artwork by Kathryn Adler
(The following is an excerpt from The Superman Years.)
I started yoga in a pretty bad place.
My husband, Rob and I, were several years into a diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes in our young son and I was wearing down from the daily care required of the disease. Psychologically, I was entering a phase where I could no longer deny facing possible future complications directly like I could when it was newer and he was younger.
Rob and I were in individual survival mode and had lost our sense of solidarity that had gotten us through the first couple of years.
The problem with having a child who needs extra or specific care of any kind is that you and your partner, if you are lucky enough to have one, become each other’s relief.
If one is exhausted or craves a few days off, the extra falls to the other. In order to relax and lighten up, your partner must become more stressed. You are never well-rested or fun and light at the same time, together. Interactions become more like nursing reports than intimacy: “Ty’s blood sugar was 340 mg/dl about a half hour ago, bolused 3.2 units insulin for it. What did he have for dinner? A little pasta so he might go high, but he’s been running low on me at night. Pretty active today.” Am I turning you on?
The fatigue had taken up residence in my body and manifested itself as pain, in my neck mostly. A lot of it stemmed from pushing myself ahead, thinking I could still exercise in the way I used to on the amount of sleep I was getting; I could still do everything I used to (I told myself), as if life hadn’t changed completely and the same things would still work.
Actually, there was not much I could still do that I used to.
The running I had consistently done since high school, which energized me physically and calmed me psychologically, now felt depleting and injurious, like it was harming my lower back and pulling on my neck in an uncomfortable way.
I knew I was producing some constant stress hormones, cortisol being chief among them (which ironically places one at risk for diabetes). I thought I might get sick myself if I found no way to replenish…and then what?
Rattling around in my psyche at night was the thought, if I go down, it leaves it all to Rob, by himself. It’s not a one-man job, although I know people do it alone. I don’t know how, but they do. For me, it’s all I can do to hang on with all the advantages I have: my own health, a partner, a fully involved partner, relative intelligence to figure out the doses and other complexities of the care and health insurance.
I know people do it without help, but for our family, if one of us goes down, we leave the other with too much.
My own mental health was fluctuating with his blood sugar and believe me, it was a lot of getting “thrown around” psychologically. When I actually got myself down on a mat versus just reading about the philosophy of yoga, it was because I couldn’t deal with the daily emotional thrashing.
To make it long-term, I knew I needed to become more steadfast here and not be psychologically affected by every number on the screen ten times a day, up and down.
So I entered the practice in earnest; I needed this to “work.”
I worried though, that I would never again be as fit as I was “pre-diabetes,” and that it would be a slow physical decline from there.
Initially, I approached yoga like I had every other physical pursuit—push hard and force it to happen. I would just kind of put myself in the position of the pose, not really feeling the movement toward the pose or when my muscles were straining. I took classes with dancers—even contortionists—and these were the models I used to emulate.
It took me a long time to even get close to the breathing of yoga. I had always held my breath through exertion before—here, you breathed. And if you couldn’t, you backed off on the effort.
This was a radical approach.
I felt like I was gasping for air when I tried to breathe deep, like there was no way there would be enough but I kept practicing and eventually I was able to breathe more deeply and easily.
That’s when I started to notice a change.
Now, more attuned to the sensations in my body, instead of just plowing through the routine, I could more easily ascertain its needs. I could decide when it was most nurturing to hold back and when it would be energizing to step it up.
Some days—many days—lying flat on my back with my palms up in a receptive gesture is the most strengthening thing I can do for myself. It took me a long time to understand that, though.
The end result of slowing down is that paradoxically, I’ve enjoyed the greatest physical strength of my life, perhaps because there is muscle restoration and surrender balanced with the exertion in yoga, which taught me something about how to deal with the caregiving required of diabetes.
And even though almost everyone has seen me cry (because I do it so easily now), I am actually much stronger emotionally than before diabetes because now I know how everything changes.
Any difficult struggle is transient and will pass.
Practicing yoga helped me enliven and lift the tissues and breathe vibrant air back into tight places that hadn’t seen any air for awhile. Once re-exposed to oxygen, sheets of heat rippled down my shoulder blades and the pain greatly diminished. It allowed the fear, worry and concern to move through me versus stagnate in my cells.
I credit yoga for keeping me well.
Mind states and outlooks don’t stay the same from one minute to the next—not exactly the same anyway; even a suicidal person who sees no other option can have a radical change of heart in the space of a beat.
The second his hands left the rails, he saw everything clearly and truthfully and wanted desperately to live. The problem was he was in the midst of a four second, head-first free fall, when he made this decision.
He said he was directed how to turn and twist his position in the air so that when he broke the water at one hundred and twenty miles per hour, he did so with his boots first and landed as if sitting in a chair, thereby saving his life but still managing to shatter his lower lumbar into splinters that tore into several organs.
He surfaced only to feel what he thought was a shark bumping about his feet and legs. He later learned it was a seal, keeping him afloat above the surface until he was rescued.
This young man, Kevin, is a powerful mental health advocate now, letting people know suicide is never the right option.
Everything is just a moment.
If I’m completely in my anxiety, lost and unable to find my way out of it, I know it will be different, even in five minutes.
If I’m so tired I can’t see straight, I will get some sleep at some point and everything will become more clear and less ominous. It will not be my permanent state.
Even Ty’s blood sugar crises pass with amazing suddenness. We can be fretting and contemplating taking him to the hospital during a bout with the stomach flu, riding that cusp and then the insulin takes, his blood sugar drops, he resurrects and is fine again, just as if his life didn’t hang in the balance an hour ago.
Editor: Bryonie Wise
Like elephant health and wellness on Facebook.