Molly Musings

Thoughts on Tackling Diabetes as a Community

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Why We All Need the Walk

Walk Season kicked off in Houston on June 11 with JDRF’s Annual Family Team Rally.  Families from all across the Houston Metro Area came together to learn the ins and outs of JDRF’s new and improved online registration and fundraising system, to share innovative fundraising strategies and to spend time playing and dining with old friends.  Toddlers, teens, young adults and parents brought suggestions for adding fun and convenience to the upcoming Walk, and the JDRF Staff eagerly absorbed all comments.  The energy in the air was unmistakable.  Even in the hundred degree heat, we could all feel the excitement of fall Walk season.  After the Rally, on the long drive home, I found myself thinking about the Walk, and the weeks and months leading up to it, wondering what makes it so special?  What is it that gives us that little shiver, that extra burst of energy, that feeling of exhilaration?

It certainly doesn’t happen because the Walk is easy.  Walk season is a lot of work.  You write letters, send emails, design t-shirts, send follow-up emails, order tents and chairs, plan breakfast, arrive early, keep track of your kids, write thank-you notes, and collapse in a heap when it’s all over.  A part of the thrill is the knowledge of the good that comes from what we do.  Houston’s 2010 Walk raised $1.9 Million.  And of that amount, a record-breaking $636,600 was raised by family teams.  We know that 80% of JDRF’s expenditures go directly to research and research-related education.  So we know that we are making a tremendous contribution to JDRF’s progress toward curing diabetes.

But it’s more than numbers—this thrill of the Walk.  I think it has to do with the enormous scope of the community we build.  Last year, before the actual Walk started, I positioned myself atop a concrete block at the START LINE so that I could see the Walkers head out.  When the ribbon came down and the Walkers started to move, the sight quite literally made me choke up.  There was a pulsing sea of people that went on, and on, and on.  Only the front of the sea moved at first, then the middle began to ooze forward, followed much later by the far ends.  But just when I thought I had seen the back edge, more Walkers appeared.  It was close to an hour before the last Walker crossed the START LINE.  And I realized that I had been both grinning and crying the whole time.  Fifteen thousand people came to Reliant Park last year.  Fifteen thousand people Walked to cure diabetes.  And after they walked, they stayed and ate, and played, and listened to music, and enjoyed being a part of a community that cared about changing the lives of people with diabetes.

I think that so much of having diabetes—or having a child or a spouse with diabetes—is endured alone.  The 2 a.m. test is done alone and in the dark.  The decision about how much to bolus is made alone and warily.  The glucagon shot is administered alone and consumed with fear.  The waiting to see if the teenager with type 1 makes it home safely is done alone.  So the fact that this one day—Walk Day—is lived as a part of an enormous community, some of whom are dear friends, but many of whom are strangers who happen to be generous and caring people, can make chills run up and down our spines.  It’s easy, and often necessary if we love someone with diabetes, to cordon off our feelings about the disease in order to continue to live a positive and upbeat life.  Healthy defenses are just that—healthy.  The wonder of Walk Day is that it is the one day when we can safely allow those defenses to drop just a bit, knowing that the support, courage, inspiration, togetherness and love that pours in will leave us stronger and more hopeful than we were before. 

Who among us doesn’t need a little dose of that?

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Last night I spent three and a half hours surrounded by a group of young women who are raising children with type 1 diabetes.  The evening was supposed to be just a “wrap-up” of our Family Walk Team effort—an opportunity to assess our results, give feedback, and think together about what we can do better next year.  And we did do all of those things.  But as always happens when a group of women raising type 1 kids gathers, the evening turned into much more than that.  A glass of tea became a margarita, ideas about the Walk became confessions of guilt about needing more “me time” and other sins, celebration of fundraising success became sharing of urgent fear about a child’s depression. 

Through it all, there was a hum of warmth, laughter, shared stories, knowing nods, pats on shoulders, tears wiped on paper napkins, and more laughter.  A protective blanket of safety, warmth and generosity covered this group of women and effectively warded off the chill of diabetes. 

I couldn’t stop thinking about that luscious scene, and it has stayed with me today, because I think it’s terribly important to understand its power.  There was something eternal about it—you could have found the same scene forty years ago or ten years from now—a group of young mothers—not just any young mothers but the best young mothers to be found—holding eachother up with their love while at the same time beating themselves up for their imperfections.  We mothers carry so much of the emotional burden of having a child with diabetes.  We carry the terrible, debilitating worry, the nauseating guilt, the paralyzing fear, the raw pain, and the soul-killing tedium.  And perhaps worst of all, we carry around the shame of having all these feelings and most of the time not being able to tell anyone that we have them. 

So the power of sitting around a table full of women who have all shared these feelings, and confessing, and having most of them nod in understanding and confess that they too have felt resentment, or boredom, or rage, or whatever other “unacceptable” or “unmaternal” feeling we are feeling, is that we can let go of our shame and like ourselves again.  We can admit that today we were not perfect and be assured that we were still pretty terrific.  And the importance of that is that it’s a heck of a lot easier to be a good mother if we like ourselves than it is if we don’t.

So, sisters, let’s do this more often.  We need eachother.

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Bop Bags and Balloons

I’ll bet we all remember getting a bop bag for a birthday present—you know those big blow-up clowns that, no matter how hard you smacked them, they bent all the way over to the floor but always came back up?  They were different from plain old balloons.  Balloons you could knock all over everywhere and they would never come down.  They would bounce off the walls and ceiling and boink you in the face.  You know the difference between a bop bag and a balloon?  It’s ballast.  That heavy stuff they put in the bottom that keeps it from falling over for good.  It’s what parents of diabetic children have.  The kids themselves are balloons, bouncing everywhere without anything to hold them down.  But the parents have ballast.  So we get knocked over—way over, so far over that we think we’ll never come up again.  But we do.  The important thing is to remember what gives you ballast.  If it’s a phone call with a girlfriend, call her.  If it’s a night in a hotel with your wife, make a reservation.  If it’s crying for two hours where nobody can see or hear you, ask your mom to keep the kids.  If it’s therapy, be brave.  You’ve got to take care of the ballast so the balloons know that somebody’s in charge.