An Ode to My Pancreas, a Love/Hate Story

Life is so hectic and dark lately. I’ve got so much going on, some of it good and some of it bad. The world feels like it’s falling apart yet we all just keep doing our thing. That’s all you can do, right? Maybe. I don’t know. Somehow 2020 feels different.

Me? Big things in motion. Work is difficult and rewarding (as always), I’m still separated and divorcing the Wonderful Wife (she’s still wonderful, still co-parenting together, she’s just no longer my wife), and the kids are going batty in captivity… er, I mean… in quarantine. Oh, hey, and my body suddenly doesn’t process sugar correctly which is causing my brain and my entire autoimmune system to freak out and possibly kill me from the inside. No biggie.

I suppose I’m lucky, really. I made it almost 50 years before my body decided to try to kill me. That’s a good run.

This is by far the biggest medical issue I’ve ever had. Hell, I’ve never even broken a bone (knock on wood,) and I’ve never spent the night in a hospital (knock on wood.) HOLY CRAP why did I just jinx myself by putting that in writing? [knocks on all the wood]

Knock on wood. No, this isn’t wood, but it’s not my hand either.

I’ve been “working on” eating better and getting healthy for a long time. For 20 years I’ve been trying to eat more veggies, to cut back on sugary crap. I’ve been slowly making changes with some good success, albeit in small ways. I’m proud of how much I’ve overcome my total lack of real food knowledge and role models, total lack of support. I’ve had lots of well wishers and encouragement, but everyone I know struggles with their weight. So, let me just say that I had already done a lot to change how I eat before this Diabetes diagnosis—though clearly not enough.

Mine is the same old story. My weight has been an issue since I was about 9 years old. I’ve always loved food: eating it, cooking it, baking it, eating it, talking about it, photographing it, and eating more of it. Also, I like eating it.

To top it off, I’m not much on exercise for the sake of exercise. Or for any sake, really. I used to do bodybuilding, but not really regularly enough to get much benefit. I like yoga but never seem to get around to it. In fact, I’ve never found any exercise routine that really works for me. I always get bored and discouraged. Plus, I’ll say it… I’m not naturally athletic. I’m not even a little athletic. I’m not graceful or tenacious or driven. (translation: I’m a lazy, out of shape slob.)

I am Fat Thor. I could do worse.

Don’t worry, I’m not beating myself up too much on any of this. Sure, I look back and wish I had taken it all more seriously, and sooner. That’s how hindsight works. But you have to remember it’s hard for anyone to get super serious about something so vague, even from a doctor. “Hey, do all this stuff and you *might* see results in 20 years.” Who can get excited about that? But now today, hoo-boy… it’s crystal clear that everything I eat or do is pushing me toward either health or ruin. Motivation is not so much a problem now.

The biggest eye opener of all the diabetes stuff is not the finger pricks, or counting carbs, or even the new pills. The part that has shocked me the most is how many people already caught the ‘Beetus and how incredibly chill they are about it. I’m losing my shit with every meal, every new ache and pain. But all the diabetes old-timers are like, “Meh. I just have to watch what I eat a little.” And shocking to me is that most people keep eating a lot of the same foods… even though it makes them miserable.

This has weighed on me a lot the past couple of weeks. Am I doing this wrong? Am I the only one who has to completely change how I eat and live? Why has this turned my life upside down? When will this end?

Of course, I’m not doing anything wrong. My only fault is that I’m very new to this and I’m not framing the conversation correctly in my own head. Yes I’m trying to re-create myself, to change my entire relationship with food, virtually overnight. I want to kick this thing, and fast.

Kick this thing?

Sorry, dude. That’s not how this works.

This is Diabetes, not some head cold or the transient flu. We’re tangling with Ol ‘Beetus himself. This isn’t going away overnight with some cough syrup. It won’t “clear up” in a week, or even a month. This is my life now. And the thing about being alive is… no matter how ugly it gets, you have to just get out there and LIVE YOUR LIFE.

Life goes on, my friends, even if a tiny endocrine gland in your gut is screaming “Help! I’ve fallen and can’t get up!”

My Pancreas, a re-enactment. (no pancreases were injured in the creation of this blog post)

So I live and I learn. Each day brings new challenges and new rewards. It’s maybe not much of a life, but it’s all I’ve got.

In the end, I’m just doing the best I can to soften the impact of a bad situation. And that’s all anyone can ask of me.

Peace and Love, my friends. Peace and Love.

— VVV

So, I’m losing weight.

Photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash

So, I’m losing weight.

You can see it in my face now, even under the giant Viking beard. My belly is no longer rotund, just pleasantly jolly. My waist is much smaller. When my belt wasn’t holding up my shorts a couple months ago, I put an extra hole in it to cinch it up tighter. A couple weeks later I put in another one. Then I bought a belt three sizes smaller. That new belt was so small that I could only buckle it in the very first hole.

Today, three weeks later, I’m now buckling the second hole.

Losing weight is very affirming. Everyone approves. It’s one of the crowning gems of Adult Success, along with Money and Beautiful Smart Children. It’s something you know is hard, but you also know you can do it. But, hey, what’s the hurry? I can’t speak for your relationship with your body, but I just never got around to being healthy. I never had time to do the planning, never felt the rush to clean up my eating habits.

Then Diabetes clarified my timetable for me.

So much is different now. I’m feeling different, better, every day. I feel good, now that I’ve survived the nasty, months-long brain-clouding diabetes symptoms, while simultaneously fighting through, cold turkey, an almost 50 year sugar addiction. And I’m not exaggerating “addiction” for effect. It was very much full-on withdrawal, along with the night sweats, blurred vision, ongoing confusion, no mental focus, no energy, intestinal distress… dark days, my friends.

I don’t want to get too dramatic, so I’ll just say, as cliche as it sounds, I would not wish my last three months on my worst enemy. Talk to your children about sugar. It’s basically crack cocaine but with a better PR team.

But here I am! Looking better, feeling better, moving better, with my head screwed on straight (mostly).

Most obvious is that I now eat differently. My relationship with food has changed unalterably, and there’s no going back. I eat so little sugar now that fresh fruit literally tastes like candy. Any amount of simple carbs (white rice, pasta, potatoes, etc.) makes me feel bloated and groggy. Speaking of sleep, I’m sleeping much better, thank you very much

With some exceptions, I’m eating 3-4 small meals a day. And by small, I mean about half of what I used to eat. It’s not an exact science, but I’m ingesting roughly 50% as much food.

The funny thing is, a small sandwich, a pickle, and a handful of pork rinds and I am STUFFED. I get a little uncomfortable and I couldn’t eat another bite, not even a wafer thin mint.

All my life I’ve been totally accustomed to eating really large meals. Because… I dunno… I’m a big guy, that’s how I learned to eat, because food is delicious, just a bad habit, the sin of gluttony, maybe low moral fiber…

Does it really matter why?

Well, yeah, it probably does.

I think my biggest personal fault is my sense of dread at missing out on something, and food plays very much into that. I want to know what other people are eating, how it’s prepared, how much it cost, how the different flavors and textures meld together to create something new and different. I love buffets precisely because I want to taste it all. I pour a lot of mental energy into worrying about something out there even more delicious and fun that I just haven’t tried yet. I’m terrified, irrationally, to miss out on any of it.

Lately I have been living in the moment, day-to-day with my struggles, but I still have a fear that I’ll backslide into pigging out again. It’s been my pattern for my whole life. And it’s not hard to predict that some tragedy or problem will push me into eating my feelings again someday. Which is bad enough when overeating just means overeating, but now it very literally means going blind or losing a foot to diabetes.

And let me clarify—when I mention I had “blurred vision,” that is not a metaphor. The diabetes caused me, for almost two months, to have blurred vision so bad I couldn’t read anything on my phone, and I had to turn my work monitor up to giant text. I won’t sugar coat it… Diabetes is not fucking around.

“I won’t sugar coat it.” LOL. See what I did there?

But, by the grace of Odin, I’m doing well now, and I’m trying to enjoy it, day to day. Weight loss truly is its own reward.

Most importantly, it’s pretty clear I was, in fact, missing out on something all those years. I’ve been missing out on myself, buried under 50-100 lbs of mediocre food, sugar highs, and bad choices.

So, here I am. Finally me. Mostly. OK, I’ll probably keep changing. But this is all me, right now.

So be nice… I’m new here.

— VVV