Mara here.This was a really hard piece to write, but I believe sharing our insecurities, struggles, and fears helps build others up.
My doctor began asking me questions before he sat down. “Have you been thirsty a lot lately? Going pee a lot?” I thought this question was quite ironic because the weekend before my best friend had been mothering me on a hike, asking me if I was thirsty and didn’t I need to break so I could drink because she noticed I hadn’t drank in a while. “I’m a camel,” I told her. “I don’t really get thirsty.”
My doctor proceeded to tell me that at my last visit my blood sugars were high. They weren’t worrisome high, but cautious high. What does that even mean? Pre-diabetes, is apparently what that means.
The last visit to the doctor I didn’t know they were going to take my blood. I ate my normal lunch – a turkey sandwich and chips – about two hours before. When I pointed this out to the doctor, thinking it was their fault for not informing me I needed to fast, he told me it was still high, even for a non-fasting diet.
That day he ran some more tests. He tested my blood sugar from the past three months. To get a better picture and see if any steps needed to be taken.
I know all about diabetes, or “the diabetes” as my best friend and I jokingly call it.
My mother was diagnosed with Type II diabetes before I could remember. In fact, she was the same age that I am now. Growing up in a house with a diabetic parent, I was accustomed to Diet Coke and sugar-free sweets. I know, there’s an oxymoron there. Diabetes was something I was NOT going to get.
I watched my mom give herself a shot every night before dinner. And once when I was too young to understand, I attempted to mimic it. A born daredevil, I asked my sister if she dared me to inject Pepsi in my leg. Boy was that dumb. I especially regretted it after the punishment I received.
But now, at 36, I didn’t want to mimic my mom’s health life. In fact I was doing everything in my power to prevent being like her.
When I turned 30 and my mom had to have not one knee replaced, but both, I began running to assure that I would “use it and not lose it” at age 60.
When she had major complications from the second knee replacement surgery and the idea of losing my mom at age 32 was very real, I knew life was precious and it was important to take care of myself.
So I ran. I ran hard. I trained for half marathons. I trained for 14ers. I made it my goal to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail at age 60, not have double knee replacement surgery and be insulin dependent.
The first moment I realized that I couldn’t escape my bad genes was not from my own health, but from the rejection of my boyfriend.
One afternoon as we had a serious discussion about our lives together and the possibility of marriage, he basically told me I was too fat. He packaged it nicely though so that it wouldn’t hurt my feelings … he thought.
“It’s important to me and especially your future children that you take care of yourself,” he said to me. He proceeded to tell me how my mom was diabetic and had heart problems and my grandmother had heart problems. And pretty much that was the future I was looking at.
“I just want to see you doing everything you can to prevent that,” he said. So apparently running four miles a day and hiking 10 plus miles on the weekend, was not “doing everything I can to prevent that?”
I literally couldn’t outrun my bad genes.
But I was not going to let that keep me down. I ran and I ran hard. I hiked and I stayed active. I began eating healthier, although I could have been better at controlling my sugar intake.
I loved the physical challenges I put in front of myself. And even better, I loved crushing those challenges.
In planning backpacking trips across the country to places like Olympic National Park, the Grand Canyon, and Glacier National Park, I always picked a trail that was a little too hard for me – much to my hiking partners’ regrets because I was in better shape than them.
But then I got a new job. A good job with more meaningful work, better hours, and better pay. However, I went from a semi-active job to sitting at a desk all day.
And even worse, in my last job, I didn’t go in until 10:30 in the morning, giving me a sweet spot for exercising in the AM. Not being a morning person, the thought of getting up at 5 a.m. to run in my neighborhood in the dark made me cringe. I can still barely get up in early enough to simply make it work on time. And when I got home from work, I just wanted to grab beer and veg out as I watched the news, not go for a run or a bike ride.
My sweet and fun coworker who is 71 years old and unstop-able keeps candy on her desk, which I can’t seem to keep out of.
But as the year at my new job went by the weight on my waistline increased.
“I have got to start exercising again,” I chastised myself. I had a goal last year to summit a 14er in Colorado. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate and I didn’t get my chance. On my trip back to Colorado this year, I wasn’t going to come home without meeting my goal.
But as I adjusted to the new job and took comfort from my stress in beer and sweets, I did not start exercising.
Being a flatlander I had the idea to do hard hikes on the weekends, and train for a 10K so I could keep my lung capacity up. As spring turned into summer, I had yet to begin my 10K training. In fact, I didn’t start it until the month before my trip to Colorado.
I was worried and I did not want to come home to announce defeat. I ended up summiting not one but two 14ers and was feeling pretty good about myself.
There is a great 10K in my town at the end of November and I planned on running it. However, when I got home from Colorado, I quit my 10K training.
It wasn’t until the doctor’s warning sank in that I realized I really had to do something. Not only was I looking at failed 14er summits, I was looking at a life I didn’t want.
I felt so much shame with it too. Already feeling like I don’t belong in the outdoor community because I don’t look the part, now there was proof that I wasn’t taking care of myself. Consequences to my inaction.
I didn’t want to tell my best friend, who has never judged me for anything. I didn’t even want to tell my mom, who would only empathize. I told none of my other friends and none of my coworkers. I didn’t want to overhear the whispers.
“She does love her food.” “She eats way too much candy.” “You have to exercise if you want to be healthy.”
But then I saw the doctors news as a sign from God. Pre-diabetes isn’t diabetes. It’s treatable and can be reversed. This was God getting my attention. Telling me that if I wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail at 60, or be like my unstop-able 71-year-old coworker, I need to pay attention to my genes and take care of my body at age 36.
I got my test results back from that visit with the doctor. My blood sugars from the past three months were perfect. The shame subsided a little bit, but the doctor’s warning stuck with me.
I consulted a nutritionist and for real started training for a 10K this time. I’ve overcome my fear of running in the dark. And I know what you’re thinking. I am still not getting up at 5 a.m., it’s just dark in the winter when I get off of work.
And I’ve learned that to really take care of yourself, you actually have to take care of yourself. I may not be able to outrun my genes, but I can be a body that stays in motion.