Composition

My grandparents, Sheila and Donal O’Regan, (or “Granny and Daddad”) grew up in Cork City. They met in Cork City. And they fell in love in Cork City. I am in Cork now to embed myself in a setting that contains a rich family history, to enjoy the company of a people in possession of a beautiful, loyal culture, to explore both the natural splendor and the toe-tapping entertainment that this city (and country) have to offer, and to occasionally indulge in the nostalgia of a generation gone by.

There is no better place to partake in nostalgia than the Friar’s Walk Tavern. The tavern is located less than a block from the house in which my grandfather grew up and is a twenty-minute walk from where I now live.  I first set foot in the tavern three summers ago, when I was on a much-anticipated trip to Ireland with my oldest and closest-knit group of friends: my sister Kelly and my cousins Shauna, Bailey, and Hana (we missed you, Ryan!). We spent one week of our trip living in an apartment in Cork City. One afternoon, we were wandering around Daddad’s old neighborhood when (as tends to happen throughout the Emerald Isle) it suddenly and unexpectedly started pouring rain. Us umbrella-less Americans took cover in the nearby Friar’s Walk Tavern and, shaking ourselves off in the doorway, looked around to realize that we had more than tripled the occupancy of that pub. The only other souls in the room were the pub owner and an elderly man hunched over at the bar. Our entrance clearly came as a shock to the pub’s day-to-day routine.

That was one afternoon in Ireland that we could never have planned and that we could never forget. By the time evening came, those two strangers were family and that single-room pub was a sacred space. Pat, the tavern owner, with his own familial ties to that neighborhood was the perfect person with whom to share the stories of our heritage. His warm smile, twinkling eyes, and persistent offering of hot tea encouraged us to stay in that space and tell tales for as long as we pleased. The old man at the bar joined our party, and Pat introduced him as William Harrington, a locally famous and renowned artist. William shortly shuffled home to collect his sketchbook and returned to grace us all with his jaw-dropping drawings. He sat smiling broadly at our amazed reactions. That was the first time Pat had seen William smile since the previous Christmas, when William’s wife had passed away.

Since my return to Ireland, I have been blessed to spend a handful of nostalgic afternoons with Pat and William Harrington. I never leave William without booking another “appointment,” and now see him about twice a week. William rarely draws these days, but Pat encouraged him to sketch me at our Monday appointment last week. Watching those nimble, expert pencil strokes appear beneath William’s modest, shaking fingers was a true honor. At one point, as he added his signature watercolor to the piece, a splotch of brown paint trickled down the canvas.  William quickly modified the painting to fit the blemish, converting it into more of an “impressionistic” piece. He told me that he once had an art teacher who said there were no mistakes, and that, in the end, the mistakes add to the composition. A perfect drawing is just… a perfect drawing. The blemishes make it harder to look away.

Since starting to write publicly about type 1 diabetes, I subconsciously relate my daily conversations and experiences to T1D. Sometimes these connections are too much of a stretch to convey. This one isn’t. My condition is a splotch on my canvas. But it only adds to the intrigue my composition. It makes it harder to look away.

Summer 2011. Back Row: William, Hana, and Shauna. Front Row: Me, Bailey, and Kelly.

Summer 2011. Back Row: William, Hana, and Shauna. Front Row: Me, Bailey, and Kelly.

Me, William, Hana, Shauna, Bailey, and Kelly.

Me, William, Hana, Shauna, Pat, Bailey, and Kelly.

“To Kerry With Love.” -William Harrington

A letter from William to his favorite framers. William even lied about my departure date in hopes of hastening the framing process.
“Monica or ‘Manager’: Kerry, my American friend would like you to frame this portrait. I have scribbled notes on framing, but you know best. Kerry will be returning to USA within a week or so? So please, do the best you can for her. (Good friend). Thank you, William Harrington”

Us.

Us.

 

Just Moo It.

On September 29th, I participated in the 8th annual Donegal Skim Mooathon, where I ran 13.1 miles dressed as a cow. I have long enjoyed running, and since graduating college have become a big fan of organized races.  I wanted to maintain my love of group runs in Eire, and upon browsing the Internet, stumbled across this godly, hilarious, gem-of-a race that made my heart swell with laughter. (If one thing in this world can make your heart laugh, it’s a good ol’ cow race, to be sure). To top off my ever-mounting excitement, I already had exactly what I needed to be one of the race’s most prized participants… My cousin Shauna and I were cows for Halloween in high school, and ever since ’06, my attic has been waiting for me to reclaim my full-on, head-to-toe, udderly wonderful and  (I must say) surprisingly breathable cow costume.  So on the morning of my flight to Ireland, I snatched Bessie out of the attic wardrobe and stuffed her into the front pocket of my suitcase. (Then my mom saw the bulge and organized my suitcase a little better. Then we left).

My first three weeks in Ireland, I told everyone I met all about my upcoming Mooathon. One week before race day, I started planning my transportation and accommodation, and made the unfortunate discovery that Downings, County Donegal, is all but impossible to reach unless you have a car. I don’t have a car. Two hours of furious Googling later, I had approximately 22 tabs open on my browser… and I finally had a plan. The plan involved 2 trains, 1 tram, 1 bus, and 1 taxi. I would be passing through 3 major Irish cities and countless tiny towns. I was set. I was stoked.

Saturday the 28th was my day of travel. On Friday night, I hooked myself up to my Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM). There are two major components to this fascinating device: a “transmitter” and a “receiver.” The transmitter is essentially a baby-carrot-sized piece of plastic that sits on your belly. It attaches to a sensor that the user places shallowly under the skin with a needle (it takes about 2 seconds to insert and then the needle comes back out… it ain’t so bad). Once you click the transmitter into place over the sensor and enter a few suga levels, that puppy has the ability to “sense” your blood glucose at all times. It sends that information to the receiver. The receiver is the “cool part” of the dynamic duo. It looks like a Nokia brick phone.  Trendy. When you click the main button on the receiver, it shows you your blood sugar. Constantly. Not only that, it plots each new transmitted sugar in a neat-and-tidy little graph. And (this is the best part) it has arrows that indicate if your blood sugar is going up, down, slightly up, slightly down, rapidly up, rapidly down, or staying steady. It is an incredible tool to have during races. If I see that I am within good range but dropping rapidly, I can eat a lil’ snack and avoid a low blood sugar. Revolutionary.  Yes, there are sometimes errors with the CGM- and there IS a lag time, meaning that the sugars you receive are from approximately 10 minutes prior. But it’s definitely revolutionary.

My CGM was on, my diabetes supplies, clothes, cranberry juice, snacks, running belt, extra diabetes supplies, and of course Bessie were tucked away into my suitcase, and I was ready for my big day of solo travel. And oh, what a day it was. I got off the train in Dublin to witness masses of jersey-wearing fans flocking to the all-Ireland hurling championship. It was a bright and sunshinin’ day, and I traveled across the city via a tram (full of aforementioned fanatics) to catch my connecting train to Belfast. On the train ride north, I sat next to an older couple. The gentleman must have thought I had a very thick accent, because he repeated everything I said to his wife. I.e, Me: “I’m from San Francisco.”… Him (loudly): “She’s from San Francisco!” Shortly, I knew their life story, and everyone on the train knew mine. The lady had Type 2 diabetes, and the couple was fascinated with my diabetes self-management and enthralled with my insulin pump. Every time I told them something new about my regimen, the gentleman said, “God bless; God bless!!” They were so invested in all I was saying that they almost missed their stop. As they waved me goodbye from the platform, I pondered one question they asked. It’s a question that has a million different responses.

How do you run with diabetes?

In an attempt to answer, I will fast-forward to the main event: The Mooathon. Here, in a nutshell, is a sans-diabetes account. Ahem… I must have been grinning from ear to ear for over 90% of the race. I was wearing my full cow suit, had eaten sausage and eggs as my pre-race breakfast, had my large camera over my shoulder (the entire time), stopped to take over 100 photos, cheered on the other runners at the top of my lungs, posed for other people’s photographs (damn paparazzi!), became absolutely entranced by the breath-taking scenery, made friends out of strangers, had grand chats with the people manning the hydration stations, photo-bombed a group of hikers, and got my tail across the finish line in 2 hours and 35 minutes. I’ll take it! There were too many highlights along the way for one person to take in.  After the race, I treated myself to a three-course lunch and a glass of wine at the hotel restaurant. Highlight #835 of the weekend.

Now throw a little T1D into the mix. I should preface by saying that a normal blood glucose reading is between 80 and 120 mg/dL. I aim for 80-150. Anything below 80, and I’m “low,” anything above 180 I would consider, “high,” but I won’t be symptomatic (sluggish, etc.) until I reach 230 or so. Waking up on Mooathon day, my blood sugar was at a solid 95. I was keeping a close eye on my CGM. After I put on full cow and got all geared up, my sugar started drifting up, up, up. The race started at 10am. By 8:30 I was at 200. I wasn’t concerned; because exercise drops blood sugar levels, I like to give myself plenty of room to come down before a race. But I continued to drift upward…235…265. And I didn’t even have carbs for breakfast. Something was wrong. I looked at the tubing in my pump and I saw my problem. There was one massive kink at the very base of the tubing, courtesy of cramming my pump into the pouch on my running belt. Mayday. I was over 300 at this point. 300 and determined. If a daunting 12-hour travel day, full-body costume, and hearty pre-race meal couldn’t stop me from running 13 miles, than neither was this. No way, no how. I ran upstairs. I got some lovely fresh tubing out my suitcase and swapped it for the twisted old one. And I took a correction dose of insulin, rolling my eyes that even my diabetes was telling me to just slow down, have fun, take care of myself, and milk this outrageous opportunity for all that it’s worth. It was half an hour to race time, and by the time we were on our marks, I could already see that my blood sugar was on the way down. Alleluia. As we trotted off, I was so preoccupied with the surrounding beauty that I didn’t even think to check my CGM until I approached the first aid station, 4 miles in. 129 and 2 downward arrows: rapidly descending. Time for some “delicious” goo, water, a chat and a photo. This set the precedent for the remainder of the course. I carried my own gels and glucose tablets on me, but always seemed to be trending downward right when I reached an aid station, where I happily indulged in the snacks provided (is there a better feeling out there?).

Did I have to make multiple adjustments while running to keep my blood sugar on track? Undoubtedly. Did I have to make multiple adjustments while running to keep my camera from ramming me in the back? Absolutely. Did I have to make multiple mental adjustments to push myself from one mile to the next? Big time. Did any of these factors keep me from having one of the best experiences of my entire life? Heck. No.

How DO you run with diabetes? After writing this entire post, I think the best and most simple answer is in the title. :)

Ready to run.

Mile 10 and still grinning.

Mile 10 and still grinning.

Seriously?HOW?HOW?

My two secret weapons! Pump site on the left, CGM transmitter on the right. Dia-belly.

My CGM receiver (although not on Mooathon day: there would  sure be some terrific peaks and falls for that one!) Clearly it’s time to eat! This is an abnormally fantastic diabetes day, when I was within range all day long. One in a million.

Cure and Utter Confusion

I occasionally mull over the possibility of there being a cure for type 1 diabetes in my lifetime. If and when this “occures,” (tangent: Last week I attended a Shakespeare lecture at University College Cork- and by “attended” I mean just showed up and pretended I was in the class- wherein the professor was lecturing on Hamlet. Hamlet was to be the first production performed in the new Globe Theatre and, in writing the play, Shakespeare was consumed in his efforts to produce a masterpiece. By the time Shakespeare was through with it, Hamlet contained 144 neologisms, or entirely new words. As the professor beautifully summed up, “Shakespeare is inventing words because language as it exists is not enough; he is expressing ideas that have never been expressed before.” Isn’t that nice? I love it.  I wanted to say “Amen!” out loud in the classroom, but couldn’t risk drawing attention to myself, as it may have brought an end to my little stint of “free college.” If the world isn’t offering you that exact thing, or that exact word, that you need… you can invent something that has never been seen or done before. Thanks, Will: you’re the man). Of course, I was being plain silly with “occures…” not to mention that my previous pre-tangent sentence is now desperately incomplete, but if in future posts you notice unrecognizable non-words, it’s because I’m A) probably trying too hard and B) feeling particularly inspired by the bard that day. And now you know.

Before I interrupted myself, I was saying that if/when there is a cure for type 1 diabetes, it would/will be one massive, beautiful, serene, teary-eyed exhale. Followed by a deep sense of what-do-I-do-with-myself and a dash of omg-where’d-my-pump-go-oh-wait-I-don’t-need-it-anymore. I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that I would wake up in the morning and… just get ready for my day. No checking my blood sugar. No pre-bolusing for my oatmeal. Like a diabetic machine, I would still automatically calculate the carbohydrates in everything I eat. How long would it take the well-trained brain to recognize my new reality? It would be confusing and it would wonderful. I would throw at least 80 pasta parties.

In all seriousness, I would actually insist upon frequent forms of celebration (we can throw in a few pizza parties, too!) because I would never want my return to “normal life” to feel anti-climactic. In 8th grade, I was on my school’s Academic Decathlon team. Decathlon is a ten-person nerd herd, wherein each member studies an individual subject and together prepares for the joint “super quiz” (think Jeopardy) and “logic quiz” (think… thinking). In the spring, there is one all-encompassing showdown of smarts against all the schools in the region. I was given English as my personal subject, and all year I sacrificed spending time with friends and family to study things like punctuation and the difference between “stationary” and “stationery.” Thrilling. After completing the competition exam, I expected to feel perfectly relieved: finally I could think about things other than spelling and grammar! Instead I bawled my eyes out. I felt a strange sense of loss; I felt empty. Well I definitely never saw that coming. My poor little decathlete soul was overwhelmed that I had poured all of that time and effort into something that was… done. And normal, non-Decathlon life was… normal. Too normal. A weird part of me really missed it. I missed my teammates who had been struggling right alongside me. I missed the mentors who coached us and made us feel better about the sacrifices we made (boy did we ever dedicate a lot of time to the cause!). And I especially missed that part of me that had been so motivated to give my all to this test and to this team. After it was all over, where did that part of me go?

When it comes to diabetes, the part of me that is motivated to give my all and to brace myself for a supreme daily effort is still very much intact. It’s intact because it has to be. One day in my lifetime, if our prayers for a cure come true, this will no longer be the case. Well fellow diabetics, I think we should make a pact that if and when the day comes, we won’t lose our motivation, resilience, or strength. We’ll pour it into the other facets of our lives and never forget the disease that was. And, because no one in history will have ever before experienced the simultaneous bliss and confusion of being cured of type 1 diabetes, together we will come up with a word (or two) to describe it. Language as it exists isn’t enough.

“Missing Out”

Until very recently, I would have said that the worst thing about diabetes was occasionally “missing out.” To me, “missing out” meant sitting on the sidelines (I suppose both literally and metaphorically) when my blood sugar was low, as I temporarily morphed into a shaky and sloth-like version of myself. When I really think about it though, I realize that maybe there’s no such thing as missing out. It is, if you will, a figment of the imagination. You can imagine happenings for which you were absent, but these images will always be inaccurate, romantic visions of what actually took place. Example time. This first example is a little petty. In grade school, I can remember a few times when I had to sit out of running laps in P.E. due to low blood sugar. Warm-up laps. Does anyone like running warm-up laps? I would say no, but then there would inevitably be those 1-2 people who would prove me wrong. Anyway, I was feeling all gloom and doom and diabetic as I watched my friends chatting and laughing while doing their laps. I was big-time romanticizing the whole scenario. Heck, I know how boring laps are. I know that any of my friends would have gladly traded places with me at that moment. It’s the principle of the thing, you see. The worst part of missing out… is just missing out. It’s basking in the fact that you just weren’t there.

This past summer on my family’s annual vacation to Pine Mountain Lake, my cousins and I decided to go on a moonlit rowing adventure to the opposite shore and back. We were all SO excited. As we climbed into the boats, I felt myself getting shaky. 60. I grabbed my roll of glucose tablets. Empty. Well if this wasn’t just grade school P.E. all over again. The other eleven cousins were already loaded in the boats. Even if I trekked back up to the house to get some juice, I knew it wasn’t smart to immediately row all the way across the lake; I didn’t have the energy. My mom offered to drive me to the opposite side of the lake, where I could join in for the second half of the rowing excursion. I gratefully agreed. For some reason, a calm optimism stole over me. Maybe it’s that I’ve matured since middle school. Maybe not. But I just knew that taking care of myself was way more important than “missing out” on the first leg of the boating journey. And I wasn’t even missing out; I was just having a different experience. I wore my life jacket in the car on the way over, and my mom and I laughed the whole way about how stupid it was that this life-saving vessel was practically suffocating me under my seatbelt strap.

Rowing home was even more beautiful than I’d expected. Calm, dark water. Twinkling lights from houses. The single flashlight in the leading boat that made us all feel like Hogwarts first years. Cousin camaraderie and laughter. This part of my narrative probably seems like it’s fabricated from happy retrospect, but I honestly remember being as awed and overcome in that moment as I now describe.

I’m glad I didn’t feel bad about “missing out” as the cousins pushed off from our dock for the first half of the journey. As it turns out, the voiced concern of our parents, micro managing from the dock, had put everyone in a bit of a temper as they departed. The return voyage was far, far better.

Returning to the dock.Returning to the dock.

DSC01159

“What’s That?”

For some reason, diabetes is not something I’ve ever been embarrassed about. It might seem a poor analogy, but diabetes, in some ways, might be compared to picking up a new instrument. Bear with me. Pretend for a second that the instrument you’ve decided to pick up is the Russian balalaika. (“Balalaika” is one of the few words I retained from 3 years of Russian language…sigh). You really get into a groove, playing your balalaika whenever you get the chance. And bam: suddenly, this balalaika has become a big part of your life.  Well, when you whip out that big old balalaika (you play the balalika BASS, baby), odds are that an intrigued bystander comes up and greets you with the words, “What’s that?!” Which doesn’t translate to, “What on earth are you playing, you weirdo?!”Nah, it’s definitely more like, “I’ve never seen one of those before, and it’s rad! Can you tell me what it is?” This stranger is enthralled and impressed by something he’s never seen, and it’s something that clearly plays a big role in your own life.

When I pull out my glucose meter or insulin pump in public, I assume the role of the balalaika player. “What’s that?” doesn’t put me on the defensive because it’s a question of genuine interest, not an accusation of abnormality. When I choose not to hide my diabetes, I might have the opportunity to inform someone about one small piece of myself. Even better is when the observer exclaims that she/he too (or their sister, cousin, or dog) also has diabetes. Imagine if you played the balalaika and saw someone playing your instrument on the street. Talk about an instant connection. It’s kind of beautiful.

That guy: front and center. You are him.

That guy: front and center. You are him.

 

Okay, maybe they're not that similar after all.

Okay, maybe they’re not that similar after all.

 

 

My Story

When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I was 11 years old. I had led a very charmed life. I attended a small, private school and had gone to school with the same 35 classmates since first grade.  I had (and still have) two incredibly supportive parents and an older sister who was and still is a great role model to me. I played competitive soccer, school basketball and recreational gymnastics. (How my parents managed to get me to all three, I will never know, but will always appreciate). Not only was I incredibly active, but I also ate healthfully…more healthfully than I wanted to. My mom, a registered dietitian, made sure of that. My sister and I loved when we could eat all the “good snacks” at friends’ houses that our mom would never buy. (Here’s a retrospective “Thanks,” Mom!). In addition to my good health and active lifestyle, I loved learning and was very motivated to do my best in school.  I didn’t even know it, but I was following the recipe for a long and fulfilling life.

You see, at age 11, I was happy, optimistic, determined, kind, athletic, stubborn, and passionate. Then one day, I abruptly had type 1 diabetes. My mom recognized the symptoms, and a simple urine test at the doctor’s office confirmed the impossible truth. From now on, I would be living with a disease that would force me to check my blood sugar, count my carbohydrates and appropriately administer my own insulin via injections. Every. Single. Day. Well, after the shock of my diagnosis and the recognition that I would be commandeering a daily battle against a chronic disease, I settled into my new life- and you can imagine that I was… happy, optimistic, determined, kind, athletic, stubborn, passionate… and diabetic and resilient. Diabetes changed my body. Diabetes changed my lifestyle. Diabetes changed my life. It changed the people I would meet in the future. It gave me a new passion and even opened a few doors for me. But diabetes didn’t change ME. It didn’t take me away from myself. It didn’t damage my personality. It didn’t alter my goals or set my sights lower. It’s just… there. I can’t get rid of it and I can’t always control it, but it’s there. It’s an extra component of my life. It’s another piece of who I am. And I’m still following the recipe for a long, fulfilling life.

A Little Intro

Hello! My name is Kerry Esrey. I am 23 years old and have embarked on the journey of a lifetime.  I will be living in Cork City, Ireland until May…or maybe June…of 2014. Taking a gap year and having no responsibilities for the first time in my life made me realize that I should finally do something I have always wanted (but could never find the time) to do: create a blog featuring my anecdotes and optimisms in regards to type 1 diabetes. I have been living with T1D since age 11 and would love to share my stories, both the heartfelt and the humorous, with you.