Categories
Journal Musings

Taking the Leap

Shetlands Puffin Beating Wings
Northern Puffin frantically beating its wings as it launches itself from a cliff and tries to make a soft plummet to the sea below, The Shetlands, Great Britain, 1995

I guess it was bound to happen. After years of uncertainty and longing to make changes in my life the pebble under the boulder that had been holding inevitability back finally let loose and the whole mess has started to come crashing down. It’s been two months since I was laid off from my ten-year teaching job, and very coldly at that. In hindsight I realize now that I’ve been a fool to hang on so long there; where I’d thought that I actually meant something to the upper level others I was working with, came the blow between the eyes that I was nothing but a convenient cog. It’s quite sobering to wake up to your own delusions.

On the same week I lost my job God played another hand, brushing away the rust from the spinning circle of doubt in my relationship with my wife. And, as such things inevitably go, with it came a torrent of pain and guilt, things which have orbited my life for far too long. The divorce now waits upon our convenience, which somehow never really seems to be the right time. How do you finally lay down the ultimatum to someone whom you still love and respect, and whom you never wanted to harm or, to be brutally honest with myself, abandon? Fourteen years. It seems like a lifetime.

That same week my diabetes took a bad turn for the worse, with blood sugars reaching into the stratosphere. I woke up one night with a pain in my stomach so bad I couldn’t walk. I kept retching up food and couldn’t stop coughing. This being Japan, with a two-month wait until my doctor would have an opening to see me, I was utterly terrified about attempting to go see the doctor for help, and, with the experiences I’ve had until now, just being given the same useless runaround about how to deal with my diabetic issues. So I decided to clamp down hard on myself and just do what had to be done. First I looked up possible diabetic complications with my symptoms and found information on gastroparesis, a result of neuropathy, or diabetic nerve damage from too much prolonged high sugars. I immediately cut out all sugar, excessive fat, high glycemic index foods, coffee, alcohol, and any snacks, and upped my intake of vegetables. I ate only what was necessary and no more, always going to bed slightly hungry. I started exercising, running every day, doing lots of stretches, weight lifting, and relaxation exercises. I completely stopped going to restaurants and instead of taking the train all the way from one place to another started getting off the train early and walking home.

The results are astounding, for me, and inspiring. I’ve lost three kilograms so far, gained some muscle, and can run ten kilometers again without huffing and puffing. The gastroparesis has completely disappeared and when I visited my doctor last week I was informed that for the first time in about a year my blood glucose levels have fallen halfway to the ideal level.

In the meantime I managed to secure a new job at a university out in the country. It’s not quite in the mountainous area I was hoping to start living in, but the job seems interesting and respectable, with quite a few more challenges than I’ve had until now. It’s a chance to finally start moving in the direction I’ve been needing to go, to pay off debts, to gain some valuable experience, to do some traveling, and perhaps meet some interesting people and make much-needed friends.

So I’ll be moving in September, making the break from this awful apartment I’ve been railing against for four years. And most likely a separation from my wife. That is the part that shakes my confidence and resolve. I don’t know if I have the courage to do it. Or the meanness of spirit. Or the blinders of a selfish fool. I know lots of people have gotten divorces, but I honestly don’t know how they manage to survive it or even know in their heart of hearts that they are making the right decision. After all, my wife is a kind, gentle woman who loves life and likes herself. I’ve learned a lot from her. I can’t imagine life without her.

But life has to feel right, I guess. I can’t forget myself or stop trying to find my personal balance. It’s been unbalanced for so long that I no longer really know what balance it is that I am seeking. I keep looking back at old memories of when I was happy and try to work them into who I am now and find that they just don’t go far enough. I need to challenge myself with new goals and new ways of perceiving. And to find some kind of nourishment that will wipe away my growing cynicism. I sense strongly that a much more rigorous connection with the natural world is imperative to my sense of fulfillment. But the question is “How?” How can I be close to the natural world and make a living at the same time? Must it always be an unacceptable compromise? Must I always be where I don’t want to be? Must I always settle for jobs that, as my mother recently stated, “most people in the world are not happy with”.

What is it exactly that makes up a satisfying and meaningful life? Is it still possible to reach the end of my life and say, “Yes, I lived my life fully and as best I could.” and to die with a full heart? Is the modern template for what constitutes a “successful” life the only option? For so much of what I see seems completely insane to me. So much of what so many people think of as important seems dull and without imagination, apathetic and blind to the world around.

I look out of my window and watch a bumblebee gather nectar from the flowers in the garden. The flowers bend under its weight and tip back their petals in perfect conformance to the bumblebee’s act, as if genetically everything was dancing to the same tune. A robber fly makes passes at the bumblebee, but turns back, perceiving the danger. Hoverflies and skippers flit among the fronds, whizzing through one another’s trajectories and circling these islands of green. A sulfur butterfly flutters along the ground, laying eggs. And beyond the houses come the electric buzzing of cicadas and the throaty calls of jungle crows. And I don’t know why but so often when I see such simple things I want to start weeping, as if I recognize that I am no longer a part of that world, but I need desperately to get back to it. It is a world that exists in and of itself, all components and members sharing in the workings of its web. Humans are part of this, I know in my head, but the presence of people always feels like a jarring off key note. I keep asking myself, “Where do I fit in? Why do I feel so unnatural?”

Perhaps that is why the teachings of the Buddha ring so much more relevantly with me than those of Christ. They talk of reconciliation with this world rather than the next. They say live today, here, rather than tomorrow and there.

Ah, a black swallowtail descends from the rain clouds into the garden like a dark angel, beating her filmy wings above the reaching hands of leaves. Then she is followed by a tiger swallowtail. And I have it. This one place, like all places, offers food for the gods. To find your own place, you have but to make your own, unique offering. It is the thanks that makes life worthwhile, not the satisfaction.

Categories
Diabetes Health Journal

Time to Get A Move On It?

I’ve been trying to deny it, but I’ve been feeling exceptionally cruddy these last few days. My boss informed me that one day of my classes will most likely be shut down, and that more days might follow, eventually maybe even this entire branch of the school itself. After eight years of very dedicated work here it feels like quite a letdown, especially because the boss has been getting on all the teacher’s cases about “doing their best” for the school and the students. That’s exactly what I did… but when push came to shove, I’m given one week’s notice.

I simply can’t make ends meet like this. With all the other worries I have I also can’t afford yet more sticks piled onto the camel’s back. I’m feeling shaky enough as it is.

Big intake of breath, big, big exhale. Everything’s going to be all right. Everything’s going to be all right.

Yeah, that’s what I said when I found out I had diabetes. I’ve since learned that everything is not always going to be all right.

And maybe that’s part of the crux of the problem. I’ve lost the innocence and confidence in my own ability to keep myself safe in the world. When my heart skips a beat at night I wake up terrified that my body has abandoned me. When there’s an earthquake now I shake in my bones, fearful that this is the one. The thunder storms I used to love so much when I was younger now flash moments of terror in the back of my watching mind. At times, when my blood sugar is high, I start up some train station steps only to feel my mind loosened and reeling, and I wonder if I will be able to make it up the stairs. And whenever I sit waiting in the hospital lounge in my monthly visits to the diabetes center and watch one of the blind or amputees or patients headed for the dialysis machine my eyes are wide with sympathy and horror; that could very well be me there.

When did my faith in my own existence erode so badly? And how does one gain back the confidence and surety of waking up in the morning? I pick up a book on diabetes and the statistics unnerve me:

1) People with diabetes are 2 times more likely to suffer heart attack than those without.
2) People with diabetes are 2 times more likely to suffer a stroke as those without.
3) People with diabetes are 20 times more likely to go blind than those without.
4) People with diabetes are 40 times more likely to suffer kidney failure than those without.”
*
5) People with diabetes are highly likely to suffer debilitating nerve damage, that can cause all of the problems above.

*Quoted from “The Mind-Body Diabetes Revolution” by Richard S. Surwit

Fun reading! It’s like a benign old librarian smiling and quoting simple figures for your trivia enjoyment… all the while a monster standing in disguise beneath her petticoats.

There’s nothing really special about this news; after all we are all scheduled for time in the Cold Room, but there is such a difference in knowing that the cogs and pipes and governors have loosened and jumped track, right here in your own backyard.

When I first saw the movie “Philadelphia” when it first came out over ten years ago, before diabetes sought me out, it moved me and stuck with me, but last night when I again watched Tom Hanks emerge from Denzel Washington’s office after being rejected and the look on Hanks’ face of knowing that his body had given him a legacy of hopelessness, I knew to my bones what he was feeling.

Two months ago my aunt died from diabetes complications. I wasn’t able to get time off to make it to the States to hold her hand before she died and give her whatever courage one diabetic could give to another. Afterwards an ocean of confusion overtook me, partly laden with waves of sorrow at the death of someone I loved dearly, partly awash with immense paranoia that I, too, wasn’t going to make it for much longer. The following week, when my doctor, who has an infuriating habit of talking on her cell phone during our consultations, again answered some call, I blew up and accused her of being unprofessional and not knowing what she was doing and of letting me slowly drift out to sea. Seven years of silence erupted. I am so scared and feel so helpless. And yet I can’t talk about it with anyone I know; the burden would be incomprehensible to them. Too often they brush off the mutters of low-blood sugar fears and days of bad coordination due to neuropathy or the unprovoked, high-blood sugar episodes when even the way a slip of paper might oscillate in a breeze sets me off ranting and shouting for no apparent reason. My father took me to task for “the chip on my shoulder”.

But they’re not to blame. They just don’t know. They don’t have this awful face staring at them day in and day out. Diabetes seems so benign and innocent… after all most diabetics are walking around as if nothing is wrong. They look fine and seem to do just about the same things as anyone else. It is just not apparent that the vision is blurred or that the ringing is constant and loud in the ear or that the feet hurt badly or a morning cramp so clenched the calf muscle that walking is difficult or that the drowsiness just won’t go away, no matter how much coffee you drink or exercise you do. It is silent, like a scalpel.

But my words are defeatist. It’s no joke that everyone is going to die. We all carry that. So I guess the only thing for it is to make best use of what I have and try to live as best I can.

Maybe losing the job is a good thing. After all I’ve long been talking about my need to make a big change in my life. I’ve always believed that you don’t get what you want out of life, but you always do get what you need. In the end what is really important is with just how much grace you can fit inside this tumbling world and how much meaning you can stoke out of the embers into the flickering flame of your life.