If there’s one thing not lacking in this community, it’s people who are doing great things because of their own or a loved one’s diagnosis. You can put Kevin Marshall from Austin, TX, into that category.
Living with type 1 diabetes now for 17 years, Kevin’s story of learning to move past his anger and denial that came in his late teens with the help of spiritual study and prayer is nothing short of remarkable. This allowed him to embrace his diabetes and a healthier lifestyle. Then, about five years ago, he and his wife created a website called CafeTruth, aimed at offering that spiritual growth path to others who might seek it.
Correspondent Mike Lawson took some time recently to talk with Kevin about the journey that led him to the spiritual lifestyle coach role he now uses to touch others’ lives.
For Kevin Marshall, being told that he should be dead is when he really started living.
In 1996, then-17-year-old Kevin was having a tough year. His family was experiencing some financial problems that made Kevin worry. His grades were suffering, and his job at a convenience store was stressing him out. When he started experiencing flu-like symptoms, the teenager went to the hospital and was put on a gurney and told to wait.
“When I was sitting there waiting for treatment I was completely willing to die,” Kevin said. “I didn’t care if I never saw anyone again.”
His glucose level that day was near 1,000 mg/dL, and he was told that he should be dead. But he wasn’t.
“They gave me insulin and I came back to life,” he said.
Sure, Kevin was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. But unlike many people who receive the same diagnosis, Kevin wasn’t relieved to know that the incredible thirst and rapid weight loss he experienced had a name. In fact, Kevin calls the few years after his diagnosis “pure hell.”
“When I realized that I was going to have to spend my life injecting medicine, I got depressed,” said Kevin, who was terrified of needles before his diagnosis. Kevin also thought that people with diabetes were not able to be as active as he was in high school. He loved playing tennis and had just completed a 100-mile bike ride in the Carolina mountains. “I had a great time being active and I thought that wouldn’t be possible anymore.”
Kevin decided to ignore his diabetes. “I spent the first three years after being diagnosed in denial,” he said. While in college at Cal Poly Pomona, Kevin managed his diabetes poorly. “I was over treating. I was over dosing. I wasn’t monitoring. I was very angry.”
One afternoon, Kevin was feeling like his blood sugar was a little low and he walked to the school cafeteria. He remembers walking into the cafeteria, and the next thing he remembers is being in the hospital. He had blacked out, fallen to the floor of the cafeteria and had a seizure caused by hypoglycemia. At that point, he was finally willing to admit there was a problem.
That hypoglycemic incident caused by diabetes gets credit for all of his future successes, since it opened his eyes. Kevin says he’s not sure if his depression would have ended otherwise, or if he could have finished school if he hadn’t been “pushed to grow and transform.” Because of this incident, Kevin started some serious introspection. “Diabetes made me look within and I started to ask myself about other things that I had ignored in my past.”
At this point in his life, Kevin started seeing therapists and participating in local Buddhist community groups. “I had spent too much of my life accepting what I had been taught by society to think,” he said. “Too many of my thoughts about myself were negative.”
Then in 2008, after 10 years of spiritual study and practice of various traditions like Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, Toltec Wisdom, Yoga and Hinduism, Kevin began working as a spiritual life coach. In 2011, he launched the website Café Truth with his wife Alyssa — as a one-stop-shop for finding life coaches, spiritual teachers, and holistic practitioners, and information and events on these topics.
Café Truth contains a big database of life coaches like Kevin that can be searched by geographic area, along with spiritual and wellness coaches, yoga instructors, therapists, healers, and more. It lists a great array of workshops and articles on topics like spirituality, wellness and healthy eating. The site also includes a series of five videos on how to meditate, which helps you learn the benefits of meditation and how to do it effectively in your own life.
Most people living with diabetes can agree that stress negatively affects the body and blood sugar. Kevin suggests that PWDs add meditation into their daily routine to see how it affects their numbers. “Don’t worry too much about how to meditate,” he said. “If you try, you’re doing it right.”
Kevin says that once he learned how to meditate, he saw a dramatic change in his blood glucose numbers.
Other new lifestyle choices also made a huge impact on his health and diabetes management. Kevin’s been using an insulin pump since 2005 and credits the pump with giving him more control over diabetes, since he keeps his A1C around 5-6% now instead of the 8 or 9% before pumping.
In 2010, Kevin went on a seven-day meditation retreat where there weren’t many diabetes-friendly food choices (or choices at all), and the result was that he experienced blood glucose zen. “I had the best blood glucose readings in my life,” he said. “Not a single reading was below 75 or above 130.”
When he returned from the retreat, he found his doctor was as surprised as he was. “My doctor looked at my pump and said, ‘Oh my god. I’ve never seen a week so steady.’”
Kevin says based on that experience, he now makes careful food choices and includes meditation in his daily life, and he’s come to understand how stress effects his body. “I’m also noticing that food doesn’t have the same effect (when paired with stress),” he said.
For Kevin, his spirituality and his diabetes were both complicated and required work. “I had to unravel and untie these knots,” he said. “I figured out that fixing my body and mind are not like fixing a car or computer. No mater what you do, there is always more to learn.”
Thanks for sharing your journey, Kevin. We hope others can find the inspiration you have to live well!
See also: MIT scientist and artist Jeff Lieberman’s amazing TEDx video on “the scientific argument for spirituality.”