Celebrate Each Other’s Successes
When I dragged my tired and seasick body back onto the boat after my leg of the 12.5-mile Swim Around Key West, I was sick as a dog, struggling with my blood sugars, and never happier to be out of the water.
I glanced down at my watch. Two hours and four minutes to swim 4.2 miles. Exactly what I had hoped for. That was the same pace that the great English Channel swimmers swam. I felt pretty damned good.
As I sat on the boat watching Renee swim the second leg of the race, I started to mark off her pace. And I started to feel pretty darn proud. At this pace, I would beat her time for the same distance by over an hour. I was a total stud.
Then Blair jumped in the water and I began to feel like a total failure. She swam with such grace and speed that I felt like a whale in the water. When the race was over we had just beaten the cutoff time, but we were all so proud.
I went from feeling strong during my leg, to feeling arrogant, to feeling ashamed. All within the time span of six hours. How exactly could that be?
That night, as we sat at Margaritaville Cafe refueling, we began to tell our stories. The first half of my leg was picture perfect. Eighty-six degree crystal-clear water with plenty of sea life to keep me company, a great support team just a few yards away in the support boat, and stable blood sugars just below 200.
But once I turned the corner at the west end of Key West, that all changed. There the waters get deep and are exposed to the swells from the Atlantic through a break in the reef. The swells bounced off a solid cement breakwater and made the water into a giant washing machine.
I couldn’t tell which way was up. When I breathed, I didn’t know if I would get a lungful of air or water. Once the seasickness started, I could do no more than think about the next three strokes I would take. Anything more and I would have quit.
Because I took longer on the backside of the island, Renee jumped in the water right as the tide was turning against her. She swam a full three hours against a torrential current that slowed her to a crawl. At one point it looked like she was moving backwards against the land.
All of that pride and arrogance wasn’t based in any reality. Sure we both swam 4.2 miles, but my four miles were nothing like hers. There was no way of making an accurate comparison.
Blair jumped into the water to meet Renee and gave her a quick hug. None of us fought as hard as Renee did against that current. She was even happier than I was to get back on that boat.
Once Blair got in the water she turned the easternmost edge of the island and the tide began to turn again, but this time it was with her. The course goes through a small opening between Key West and Stock Island so all of the water exiting the Gulf of Mexico and going into the Atlantic with the tide was rushing through this small opening.
Blair was riding the tide out of the Gulf and she was flying. Feeling badly about my swimming ability was just wasted emotion. I had no tide.
But she had her own set of obstacles. On the Atlantic side of the island the tide had gotten so low that to complete her swim stroke she had to jam her hand into the coral with every stroke.
By the end of our dinner, after hearing the truth about everyone’s experience that day, I realized that I was just proud of myself. No longer arrogant or ashamed. I was just happy with my performance.
I fought the fight that I had to fight. I worked hard in training, had a good race plan, and swam an incredible distance. It was unreasonable to compare myself to my teammates and it only caused me to diminish what I had done.
The Diabetes Online Community is such an a amazing place to feel like people understand you and to swap war stories and diabetes hacks. But the danger is in beginning to compare ourselves to one another. There are so many factors below the surface of everyone’s life that there is no fair comparison. Comparison only hurts us.
I know I fall into this trap quite often. If I see someone else planning a huge adventure, I start to compare. Is it bigger than mine? Is it more dangerous? Will more people pay attention to her adventure?
The problem is, that asking these types of questions drives us apart.
Instead I should be asking, What I can learn from her experiences? What experiences could I share with her to help her? How many more people will be exposed to the concept that adventure is an amazing tool for taking care of diabetes? How many people could I share her story with?
So the next time a friend posts about her perfect blood sugar day, instead of feeling bad that yours wasn’t as good, simply rejoice with her. When another friend can’t figure out how to do a fasting basal check, instead of gloating that you have been doing those every three months since diagnosis, how about lending a hand and sharing your knowledge.
The more we can appreciate each other’s stories without feeling the need to compare, the better off we all will be.
Read It’s not a Bomb, It’s a Pump by Samantha Willner.
You can order Erin’s books, Islands and Insulin: A Diabetic Sailor’s Memoir or Adventure On: Adventure More, Worry Less, and Watch Your Diabetes Motivation Soar