The COVID-19 pandemic, along with a diabetes diagnosis, led me to make a major lifestyle change. Here’s how I adjusted.
I’ve run away to the woods. To an off-grid wilderness cabin in the far northern reaches of Minnesota. I stack wood, haul water, chainsaw downed trees, and hike to the outhouse.
Experts often tell us that type 2 diabetes will require lifestyle changes. Certainly, this qualifies. My blood sugar readings and baggy pants indicate that this return to basics was a good choice.
The pandemic allowed me two summers of working remotely from my screen porch overlooking a little bog lake. When it was time to return to the office, I couldn’t give up loon calls and starry nights.
So, I left the job with benefits and a perfectly good 100-year-old craftsman bungalow in the city. I sold most of my belongings and moved into a 550-square-foot cabin with a dog and a cat.
The change wasn’t just related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also related to a diabetes diagnosis.
When we were asked to stay home, I went too far: I just stopped moving. I gained about 30 pounds. When I finally went in for a delayed well-woman checkup, my labs came back with an A1C of 7.2.
I was neatly over the diagnostic threshold and in alignment with the other women in my family, all of whom became chronically ill with diabetes in their 50s. At 58 years old, I know my part in this disease and my family health history.
The diagnosis absolutely influenced my choice to derail my retirement plan. Another 5 to 8 years in an office chair would only complicate — if not worsen — my disease management. I couldn’t get my head around adding gym workouts to my workday, which was already pinched with commutes and commitments.
Like so many others around the world, the pandemic had changed me, and this new life felt unfamiliar and uncomfortable.
My blood sugar readings and baggy pants indicate that this return to basics was a good choice.
I entered our very broken national health care system, looking for support and education. I’d experienced a few childhood broken bones and survived a terrible wrestling match with depression, but — with great luck and gratefulness — never spent a night in the hospital. I even had my babies at home.
Diabetes shook me, and I craved guidance and feedback.
Things got wild really fast. Insurance would not pay for test strips. The doctor’s office didn’t forward the lab results to my diabetes clinic. The educator quit.
Winter set in and made walking the dog — my main go-to for exercise — a balancing act on the icy sidewalks. I received conflicting information from two different healthcare professionals. Insurance forms and explanations of benefits began filling my mailbox. The healthcare system seemed impenetrable.
Happily, I have been a healthcare professional myself. For years, I was a board licensed, certified professional midwife. Which is to say, I started researching. Through networking with friends and online communities, I was able to meet this diabetes beast with a plan.
I started intermittent fasting and eliminated my beloved carb-heavy dinners. I mastered the glucometer. And I left my life in the city.
It wasn’t one thing that made me snap. Instead, it was admitting that a post-pandemic diabetes lifestyle felt unhealthy and unhappy. I had to acknowledge that I felt worried, resentful, and challenged, and not just about my health.
My tolerance for city living and work life had been transformed by the pandemic. I felt certain that if I waited for retirement to spend another summer with the loons, I might be too sick and tired to make a go of it.
I am now a few months into my wilderness life. It’s hard work. It’s not for everyone. As I write, I’m battling mosquitoes that seem to be hunting, needled and determined.
The winters here are brutal, and I’ve already started putting up what will be four cords of firewood. I haul home 25 gallons of water a week, carrying 40-pound jugs from the truck to the kitchen.
Diabetes shook me, and I craved guidance and feedback.
My day-to-day world is invested in making a simple life. I bartend at the area’s only watering hole a few nights a week to stay in touch with neighbors. I invested in a good generator that keeps the lights on by way of a lithium ion battery.
I signed up for an unlimited data plan that allows me to toggle my computer to the cell phone and internet. My super-efficient wood stove will arrive in a few weeks. In short, I spend what money I have thoughtfully, and I live frugally.
This extends to my food and disease management. I buy food with great intention. It’s about feeding myself well, but it’s also about a 1-hour, 1-way drive to the grocery store.
I make a list, I buy what’s on the list, and I prepare meals according to plan. There are no runs for chocolate ice cream, and you don’t want to forget the eggs. Temptations are removed.
This lifestyle gives me joy. It also gives me great glucose readings. I take no meds, and my morning fast numbers generally hover around 120. I’m holding my pants up with a belt. I feel stronger and sleep better. My body is flexible, responsive, and gaining strength.
I don’t pretend that living like this will keep my disease from progressing. I’m not going to think or exercise or plan my way out of diabetes.
Instead, I’m making friends with it, and treating myself with love and compassion. For me, that meant a major lifestyle change. I’m still trying to find a healthcare professional and cheap test strips, though. Perhaps that’s the biggest challenge.
Fact checked on August 19, 2022
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