A few years ago, my wife, Nicole sat on the couch with our son Jonah, reading a non-fiction book about spiders. Amazing how many kinds of spiders there are – so many colours, shapes and sizes. Nicole’s never been fond of spiders. She can prick herself with glucometer lancets, jab herself with insulin and insert a long dialysis needle into her arm’s main artery… but spiders, my goodness, aren’t they scary.
As mother and son read about the world of the web-spinners, I grabbed four twist tags from the closet. I then went to the bathroom where I pulled out a nice long thread of dental floss. I tied the four twist tags together so they looked like an eight-legged spider.
Quietly I returned to the living room. Slowly, from behind the couch, I lowered the homemade spider, dangling from the dental floss, into Nicole’s field of vision.
Ten seconds paused. Nothing. She’s going to pretend she doesn’t see it, I thought.
Then Nicole stopped reading. Silence fell for one or two seconds.
Then she went: Ah!
Jonah laughed. I laughed.
But then she really started to scream. Followed by two more louder screams. She leaped from the couch and began to hyperventilate. I thought she was going to have a heart attack. That really took all the fun out of it.
A fight-flight response to a tiger jumping into the living room might be healthy and helpful. But when it’s just to a little fake spider, it suggests that Nicole’s sympathetic nervous system is over-active — working 24/7. Nicole is often startled by a plate clanking in the kitchen or bumping into someone unexpected in the hallway.
In such a sympathetic nervous state blood vessels to major organs constrict. For example, in Johnathan Bard’s book, The kidney: from normal development to congenital disease, it states: “Input from the sympathetic nervous system triggers vasoconstriction in the kidney, thereby reducing renal blood flow.”
And what, ultimately controls the sympathetic nervous? Breathing. The first, second and third thing Nicole did when she saw the twist-tag spider was scream. Screaming is heavy breathing which washes CO2 from the lungs. After three screams, she started to hyperventilate – pushing CO2 even lower. CO2 dilates blood vessels. Lack of CO2 allows blood vessels to constrict, redirecting blood to the arms and legs.
Now, what if all people with type-1 diabetes are silently screaming at non-existent spiders, 24/7? Breathing more than they need. Keeping Co2 low and the fight-flight system up. Year, after year, is it no surprise that lack of blood to the pancreas, the kidneys, the eyes, the feet and the thyroid ensues? Is it no surprise that the body prefers a state of high blood sugars? Sugar is the emergency fuel of the body. So much more inefficient than oxygen, but so much quicker to burn.
Thankfully, I’ve noticed that since Nicole’s been using the Buteyko Method to retrain how she breathes, she isn’t as easily startled.
And, of course, I’m not dangling spiders in front of her, anymore.
Thinking outside the type-1 matrix,
–John C. A. Manley
P.S. Next post, I’ll explain a theory I have for why the islet cells of the pancreas are more susceptible to low CO2 than the rest of the pancreas. Until then, for more on breathing, stress and high blood sugars check out The Diabetic Ratchet Effect: Why People with Type-1 Can’t Afford to Get Stressed Out
P.P.S. For specific techniques for mastering stress via the breath check out Patrick McKeown’s book with the very long title. It’s called Anxiety Free: Stop Worrying and Quieten Your Mind – The Only Way to Oxygenate Your Brain and Stop Excessive and Useless Thoughts Featuring the Buteyko Breathing Method and Mindfulness. You can purchase it from amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.co.uk or your local bookshop.