Accepting My Body + The Challenges That Come With It
Bike across the country? Sure. Raise five thousand dollars? Got it. Manage your blood sugar while doing so? Yikes.
Finding the inspiration
As much as I would love to brag about how confident I was in managing type 1 on this trip, I was extremely nervous, scared and anxious for what was to come on this two and a half month journey. The trip that I completed was a cycling trip across the Northern U.S. with an organization called Bike & Build, a non-profit that engages young adults in service-oriented cycling trips to raise money and awareness for the affordable housing cause. Leading up to the start of the trip in June, my nerves became ever more present. Sure, I have done my share of endurance events, triathlons, half-marathons, century bike rides, but biking just about every day for seventy-five days? This was a whole different beast. We were required to ride five hundred miles before the trip started, but not many schedules allow training that would be exactly like the trip itself, AKA biking eight hours a day multiple days in a row. So, I did the best physical prep that I could, packed my bag and bike, and headed to Portsmouth, New Hampshire to start this journey.
Truthfully, I thought I would have the best blood sugars of my life this summer. Biking for hours on end every day, what could my body love more than that? “I’ll probably barely even use insulin this summer my blood glucose levels will be so low,” I thought. HA! As someone who has lived with type 1 for seven years, it was naive of me to think that I could even try to predict the nature of this extremely variable disease. If there is one thing I know about type 1 diabetes (T1D), it’s that it has a mind of its own. So of course my blood sugar levels were frustratingly unpredictable all summer, resulting in the worst numbers I have seen in a long, long time. I couldn’t understand it. Sure, I wasn’t eating my normal low-carb diet, but wouldn’t all this exercise cancel that out? Thoughts ran through my head every day of why my blood sugar could be so elevated, what I could do to fix it, how I should be dealing with it, and if I could even complete this trip. These thoughts were driving me crazy, I just wanted to enjoy each day without worrying so much about my body’s reaction to every mile I biked and every piece of food I put into my mouth.
What frustrated me most was that I felt incredibly physically and mentally strong, yet the numbers shown on my continuous glucose monitor’s (CGM’s) screen were making me feel like a failure. This is something that I have struggled with since being diagnosed with type 1, feeling good but not having that feeling validated by my blood sugar. I have grown very accustomed to checking my blood sugar as soon as a workout is over, right before a meal, before bed, when waking up—all the times my doctor told me to. What I realized on this trip is that the number on that screen is exactly that, just a number. I shouldn’t have been looking at the screen for validation. Yes, that number is telling of many physiological things and health metrics, but one thing it does not tell you is your worth. It does not tell you how far you just biked, how hard your body worked, how strong you felt going up a hill, and how accomplished you felt going down. It does not tell you how much you are enjoying dinner with family, how much of a difference you made that day, how many people’s lives you are touching, how great you are doing at your job, how hard you are trying to manage this disease. It does not tell you any of that.
So how do you dissociate that number with feelings of failure and poor self-worth? This summer I learned that I needed to take a minute. I needed to take a minute when I finished a workout to recognize how hard my body worked, regardless of the number. I needed to take a minute to appreciate the people and food around me at dinner, before checking my blood sugar. I needed to take a minute when I woke up to think about how lucky I was to just wake up, regardless of the number. I needed to take a minute before I went to bed, to think about all that the day has brought me, regardless of the number. Because when I check, I know my day will be different, no matter how much I did not want to accept that. Once I see that number, there are now hundreds of other decisions that will be made depending on what the screen says. What will I eat now? Can I workout now or do I have to wait until later? Am I going to be able to focus at work today? The list goes on.
I know that my day will be different because of these numbers, and I know that I need to listen to what my body is telling me through these numbers. I have always had a hard time stopping an activity due to low or high blood sugar, so my goal this summer was to listen to my body and stop when it was telling me to stop, no matter how badly I wanted to keep going. I expressed how difficult this had been for me in the past to some of my teammates early on in the trip. About halfway through the trip I woke up with my blood sugar in the 300s and decided to let my body come back to baseline and not ride that day, a choice that I knew was right but bothered me. Of course, a million thoughts ran through my head, like “How could you let this happen?” “Are you really not going to ride today?” “Everyone else is able to ride,” et cetera. A teammate asked what was wrong and when I told him, he said, “Thank you for listening to your body.” It was then that I realized that I was the only one judging myself. All my teammates cared about was my safety, and here I was being so hard on myself for something that I couldn’t control. Having to take a couple days off from riding was frustrating, but taught me to accept what I cannot change, appreciate every day that I could ride, and see that I was my harshest critic.
This bike ride was both the most physically challenging and most rewarding thing I have ever done. Trying my best to manage type 1 while on this trip also proved to be the most mentally challenging and rewarding thing I have ever done. Accepting that my body was not reacting the way I had thought it would, listening to my body and changing the way I speak to it, letting myself lean on others for support, understanding that a number does not reflect your worth, and proving to myself that I can do the things I didn’t think possible are lessons that I will remind myself of constantly and will encourage others to do as well. So, yes this disease kicked me down, yes it made me get off my bike, and yes it makes my days different. But one thing it will never do is stop me. And I, along with the millions of rockstars in the type 1 community, will spend every day proving that.
Check out more cycling content here—Diabetes + Exercise.