it’s just not that easy. I say so not because I’m a pessimist, I’m not. I believe very much in believing in yourself, and I understand also that in taking this position, I might be making a serious leap in linking my daughter’s regard for her diabetes to a half-century of national schooling in what could be described as social optimism pumped-up-on-steroids.

Seriously, though, I know, I’m taking this too far, and probably out of context of what was the intended assignment. Maybe this whole diabetes thing is still just too fresh for me. Maybe I’ve worked myself into a tizzy because I haven’t yet fully bought in to the critical importance of finding something good about this thing that will be with my daughter the rest of her life. No, that’s not true. Will be with her until there’s a cure.

But I know also I’m not alone. When Lia gives herself a shot or pricks her finger for the umpteenth that day, she does not think of the bottomless well of courage such an act requires of her.

When she feels low, she doesn’t appreciate the fact that it could be much worse.

When she explains again and again to her classmates what that thing is on her hip, she doesn’t think: Because of this, I’m a better person.

She thinks, like I do now, or she will at some point one day: This shit totally blows.

And so speaking to her as her father, mindful also that I’m not one who has diabetes, to help her get through those days where she feels downtrodden and out of sorts, I would say: You are many things, sweetheart. Brave. Smart. A true fighter. You were these things before this moment and you will be these things long after it’s passed. Diabetes doesn’t give you strength. It doesn’t give you courage. Everything you need to get upright and get through these times is dwelling inside where it has been, like the mettle of this little guy, making you you all along.

A Sustainable Pantry?

February one year ago, I shared with you how Franca and I had declared war on sugar a couple of years prior and I thought that with the three year anniversary of that  eye-opening event having passed recently along with our one year marking of Lia’s diagnosis of diabetes, I’d open the door once again and peer inside our pantry.

To do that, I think, it’s important to share our philosophy on food. What is that, you might ask. Well, put simply, it’s a way of thinking about what we eat with the same level of care that we ask ourselves, what do I want out of life. This degree of careful reasoning, of course, takes much more than just listing what foods we like to eat. That would be like saying what I want out of life is to have a nice farmhouse and a family. That’s not a philosophy. Those are things, and like other things — a good job, perfect health — they make up the goals we set for ourselves on a daily basis. As such, it’s difficult to look past them and know that all of the energy, passion and effort expended in their pursuit fits into the much grander scheme. That is, are the things we are doing helping us achieve what we want most out of life. A philosophy helps answer that question and further guide us and keep us on track, by taking a much broader view of the question and focusing on the one thing we believe is the most valuable.

In writing this post I challenged myself to boil down my philosophy of food into one, most valuable word (MVW?). The first one that came to mind was healthy, but I discredited it almost at once as I refuse to fall to the ludicrous marketing strategies of so many food providers, to whom if they had their way, we’d be buying up boxes of cookies and chips for their life-saving nutritional content. To our credit though Franca and I, and to a great extent our children, do spend a great deal of time thinking about the healthier aspects of the food we eat. Most of our grocery budget, in fact, is spent at the outer aisles of the grocery stores on fruits, vegetables and fresh seafood, far and away from the misleading slogans printed on cardboard boxes and cellophane packages.

The next word that came to mind was taste. Whenever we compliment one another on something made in the kitchen, what we are usually referencing is the food’s  taste. But to classify taste as a philosophy is to ignore the mechanics of how the body and mind works in relation to food. One of the most notable findings we experienced when we outlawed sugar and again later in learning how to treat type 1 diabetes was that eating sweet foods seemed to encourage the eating of more sweet foods (this is the short of it, the real culprit here is insulin). Or, to put it in more appropriate terms, after a few days of not eating sweets, we found we stopped craving sweets, thus letting our body reach and enjoy a happier state of equilibrium (homeostasis) that it has evolved over millions of years to work toward. For us, I suppose, in this century and the last, sugar became the preferred method food producers use to get us to like their product. In the eighteenth century it was probably salt. Smells like marketing again. That rules out taste as a philosophy.

After taste failed to stand up to the rigors of philosophy, I thought maybe convenience would serve well. We are a family of five. Both parents work. The kids are actively involved in school and building relationships, and with our free time we’d rather spend it outside on a walk or visiting with friends than cutting up vegetables at the kitchen sink. Unfortunately, how we spend a great deal of our free time is cutting up vegetables at the kitchen sink. That’s just how it is when you choose to shop the outer aisles and prefer your meals made at home. When you add in taste as factor, well, the time required seems to double. I might wish convenience was our food philosophy, but it’s not and likely will never be.

With healthy, taste and convenience out of the picture, the only other word that could possibly describe the most value we search for in food is that it must be real. But what does that mean, real? Doesn’t any food you can touch, smell, taste qualify? You’d think, but that’s not the case if you believe like Michael Pollan, author of the bestselling book, In Defense of Food, that only food that our great grandmothers would recognize as food is real. All that other stuff, he says, is wrought by scientists in lab coats, not by nature, and once it’s pumped up with nutrients, so as to market it better to a society confused and mega-driven by expert advice and false health claims, the pre-packaged result only resembles an “edible foodlike substance”. It’s not real, it’s not food. And it’s making us all sick (here is an in depth article on this very fact. I strongly urge everyone to read the first part about the Afghans. You’ll find it sadly fascinating).

While real most approximates the way we think about food and would serve nicely as our philosophy, honestly, if you were to look in our pantry — a word, by the way, derived from the Middle English term panterie; which is taken from the latin word for bread, panis, and therefore suggests that what’s kept in it is not real — you’d find more than a few processed things. Cereal. Pasta. Crackers. And of course, juice boxes, sweet tarts, dark chocolate and a small corner shelving what can best be described as “bags of stuff”.

So there you go. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, summarizing our philosophy of food into one simple word; and I guess that’s the point and the trouble with formulating a philosophy. It’s not meant to be easy. If it were, people wouldn’t be on their death beds wondering how they had let themselves get so distracted and had failed to achieve all the things they had wanted out of life. A philosophy keeps you on task, so you don’t, in fact, mislive. But as our own pantry shows, a philosophy — even a dependent and loosely, knotted one as that involving food — without an effective strategy designed around a grand scheme, there is the chance still you won’t succeed.

There is the chance, too, as anything a writer may write, that I’ve given this way too much thought and have digressed to the point where I’ve lost you. Maybe a picture would’ve worked just as well….


But I doubt it (other than the fact that it’s noticeably empty, which should give you a clue into what our refrigerator and freezer must look like).

The point is, food and the choices we make about food are just too important (maybe even more important than medicine or science) to our overall health to leave it to clever marketing and profit-driven nutritionists.

Despite all the recent attention (and some old), the truth is not much has changed about our pantry. It still takes knowledge, willpower and a diligent, concerted effort on all of our parts to root out the hidden perils in the foods being offered to us. It can be done, and the dangers of not doing so are high. But it’s a shame that we have to spend so much time in deliberation and worry over it. Our great grandmothers would be shocked and more than a bit saddened considering their unique perspective of having made their own life’s journey and left knowing what really matters.


A One Sea Reality

But first, a funny and embarrassing story. Several years ago I had a truly terrific doctor. I mean a one-of-kind physician-that-you-only-read-about who got to know the well-being of your mind and spirit at the same time he learned of your body’s. He would call — yes call — with the results of whatever blood tests he’d ordered and before handing over the details he’d ask about my wife and kids by name. He followed my work and my writing and seemed genuinely interested in my, and indeed all of my family’s, pursuits of happiness.

Dr. Murphy is gone now, moved on to a different town and practice. Every once in a while I’m reminded of him and his interesting ways, the following of which, I’m sure, will illustrate. I was there for my annual physical and near the end, when the discussion turned to the issue of a prostate exam, he must’ve assumed because of my youth (40’s are the new 20s) and the look on my face, that I was unfamiliar with the procedure. Or maybe he was just having fun.

“You ever play flag football?” he said.

“Sure,” I replied.

“Well, you know how after the quarterback snap.” He assumed then the half-crouched position of a quarterback snapping the ball. ”He steps back and if you’re a defensive lineman on the other team you have to count to five Mississippi before you can rush?”

“With you so far.”

“Well, this will be like that. Once we start, all I need is five seconds.”

I looked at him, wondering how in the hell that was supposed to make me feel better. There’s a lot of ugly, unwanted things that can happen in five seconds or less. Accidents, pregnancies, hurtful words. Suddenly I wished he wasn’t so damn considerate, or funny.

Next, apparently questioning my honesty and experience with flag football or unsure of my ability to relate time in my head, he felt the need to further demonstrate. Holding the quarterback pose still, he hiked the imaginary ball and took a step back and started counting, “One Mississippi.”

He stepped one leg forward and counted “two Mississippi” and extended his right hand and size 12 index finger in a smooth, upward motion, from his waist to the sky. Mississippis three, four and five culminated the experience with him holding that pose and effectively sealing the deal, and quite possibly our relationship. He dropped his arms to his side and looked at me.

“Just like that,” he said with a smile.

I stared back at him, in a slightly new and different way. “I get it,” I said, “but I don’t know where you played flag football. Where I did we kept our pants on.”

I share that story today for two reasons. One, this week is Earth Day and if ever there was a need to drop our illusions (sorry, couldn’t resist) and get down to the nitty gritty (pun here is definitely not intended), it is in the unprecedented times of environmental change that our world is presently facing. Seriously. Dying rivers. Farms that don’t produce food. Climate-related illnesses. Whatever side of the myriad Earth Day debates you fall on, the facts are alarming (I encourage you to click on the links. I think you’ll find the information both remarkable and inspirational):

The need for involvement goes well beyond the three R’s of Refuse, Reuse, Recycle (these are very good places to start, however). It will take more effort, more sacrifice, and dramatic change to the way we think, how we vote (with our spending as well as our ballots), and how we live our lives, all things which, by the way, as people used to dealing with diabetes, we are already and quite effectively accustomed to doing. It calls for a collective voice and an action on each of our parts as equally unprecedented as what brought us here, because the reality is that no matter where you call home there is only this one world. One sea. One mountain. One opportunity to make it a better place for ourselves and those who follow behind us (for some ideas, see some suggestions from The Nature Conservancy below).

The second reason I shared the story of my doctor is to more directly reiterate the belief that the platform we all speak personally from — one of health and diabetes — should not be dismissed as a non-player in the challenges and struggles facing the planet. True, buying veggies grown locally may not seem related to diabetes care but every time you do so you are voting against genetically modified foods, which the American Academy or Environmental Medicine has suggested “pose a serious health risk”. I would argue that the individual and collective effort and experience of the diabetes community advocating  for better care, better science, and better practices makes us perfect stewards for this call to action.

The effort you put in is up to, and it doesn’t take much to get started, a few seconds the next time you go to the grocery and choose one tomato over another. It may seem small, but like Dr. Murphy showed me: There are a lot worse things you do in those five seconds.


Easy Things You Can Do To Help Our Climate (from the Nature Conservancy):

1. TIP: Travel light. Walk or bike instead of driving a car. Cars and trucks run on fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In the United States, automobiles produce over 20 percent of total carbon emissions. Walk or bike and you’ll save one pound of carbon for every mile you travel.

2. TIP: Teleconference instead of flying. For office meetings, if you can telephone or videoconference, you will save time, money, and carbon emissions. Airplanes pump carbon emissions high into the atmosphere, producing 12 percent of transportation sector emissions.

3. TIP: See the light. Use compact fluorescent light bulbs. These energy-efficient bulbs help fight climate change because they reduce the amount of fossil fuels that utilities burn. You will save 100 pounds of carbon for each incandescent bulb that you replace with a compact fluorescent, over the life of the bulb.

4. TIP: Recycle and use recycled products. Products made from recycled paper, glass, metal and plastic reduce carbon emissions because they use less energy to manufacture than products made from completely new materials. For instance, you’ll save two pounds of carbon for every 20 glass bottles that you recycle. Recycling paper also saves trees and lets them continue to reduce climate change naturally as they remain in the forest, where they remove carbon from the atmosphere.

5. TIP: Inflate your tires. If you own a car, it will get better gas mileage when the tires are fully inflated, so it will burn less gas and emit less carbon. Check your automobile monthly to ensure that the tires are fully inflated. Follow this tip and save 300 pounds of carbon dioxide for every 10,000 miles you drive.

6. TIP: Plant native trees. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air and use it as their energy source, producing oxygen for us to breathe. A tree in the temperate zone found between the tropics and the polar circles can remove and store 700 to 7,000 pounds of carbon over its lifetime. A tree that shades a house can reduce the energy required to run the air conditioner and save an additional 200 to 2,000 pounds of carbon over its lifetime.

7. TIP: Turn down the heat. Heating and air conditioning draw more than half of the energy that a home uses in the United States. Turn down the heat or air conditioning when you leave the house or go to bed. You can easily install a programmable thermostat that can save up money and carbon.

8. TIP: Buy renewable energy. Electricity generation produces 40 percent of carbon emissions from the United States. A growing number of utilities generate electricity from renewable energy sources with solar panels, windmills and other technologies. If your utility offers renewable energy, buy it. If not, send them a message asking for clean energy.

9. TIP: Act globally, eat locally. If you shop at a supermarket, the food you buy may travel in a plane from the other side of the world, burning fossil fuels the entire trip. Shop at a local farmers markets and you will find fresh and healthy food, and help save our climate.


Speaking of Dogs

Take diabetes, for instance. In many ways, raising a dog is a lot like controlling blood sugars, minus of course the extreme health risk. You study the science. You learn the technique. You get up every day determined to do your best and when things go the way you had planned you celebrate. You applaud and pat yourself on the back. Maybe you even dance and talk silly. Whatever shape it takes, you know in that very moment you’ve done something right. And if it goes the other way and not as you’d intended? Well, you might wonder perhaps, as I’d done with the dog: What on earth did I do wrong.

I find myself doing that more than I should and I hope that my feelings of underachievement go by Lia unnoticed. It is something that comes with parenting, I think. Wanting the best for your children, disappointed when you fall short. Even when something like blood sugar can’t always be explained. Trying to understand why it goes up or down is like asking Jake to account for his running off and then, because knowing why is only half the battle — it still doesn’t fix it, you have him describe what he saw. He just looks at you.

The alternative to that is easier, but frankly no less productive. Such was the case when Jake finally returned and I saw him out front in the yard, tearing through the trash bag containing the shells of moules à la marinière we’d had the night before. I stomped and got blistering mad and banished him for good to the outdoors. By dusk I was over my anger and went out to clean him up, only to find him gone once more.

Oh, were yelling to work with diabetes. I could curse and threaten and abandon all thought of ever showing it kindness again, but it would not listen and before the day would turn over, I’d have shed myself of the disillusion and disappointment and let it back into my heart because so much of who we are is not chosen but given or comes to us freely. In learning to accept that about diabetes, I have also learned to love it.

That is a strange thing to say. I love my daughter’s diabetes. I don’t, of course, love it. I hate it. I despise every moment that I or my wife or Lia, or anyone else, has to spend trying to understand and outwit it. I wish it were different for all of us, and especially for Lia, but wishing won’t change anything and if it could there is one thing I would not want for and that is that she were any other child or I any other parent. I love her and so love all that comes with her.

As for the dog?

Commitment. Loyalty. Obedience.

Two out of three isn’t bad.

The Writer’s Response to the Quandary

Of course you’re not going to fold it all up. What drove you to even suggest that? As if writing or not writing were even a choice. It is in the breath that you live by, who you are. Separating one from the other is impossible, like asking a heart to stop pumping blood. Haven’t you even been paying attention after all these years?

Yes, it’s hard. I know. I get it. Lots of things in life are hard. Hell, don’t you think there’ve been times myself I’d rather be curled up with some wicked fantasy at two in the morning than sitting at the desk with you; or spend the day putzing about the garden, walking through the woods, working on projects around the house and/or otherwise passing the time doing something else good — anything else good! — with my hands?

Nobody said it was going to be easy.

And speaking of easy, hasn’t this past year taught you anything? Haven’t you been listening to your own advice? Buck up, man, and make it happen. Overcoming hardship takes effort. It takes knowledge and passion and drive and when there is simply no other alternative, it also takes sacrifice.

You’re lucky. You’ve found something you love and when you find something you love giving yourself to it is easy. An image comes to you and you wrap your thoughts around it and you turn it around in your hands, over and over, until you discover what matters about it and you fall in love.

Isn’t that the message you’ve been trying to teach? Let nothing stand in your way.

There will always be some reason you can find for not following your heart. Illness, money, time. But what is the point of a life without envy if not pursuing your dreams no matter what?

Maybe now is the time more than ever that you lead the way by example.

Cleaning the Slate

Franca and I are not fanatics about health — well, our children might say we are and maybe it’s true, though we also believe that everything is better in moderation, including wellness dogmas — but we do eat well, exercise regularly and generally follow the kind of active, wholesome lifestyle that promotes youth, not aging. With this past year taking a toll on us on so many levels, in the days following our one year anniversary of living with diabetes we took advantage of this emotive milestone to do something about whatever remained of the unfavorable, pent-up feelings not successfully accepted, purged, exorcised or written off in the long months prior. There was, despite these efforts, the toxic residual of dark thought still polluting our minds and weighing our bodies down. I saw it when I looked in the mirror and felt it when I tightened my belt.

I didn’t know it then, but Eastern tradition has a word for this. It’s called amma. In English, we know it only as a mucus and while we don’t for the most part imagine it anywhere other than running from the nose, it’s everywhere in the body. The ears, the lungs, joints, the gut, the genitals. Our bodies make about a quart of it everyday in protecting these and other vital systems from such noxious intruders as pesticides, processed foods, medications, household cleaners and, according to believers of amma, negative emotions. Over time, the mucus builds up like plaque and leads to a feeling of lifeless and heaviness in the body and mind.

The solution to ridding ourselves of this unwelcome load, practitioners of this holistic movement say, is through treatments of a less conventional, more whole-person approach, such as nutrition, yoga, meditation, and fitness, all of which aid in this process of natural detoxification. One of the champions of this philosophy, Dr. Alejandro Junger, cardiologist and author of the book Clean, describes the goal as this: “the vibrant well-being and longevity that are your birthright.”

I had no idea if this was possible but I did like the idea of purging myself of the burden of what I could only imagine were the enduring spoors of every tear, every worry, every heartbreaking element of this new reality. The clarity and lightness I hoped to re-discover was just too much to pass up. Franca agreed and we borrowed Junger’s book from the library and, minus the supplements, adopted his nutritional cleanse program to help get us there.

The plan was simple: eliminate a number of foods from our diet — dairy, wheat, caffeine, alcohol, to name a few of my personal obstacles — and consume only liquid meals (smoothies, juices, soups) for breakfast and dinner; then allow at least 12 hours between dinner and breakfast to give the body time to digest the food and move on to the Great Toxic Dump.

We followed the program for two weeks — the full plan calls for three (everything in moderation, remember) — and to bring the kids into it and make it a bit more fun, we measured our success through the Ninentdo Wii Fit. By the two week’s end, we had shed a collective twenty pounds, most of which I can honestly say seemed to come not from fat but from somewhere deeper inside our bodies, giving some weight to the mucoid plaque theory. My Wii fit age dropped to 27 (I’m nearly twenty years plus that in non-Wii years, but in the interest of full disclosure, when we started I measured 31 Wii-years old, so not that great of a change. Franca’s age didn’t change at all, she held pretty much at 30). So it appeared from those reckonings alone to be a phenomenal success. But the real test however was not how I looked but how I felt and the clean did make me feel younger, healthier and more energetic, especially at night when before I looked ready for bed as soon as I’d polished off dinner, I now looked forward to a game of chess against Lia or even yoga with my wife.

As for the emotions? I won’t pretend to think that the anxiety I’d felt over the past year was suddenly and entirely eradicated with this cleanse. It wasn’t. After all, we’re talking about diabetes, an incurable illness requiring constant maintenance. Even with acceptance, each and every day adds some degree of grief, angst, and frustration to the volume of toxins for which mucus must keep up its insurgent-war against. What the clean did for me though is highlight the fact that you are what you eat, but you don’t have to be what you think.

Roughly Speaking

roughly 2,000 finger sticks

roughly 500 middle of the night blood sugar checks

roughly 700 shots

roughly 60 infusion set changes

roughly 200 episodes of hypoglycemia

roughly 1000 episodes of hyperglycemia

roughly feeling like a perfectly fine nine year old 1.5 days out of every 3

roughly counting 45,000 carbohydrates

roughly dosing 5,000 units of insulin

roughly costing $6,000 on diagnosis, treatment and supplies

roughly 100 hours in a doctor’s office, emergency room or hospital

roughly countless tears shed

roughly untold moments of uncertainty and head-scratching

roughly umpteen hours of lost sleep and oodles of life-saving worry

Thinking things could always be worse: everyday

External Genetistry

It was a common yet unproductive habit in the days, weeks and months following Lia’s diagnosis to do as any worried parent might do and question every external encounter or genetic mutation in our family history in pursuit of where had this come from. Often it wasn’t a very long thought, really more of a bothersome prelude to something more bothersome still than it was anything else, like waiting in line for a flu shot or the feeling you might get when inspecting a food’s nutritional label for what turns out to be no better understanding. Sometimes it appeared irately, a frantic obligation to safeguard everyone in the house, as it did last Winter when I almost convinced myself the diseased scoundrel was hiding amongst our flock of backyard chickens. If you let it you could spend countless, unfavorable hours glued to data of the electronic sort looking into plausible theories. In the end, finding an answer was as elusive (and contrary) as the century-old debate on emotion: do we run because we are afraid of bears or are we afraid of bears because we run.

It was wrong to be driven by emotion though; even when it was your own child and your own family at risk. There was nothing to guide us then other than what we knew and what had been made perfectly clear before we had even left the hospital to come home was that controlling the risks of type 1 diabetes rested soundly on the shoulders of the patient and their caregivers. There were some people who thought that because we’d been made aware of Lia’s diabetes and the symptoms of it had been treated the danger for her was over. Others mistook what she had for type 2 and their attitude leaned casually more toward pity. The most well-meaning but less informed of them all would question aloud were things getting better, and they were of course getting better, imminently speaking in terms of health and emotion. But better and cured are no more related than a book is to ignorance. What it really took, other than knowledge, was self-control and a willingness to reshape our reality to fit the new routines on which Lia’s livelihood now depended.

You could look into your own heart and listen to what it was saying to you only after her blood sugar had been taken and the insulin administered because it was then you felt the safest; you’d done what you needed to take care of her and so this was the best time to surrender to it with little worry of there arising any immediate problems. But you put yourself in jeopardy if you allowed yourself to stay in that one place too long. We were new to the whole operation and things could go wrong, sometimes quickly, so it was important not to forget that the requirement of any situation, good or bad, is not what you find in your hearts but how what is there turns to action.

And so it has been with brevity (and more than a little unrest) that I have over the past eleven months listened to my heart and considered the origin of Lia’s diabetes with no real hope of learning what it is and certainly without having any expectation of doing anything about it. What I uncovered was not a surprise: a family history (myself included) of an auto-immune disorder that has been linked to type 1 diabetes. This along with irrefutable proof that one other genetic mis-coding of mine — congenital anosmia, or the inability since birth to perceive smell — found its way into one of my other children suggests that nothing good would come of digging into this any further.

Or would it? Is there not danger too in following the path to discovery only to turn away in shame? Can anyone tell which grain of sand will cause the sand pile to collapse and which will not? Even rescuers learn something from a mudslide, if only to confirm firsthand that shit does in fact roll down hill.

To relate it in terms of our fear and the bear and the question so often posed, even by ourselves: The worry hasn’t diminished because things have gotten better, things have gotten better because of the worry.

That is the trouble with looking into the heart. Sometimes it works in your favor, sometimes it doesn’t. On some days it felt like nothing else mattered, but mostly there was so much more to think about.