We think a lot about the physical component of diabetes, but the mental component is just as significant. How does diabetes affect you or your loved one mentally or emotionally? How have you learned to deal with the mental aspect of the condition? Any tips, positive phrases, mantras, or ideas to share on getting out of a diabetes funk? (If you are a caregiver to a person with diabetes, write about yourself or your loved one or both!)
We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
– Joseph Campbell
I remember the day I was diagnosed like it was yesterday. I was taken to Tufts New England Medical Center in Boston after what I thought would be a typical routine physical at my pediatrician’s office. I still think my mom deserves some kind of medal for dealing with her daughter’s diabetes diagnosis and her husband’s bi-lateral knee replacement recovery simultaneously.
Sitting in the waiting room of the ER, I remember telling my dad (who made the journey despite two brand new artificial knees) that I was worried and that I was scared. At her office, my doctor had said my tests indicated elevated blood glucose levels and trace amounts of sugar in my urine. She said that there was a possibility it could be diabetes. How could this be? There is zero history of Type 1 diabetes in my family. It never occurred to me that this was something I would ever have to worry about. My mind was racing.
As I leaned my head on my dad’s shoulder, he tried tried to tell me not to worry and that I didn’t have diabetes. It’s as if saying I was fine would somehow make it true. I’m sure he was probably just as nervous as I was. In the moment, his words brought such comfort and relief. Dad was never wrong. But, unfortunately, this time he was.
I spent a week inpatient learning what I would now need to do each day to keep myself alive and well. I remember the first time I held a saline-filled syringe and slowly plunged it into the flesh of my thigh while my parents watched with pain in their eyes. I was determined to do what I could to deal with my diagnosis despite the fear that surrounded all the uncertainty. Everyone said I was so brave. Everyone said I was so strong. But what choice did I really have?
I was given pamphlets and informative papers ad nauseum. In the dark of the night, with my mom asleep in the bed beside mine, I read that the lifespan of a diabetic was on average 10-15 years shorter than a person without diabetes. I did some mental math that made me want to vomit. If I would have lived to be 80, I’ll be dead by 65. If I would have lived to be 70, I’ll be dead by 55. I couldn’t take it. All I could think about was how this was a drawn out death sentence and I was powerless over what they future held. Life suddenly seemed so unfair and I cried myself to sleep that night.
My initial experience learning about diabetes involved a lot of math. Ironically, I had learned about the islets of Langerhans and the function of the pancreas in health class the day I was diagnosed. Talk about the universe having a twisted sense of humor, eh? The information about my new-found illness that was being thrown at me was so medicinal and scientific. There was something very sterile and clinical about the approach my medical team took with my introduction to living with diabetes.
Why did no one warn me about the feelings I would have accepting the word “chronic” and the word “illness” and what they meant when you strung them together? Addressing the strategies for diabetes success when it comes to matters of the head and of the heart is just as vital as being taught how to properly calculate a dose and draw it into a syringe. Recognizing that diabetes is hard both physically and mentally allows the patient to anticipate a wide range of symptoms. My feelings of isolation and loneliness due to my diabetes stemmed from the fact that I didn’t know it was “normal” to feel the way I did.
This past fall, I became utterly enamored with the American comparative mythologist, Joseph Campbell. If you are unfamiliar with his lectures or his books, do yourself a favor and find a way to expose yourself to him. I’m sure the wisdom I’ve gained from his works will find its way into future posts of mine. One particular quote that often echos in my head during times of adversity or strife, is when he said, “Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.” I know that the challenges I face internally, both on a molecular and spiritual level, are shaping the person I’m intended to be. There is so much strength in the struggle. I continuously kill off the versions of me that were, saving only the traits and things I deem positive and beneficial for the person I will strive to become next. Through trial and error, I have learned that the perceived failure we can associate with our diabetes care and management is never permanent. There is always a new day. But like so many things, it is a process.
I now approach the mental aspect of my diabetes by recognizing and respecting that the varying emotions surrounding my diabetes will always come in waves and cycles. There is no “beating” the ill feelings and the times when I will feel like I’m drowning in the stress of it all. I need to expect and anticipate that those feelings will return. There is only identifying the patterns I know I fall into when my care is not up to the standard I hope to hold for myself. But the efforts to do what I can to thrive do not and cannot end with just seeing and identifying the pattern. It continues with taking action.
I wish I could tell a story of a girl who struggled, overcame her issues, and is now living happily ever after with her foe turned friend, diabetes. But that’s not the case. I have to try hard, not just every day, but every hour.. every minute. I truthfully have to motivate and convince myself each step of the way and I’m working on shedding some of the guilt I feel when I seem to fall short of the expectations I have for myself.
I’m so thankful to be where I am today with how I feel about my diabetes. This is not the life I intended to lead. I am not the girl I thought I would become. But opening up and allowing myself to really feel the emotions manifested as a result my disease has led me to forge connections with some wonderful people and it has allowed me to find an overall sense of peace. I’m no longer scared of diabetes. I am passionate about it. Something I used to hide, a weakness I denied the right to take up real estate in my brain, is now something I see as my way to prove just how strong I am. It’s remarkable what the power of perspective can have on your very existence and I look forward to greeting future challenges with as much courage and grace that I can muster.
For more posts from other d-bloggers on this topic please click here.