By: Rebecca Shepard
When people with diabetes are successful and happy, their situation is often viewed as having been achieved despite the obstacle of diabetes. I am advocating for a shift in that perception. What if instead of seeing all the good in our lives as existing despite our disease, we begin to see everything that we are—the challenges and the achievements—as a direct product of all that we are made up of, diabetes included?
I remember the very moment that this realization came to me. I was talking to a natural healer in Forest Row, England, sitting in a room filled with late afternoon light, soft music playing in the background. The healer looked at me and said simply, “Why do you want to be cured?”
Now, there are many valid reasons that a person with diabetes would want to be cured, and I do not intend to minimize any of them. Diabetes is physically, emotionally, and psychologically painful. There can be devastating long-term consequences, and the stress stemming from the constant planning, the minute-to-minute battles, and the associated money worries is no small thing. But looking at the woman, I could not think of a reply.
“Well,” I began tentatively, “sometimes it hurts. When I hit a bruise, or something like that.”
She nodded slowly. “What else?” I paused and then said, “That doesn’t happen that much, though. The needles are pretty small. Most of the time you can barely feel it.”
The woman didn’t say anything. “I don’t want to be held back from anything. Travel, things like that,” I added. “Have you been?” she asked. I shook my head. I hadn’t. I was visiting friends in England for two weeks, after having spent the last month in Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. In three days I would be leaving to spend five weeks in Northern Africa.
“Anything else?” she asked. “It’s not the injections, in and of themselves, that are hard,” I said. “It’s the infinity: that everything is based around it, that it will never be gone.” She smiled at me, a kind, twinkling smile. “But the truth is,” I began again, “I can think of a lot more reasons as to why it is good for me than why it is bad.” “Oh yes?” She raised an eyebrow.
I began listing the reasons: It taught me how to take care of myself, allowed me to be vulnerable and sensitive, gave me a constant reminder to be healthy, and helped me remember how fragile and thus, how beautiful, our mortality is. “Do you think that thinking about your diabetes the way you do has something to do with your numbers being so good?” the woman asked me.
I nodded. My A1C since my diagnosis, four years previously, had been between 5.4% and 5.6%. With an A1C like that, I’m not going to have to worry about long-term consequences. Doctors have been scratching their heads over my case since the beginning, not understanding how my numbers can be so tightly controlled.
As I left the healer’s house and walked home through the dusk, a dog bounded out of the darkness toward me. As it neared, I noticed that it had only three legs. Reaching me, it raced around me, its panting smile making me laugh. As the dog raced off again, I was struck by its grace, and by the fact that it did not seem to notice that anything about it was different, or “wrong.” As I walked on, I thought about the way that we allow disease to define us. The dog had only three legs, but it did not question its condition. It ran with the same speed, the same joy, that it would have run if it had all four.
Since then a day hasn’t passed that I don’t think of the importance of feeling all sides of the spectrum that is offered to us through disease. Sometimes I’m angry or hurt, but when that is the case, I let myself feel it. All the other days, I make sure to take the time to sit with this “thing” that has been given to me and listen to what it is telling me. Every day, diabetes teaches me something new about loving myself, about opening up to others, about compassion and the value of receiving as well as giving.
To help others who may be struggling with diabetes, I have outlined a few simple things that I find very helpful in grounding me and helping me to accept, live with, and, in my own way, love my disease.
Reflect on both side
As I did with the healer in England, make a list outlining the things about diabetes that challenge you the most. Then make a list of what you have learned and how it has changed you. If there are changes that you resent or wish hadn’t occurred, reflect on how you can best move beyond them.
Ask for help
When you have a hard day, or when an injection hurts, allow yourself to be upset. If you need to cry, cry. If you need someone else to take care of you, ask for it, and let them. We get so wrapped up in the fear of being a burden that we don’t let those who love us show their love to us. If you need to talk to people who are dealing with the same issues, find a support group in your area, or an online forum. There is support available for us if we are willing to look for it.
Incorporate positivity into your life
Everything in the body is connected, so it stands to reason that what the brain is thinking affects the body as well. Positivity and awareness in your life as a whole will help create a positivity in dealing with your diabetes. Make sure to take time for yourself and to do the things you enjoy. Being happy with yourself as a person will make diabetes that much easier.
Don’t let it stop you
Many people with diabetes don’t do what they most want to, like traveling or athletic challenges, because they think that diabetes is stopping them. That’s not the case. With the right planning and mindset, diabetes won’t stop you from doing what you love.
Don’t fight it
When I was diagnosed, I was faced with two options: fight the diagnosis by being stubborn, angry, and in denial, or accept that the strongest thing I could do was to give in to it. In that moment I became vulnerable, realizing that diabetes is not a malicious or separate force. It is inside of me, it is inherently me. If you fight your disease, there will be a battle going on inside your body, and that will fundamentally damage you. Try to shift from thinking of diabetes as something separate, something painful, something evil. Instead, think of it as just another part of who you are, a mix of the challenging and the rewarding—an important part of yourself that requires patience, practice, and love.
I think it is safe to say that there are very few people who have not been affected by disease in one form or another, either personally or indirectly. It seems not only logical, but also necessary, that we begin to incorporate positive thinking into our lives as a way to better understand and cope with illness.