Growing Old from the Inside Out

I’m not making any great leaps of the imagination in suggesting that sometimes dealing with diabetes makes me feel a bit like this lady:

We’ve all worn that ragged mask now and again, for any number of valid reasons. Blood Sugar. Work. Spouse. Family. Finances. Did I say blood sugar already? Stress is a part of life, especially so when you throw something as routinely uncooperative as diabetes into the fray. Suddenly, a weeping Picasso doesn’t look so bad. At least she’s not lost her mind completely and had the wherewithal to tie a pretty bow in her hair.

No End in Sight

There’s nothing I’ve seen to suggest that the battle for a worry-free life is about to end anytime soon. A recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that about half of all Americans will suffer from some form of mental distress at some point in their life, and if a 2010 list of the top therapeutic classes by sale of prescription drugs is any indication, I’d say they’re on to something. Psychotics and antidepressants take 2 of the top 10.

Like any other health issue, stress can be a result of, or at least aggravated by lifestyle. Positive relationships, good nutrition, plenty of sleep, and exercise can alleviate some or all of the symptoms (sadly not necessarily the source) associated with pushing ourselves past our limits. But what about when the worry is lasting and unavoidable and no amount of a “taking better care of ourselves” will make the dreaded feeling go away?

Wait, it get’s worse, sorta

I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve been missing what I’d hoped would have become an annual treat for me, a weekend away. After my fly fishing trip to the mountains, which came just a few months after Lia’s diagnosis, my mind felt refreshed, rejuvenated, and I was happy. I felt the same way without leaving the house when seven months later Franca and I underwent a nutritional liquid cleanse, at the conclusion of which we both would’ve sworn our bodies had grown younger. As it turns out, that could very well have been the case.

Bring in the Telomeres

In a study conducted in 2004, two scientists from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California-San Francisco, Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel, showed that chronic stress may actually make us grow older faster. Their work specifically targeted mothers caring for their chronically ill children and the conclusion they drew was that the chronic stress these women were feeling was actually shaving years of their lives. Big years. We’re talking a shorter lifespan by 9-17 years!

Here’s a short video explaining the telomere.

And also a wonderful blog post explaining it better than I ever could.

Is There Any Good News?

Well, yes, as a matter of fact there is. Exercise, nutrition, lifestyle, all those things I mentioned before, appear to be the answer to lengthening our telomeres and reverse–yes reverse–the aging process. For those of us treating and caring for a loved one with diabetes, we might have to work a bit harder, but the opportunity is there. I just need to stop wishing for that fishing trip and get out there and make it happen.

 

Science Envy

I love science, I always have. I can remember as a little kid sitting glued to the television watching episodes of Nova or Carl Sagan’s, Cosmos, or reading works by Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, and being enthralled with the notion of exploration, discovery, and observation. Then, anything was possible.

 

 

Like so many others though, as I got older I drifted away from science, or rather, what the playwright George Bernard Shaw once fondly wrote is the venture that “never solves a problem without creating ten more.” Sadly, perhaps that’s the commentary of adulthood, the limits of time, space and attention subjecting the study of science to the status of just one more mind-boggling, homework-laden course the kids were taking in school. And the years went by.

Strangely enough, in the months leading up to Lia’s diagnosis for type 1 diabetes I was enjoying a resurgence of interest in science, brought on perhaps by my reading of the book by Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, or more likely a result of my writing and a literary desire to be accurate and precise with details (it sounds better anyway, than just saying I wanted to know the answer the next time one of my kids asked me a question about the relationship between particle movement and temperature. Still not sure I could explain that one).

Either way, as a writer and now as a father of a child with a chronic illness, I spend a good bit of time reading books and browsing journals with a dedicated science flavor to them. Some I come across go over my head and it’s those presenters and authors who, like Sagan, have a talent for bringing the topic alive and in terms I can understand that bring me the most benefit and also the most pleasure.

But the wheres and whys and how-comes and this-and-thats of diabetes take my interest in a science to a new, intriguing level, where it’s not just for enjoyment or enlightenment that I read and follow the research surrounding the treatment, prevention and cure. It has in our home a real and hopeful application.

Science and a real world connection. Envy, indeed. Granted, there’s more that a father might wish, but what more could a little boy ask for?