I’ve often talked about how the Big Apple Circus is unique in how it delivers transformative moments. My coworkers are the primary reason. Life in the circus isn’t easy—long drives after midnight, mechanical breakdowns on lonely stretches of highway, thunderstorms while you set up and snowstorms when you tear down. Always the stranger in town, and only a blockbuster movie away from losing work.
What attracts me to circus people is their positive approach to the world, one that rewards versatility and embraces change. It’s an approach that served me well in 1997, when my doctor called with the most recent results of my blood tests.
“Paul,” he said. “You have diabetes. You have to lose 20 pounds right away and completely change your diet.” I couldn’t come to grips with this information. Here I was, survivor of a Greek military junta, featured performer at the Casino du Paris, founder of a beloved New York circus—all overshadowed by three little words: person with diabetes.
I had been staying for a few days with my friends Julie and Jon. When I returned from the doctor’s, Jon was sitting with his cat, giving it an injection with a hypodermic needle.
“It’s insulin,” he said in response to my look. “He has diabetes.”
“So do I,” I said. “I have to completely change my diet and I don’t have a clue how to do it.”
Jon walked to his bookshelf, took out a book, and handed it to me. “Start here,” he said.
Just as I’d mastered blackjack by reading Charles Einstein’s How to Win at Blackjack and researched natural birthing with Childbirth Without Fear, I now sought to master diabetes by reading. I began with a guidebook for eating. Other tomes followed—I went to the medical library and read everything I could on type 2 diabetes. I subscribed to Diabetes Forecast and joined the American Diabetes Association.
I transformed my life. Today I exercise three or four times a week and weigh 40 pounds less than I did the day I got the news. My doctor refers to me as “the poster boy for good diabetes control.” From a personal point of view, I now describe my diabetes as a condition, not a disease. I am not “afflicted” with it. I have learned, and changed, in order to control it.
Paul binder, who has type 2 diabetes, is the founder, former ringmaster, and current advisor of the Big Apple Circus. In 2013, he published stories of life under the big top in Never Quote the Weather to a Sea Lion: And Other Uncommon Tales From the Founder of the Big Apple Circus. Learn more about Paul here.
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