While none of us would have asked for diabetes, and it's a semi-regular (OK, almost constant) pain in the butt, and I go from highs to lows both in my blood sugar and my frustration level, I still try to remain focused on my blessings: the good in my life and what diabetes gives me.
If I see diabetes as a limitation, it will limit me. If I see diabetes as a pain in the butt, my butt will hurt more. If I see it, however, as a stimulus to creating a bigger, more generous and purposeful life, then it does this for me: Monitoring my attitude becomes as important a way to stay healthy as monitoring my food, exercise and blood sugars.
I get enormous fulfillment from doing work I love, helping others with diabetes through my talks, this column and my new book, The ABCs of Loving Yourself With Diabetes. I am more fit than ever due to my daily one-hour power walk around my local park. I look better in my clothes than ever due to vacuuming “bad” fats and refined carbohydrates out of my diet and eating smaller portions. I am more than delighted when I find a restaurant meal in my fridge that I took home in a doggie bag the night before.
And I don't care much anymore what anyone thinks of me or my diabetes. Long gone are the days I took a shot in a dimly lit ladies room, not wanting to draw attention to my diabetes. In fact, I have construction workers in my apartment right now, and I just pointed out my syringes and that I use them for the insulin I take for my diabetes. Maybe that’s the beauty of turning 50. I also find it extremely stress-free not to care what others think.
So regarding my mental, emotional and spiritual well-being, I achieve it by having my sights clearly focused each day on appreciating how strong, courageous and resilient I am to get up and take on diabetes again, rather than curse my lot in life. Diabetes demands you live with complications staring over one shoulder while taking the best care of yourself to keep them at bay. “It’s a fire walk,” my friend and family therapist Joe Solowiejczyk says. But all the while I leave room for spontaneity, joy, light-heartedness and the craziness of everyday life. Hmmm… did I mention my kitchen ceiling’s coming down right now?
No More Gloomy Gus
In all the literature about diabetes, no one talks about thriving with diabetes or using pride to manage it. Why not? We all have a storehouse of untapped good health conductors in our own positive emotions. Why is everything gloom, doom, poor me and isn't this horrible? Sorry, but this does not lead us to be in a good head space. Almost all the emotional associations with diabetes are frustration, worry, shame, depression, guilt and anger. Lest you read this wrong, I would never line up to get diabetes, but as they say, "Life happens when you're making other plans" and "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."
We patients with a chronic illness have to find the good news, because our condition is not going away. I figure that since every morning I'm going to wake up with diabetes, and there's nothing I can do to cure it, I’d better find something positive about it. I can appreciate my own strength, endurance and responsibility in managing it well, and I certainly have cause to be proud of all I do medically and emotionally to keep myself on top of my diabetes. All this, even while life is constantly on my doorstep: shopping, cooking, keeping the house clean, running to airports, meeting work deadlines and, Oy, grabbing my insulin, syringes, meter and a snack as my new construction friends tape my kitchen behind giant sheets of plastic, anticipating that the ceiling, and perhaps sheets of water, will soon come tumbling down.
Here’s my good health message: Explore, examine and find at least one good thing that's come from having diabetes.
Maybe you've gotten your act together about eating better, or received praise for your new svelte figure, or are in training to run your first marathon. Maybe you've decided you're finally going to dedicate time to that dream you left along the roadside. Maybe diabetes has helped you realize the value of time and where you'd like more of yours to go. Maybe diabetes has made you more compassionate about others’ misfortunes and more thankful yours doesn't involve a wheelchair or loss of brain cells.
I know many people who were headed for heart attacks, but by taking care of their diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure, they no longer are. I also know many fellow baby boomers slipping away to far more devastating or terminal illnesses, in part because they didn't take care of themselves. Diabetes can be just the wake-up call to get you healthier for your second stage of life, or third, or fourth.
I’m Not Being a Pollyanna
I'm not saying there aren't bad days, or bad patches, or emotions that make you want to rail against everyone and everything at times – there are. What I am saying is that your attitude about living with diabetes will impact your experience and the actions you take, so adopt an attitude that will make life a more joyful experience.
If you cultivate a grateful heart this year, I promise you your life will change. I also promise you it may not be easy and your progress may not be steady, but it will pay off. Like most things, it requires practice. The prescription I'd give anyone for managing diabetes for the long haul is to get educated, get the basics down regarding diet and exercise, learn how to manage stress, cultivate an attitude of gratitude, and then get on with life. I think that’s what should show up on physicians’ script pads. But then it would be illegible, so you’ve got it in clear print here.
The world is still waiting for you to make your mark; don’t let diabetes get in your way.
(Editor’s Note: To read more articles by Riva, enter her name in our search engine or visit www.diabetesstories.com. Her book, The ABCs of Loving Yourself With Diabetes, is available at www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com)