Balance. Simple yet complicated. Straightforward yet paradoxical. Summation yet cancellation.
An equation. Perhaps the equation?
“Well, it’s all about balance,” she says, using a favorite buzzword to describe how she manages to do it all, and with such ease.
It sounds so easy. The spouse, kids, pets, house, career, hobbies, etc., all wrapped up in a neat and tidy little package and
→ gingerly . balanced . like . a . wavering . smile. ←
It’s also touché. And cliché. And maybe a little bit BS? Because balance-as-buzzword fails to acknowledge that the effort necessary to achieve a state-of-balance requires tension, suspension, constriction, cessation, calibration, nullification. Because balance-as-buzzword is the erroneous implication that, all things being equal, are also immobile and constant.
In the real, messy world in which we all live, no one and nothing is ever perfectly balanced — at least not for long, and certainly not while in motion.
Balance-in-state requires work, but balance-in-the-real-world, balance-with-momentum is like juggling knives and water balloons while racing downhill on a road bike in a hurricane.
A Simple Equation = Balance as a Physical State
Like most people, I participate in activities that demand physical balance: I began with crawling, standing, walking, and running, which led to more complicated endeavors: skiing, soccer, basketball, sailing, yoga; and followed by enthusiastic and less graceful attempts at kayaking, dance, windsurfing, and biking. Activities that challenge me to push the limits of balance in order to move forward and create momentum.
Activities where, when I decrease my fear and self-doubt, I make room in the equation for risk and reward.
Often, my attempts at a balanced equation lead me to: a) fall on my ass; b) fall on my face; or c) jump off to save myself from the inevitable discomfort of option a) or b). But sometimes, when things are just right and all elements: panic + carefulness + memory = tenacity + persistence + speed, I achieve d) a state of equilibrium. In the pursuit of physical, moving balance, all the discomfort, pain, and embarrassment of prior attempts is forgotten. This kind of balance is thrilling. It is elusive. And it is straightforward and relatively simple.
Brain Chemistry = Balance as an Emotional State
I am not a passive observer of life. I like to get in it and get messy. Though I am, by nature, guarded and introspective, my convictions and my ambitions render it impossible for me to not push myself towards the new and unknown. But in my personal search for balance — a search that propels me to go beyond my comfort zone and speak up and out, to extrovert my introverted self, and to be visible and impactful in a chaotic and attention-seeking world — I must incorporate additional factors to maintain relative stability. And, perhaps as a result of this compensation, I do this with the lows and highs of depression as an added variable.
Depression, an invisible, ever-present, and sometimes monstrous challenge that I constantly monitor.
This means perpetual vigilance with my medications and therapy, getting outside and exercising, eating healthy foods and limiting my alcohol intake, breathing deep and managing my stress. It means honest and direct communication, vulnerability with a thick skin, schedule, and consistency. To maintain an oscillating balance between the peaks and valleys, I must regularly participate in the above activities, while also understanding and anticipating my moods so well as to leave nothing to chance. But, at least the way I‘ve traditionally seen it, following such a regimen can make one miss so many of the beautiful, unpredictable, creative, and serendipitous moments of life.
In the past I was — or I thought I was — so acutely aware of the variances of my moods that most of the time I could wing it (and neglect some of the healthy habits above) by just riding out the lows and highs — a balance, more or less, in the physical sense. This mostly happened when overwhelmed and lazy me chose not to exercise, to add another drink on to her two-drink limit, to forget to renew her prescription, or overly focus on work — to the detriment of home and family. It was never a perfect execution and always lead to scrapes and bruises, but that’s life, right? Unfortunately though, when I am in highly stressful situations and also not taking great care of myself, that is when I start to spin in spirals that fluctuate between bliss and despair, ever-widening arcs that carve a path of destruction around me.
Through many trials and tribulations dealing with my depression, I’ve learned the hard lesson that regimented and continuous calibration is necessary for stability.
Invisible Disabilities = Balance in the Physical + Emotional Realms
Following a particularly nasty stomach virus several years ago (during, mind you, the most depressing part of winter) my immune system focused its immense power, not on the virus attacking me, but on my undeserving pancreas. My poor pancreas became so disoriented, confused, and overworked that it eventually just quit. Seemingly overnight, I became a Type 1 Diabetic (T1D).
With my still new-to-me-T1D, added in with everything else, my life has become an even more varied assortment of equations and estimations, adjustments and alignments, a ticker-tape running silently but ever-present in the background.
I now focus an unseemly amount of attention on my blood sugar — attempting to maintain a range between 66–115mg/dL when I am fasting (aka asleep or two hours or more between meals) — and, when eating, balancing my meals/carbohydrate intake with the amount of insulin needed to negate it (to keep more or less between 120 and 200mg/dL while eating, and back down to 66–115mg/dL within two hours). Any major delineations from the norm for extended periods of time, and I risk going into a coma, brain damage, destroying my kidneys, my circulatory system, my liver, my appendages, and any number of other things that I’d rather not think about.
To stay alive without a functioning pancreas, I maintain a kit of parts that includes my continuous glucose monitor (CGM), a device that attaches to my stomach (or any soft, fleshy part of me), and comprises a bluetooth transmitting beacon about the size of a pink gum eraser, which adheres to my skin and features a tiny fishing-line-thin filament that sticks about a centimeter into my body for ten days (before I swap it for another).
The CGM keeps tabs on my blood sugar levels, data that is delivered straight to my i-phone via a clever app.
The next part in this kit is my insulin prescription. I have two types: a daytime, fast acting “pen”, and a nighttime, long acting “pen” (they’re called pens because they literally look like sharpie markers). The delivery method for both are disposable fine needles/”sharps” that screw into the pen and enable me to inject the insulin into my body. Four to ten shots equalling between 12 and 30 units of insulin a day (depending on my hunger, carb intake, hormones, activity level, and other, less definable elements).
Most times the shot is barely noticeable. But every now and then I hit a nerve and OUCH! I have boxes and boxes of sharps. And tiny little red and purple bruises on my stomach, butt, thighs, and upper arms.
Here’s where balance, or the approximation of it, becomes essential to this particular equation. Before I sit down to eat, I roughly add up how many carbs I plan to ingest and then stick myself in the arm, leg, or stomach with the (hopefully) appropriate amount of insulin.
If I don’t take enough insulin, it’s no big deal as long as I am paying attention to my glucose monitor. I just poke in a little more insulin and things balance back to normal eventually. But too much insulin? That’s led to some frustrating, irritating, and frightening episodes including anger outbursts, cold sweats, racing heartbeat, disorientation, and massive carb binges. For example, on two occasions so far I have mistakenly given myself 8–9 units of fast-acting daytime insulin instead of the slow-release nighttime brand, a dangerous equation to balance since a large dosage of fast-acting insulin can cause me to nose-dive to coma-inducing levels of low blood sugar within 15–20 minutes. Thankfully, both times this has happened, I’ve recognized my error immediately, and acted quickly. I’ve stuffed multiple candy bars, cookies, and fruit snacks down my gullet, frantically gulping orange juice and Coke in the middle of the night, and monitoring my blood sugar every 45 minutes or so until I am certain the danger has passed. That kind of late-night gluttony sounds awesome to my eight-year-old self, but now? Not so much.
It goes without saying that I am still figuring out how to balance the equation that is me + T1D.
True Balance = Off-Kilter Moments of Stability in an Ever-Changing, Ever-Moving Physical and Emotional State
In sharing my own experiences of finding — and losing — my balance, I hope to draw back the curtain of invisibility that keeps so many who deal with issues like depression and auto-immune diseases hidden from view.
We often hear stories about people dealing with hardships, and in the telling of the stories, we are full of empathy and understanding. Yet, as soon as we turn off the tv, put down the phone, or close the magazine, we forget that these people are all around us. We all need compassion, and not just during the times that we find the guts to share our own stories.
Indeed, it is “all about balance” and it’s a lot of work.