The idea for this article came to me one night after attending a diabetes support group at a local hospital. During the meeting, the discussion of serious complications became so graphic that there was an air of melancholy and hopelessness permeating the entire room. I thought, "What we really need is the good news." I tried to imagine whether I would miss any part of having diabetes if I could be cured today.
And I discovered that I would.
1. Knowing Myself
Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Over the years, because of diabetes, I’ve learned a few facts about myself:
- I have a powerful liver that likes any excuse to pump out glycogen, raising my blood glucose.
- If I’ve been losing my patience a lot, my blood glucose has been too high.
- If my legs feel weak at the top of the stairs, my blood glucose is too low.
- If I wake up in the night to tell my husband how to solve the world’s problems, my blood glucose is probably near 40!
Who else but a person with diabetes would know this much about himself or herself?
Marge, a friend of mine with type 1, remarks: "I feel like I have more insight into how I react to certain stimuli, because you have to know how your body’s going to react to anything you put into it—like cream in my coffee raising my blood glucose. I know better than a doctor that my body reacts to phases of the moon, which affect hormones, which affect my glucose."
2. Seizing the Opportunity to Be the Best I Can Be
I believe all people naturally want to excel. Diabetes gives us a framework to know how we’re doing.
Blood-glucose tests, A1Cs, even the first sign of a complication are signposts telling us to get our blood glucose under better control. After the initial frustration with a higher number, I find gratitude for this cue and get back on track.
"We have better signposts than most people," offers Lorraine, a friend with type 2. "I never eat unconsciously, so I automatically keep my weight down."
Tom, a type 1 since the age of 12, explains, "Diabetes taught me at an early age how to persevere using strength and determination to overcome adversity, to get back on my feet when setbacks occur."
3. Having a Reason to Exercise and Keep Exercising
Every magazine has an article about the benefits of exercise. We all know it’s good for us. Because I have better blood-glucose control if I exercise regularly—and I love to see the "good" numbers—it’s easier to get up every day, hit the pavement and get to the gym.
Arlene, who developed type 1 in her 40s—several years after gestational diabetes—testifies: "With every bit of exercise I can do, every step I take empowers me. I feel as though I’m stamping out the complications of this disease."
4. Learning About Good Food and Making Healthy Choices
Haidee, who has had type 1 diabetes since infancy and who has authored a satirical book of diabetes cartoons called "One Lump or Two," says glibly, "Carrots sure taste a whole lot sweeter when you’re not eating Ding-Dongs!"
As people with diabetes, our emphasis is on food consumption as science. We know that good, wholesome food in its natural state brings health to everyone. We become better at making proper food choices.
"By not eating fried foods and high glycemic carbs, I feel I have a lot more energy," Marge emphasizes. "Instead of eating the foods that slow your system down and throw your blood glucose off, diabetes forces you to eat well, to make healthier choices."
5. Having a Community
Each time I read or see something about a person with diabetes, I feel such a sense of camaraderie. I can go to a diabetes support group anywhere and be surrounded by people who understand what I go through every day.
My friends with diabetes and I have a support group started by Leon Hecht. We meet with our families once a month for a potluck. Our group includes four people with type 1, one person with type 2 and a couple whose teenage son has type 1. Those of us with type 1 meet weekly at a great coffeehouse. My husband and a friend sit at the next table, forming the "Bad News About Not Having Diabetes" support group. My kids sometimes stop by; they love to see us having a good time.
Our group has become important to us all for support whenever one of us gets news about some health concern. And, as Tom says, "having diabetes has enabled me to establish great friendships with other people with diabetes who understand in a way nobody else can the issues that I face daily."
6. Getting to Play With Gadgets
Believe it or not, I would clearly miss my blood-glucose meter if there was a cure.
I love playing with it and checking it against what I have written in my notebook. Granted, a reading that is out of target range can be a bummer, but a reading of 90 is cause for celebration and applause from my family. I also enjoy keeping track of what I eat and how much insulin I take. I write it all in this cool composition book with my favorite purple pen. I think it’s important to make it fun.
Marge has an awesome Palm Pilot where she can record everything and then get all sorts of amazing charts off her computer!
7. Being Creative
Being creative is fun, makes you happy and is respected by others.
I’ll call it the "Art of Diabetes Management." Solving questions such as "What do I eat to get healthy blood-glucose readings?" "How do I fit exercise into my busy schedule?" and "How do I keep myself happy when I have so many limits on my diet?" is certainly being creative.
Coming up with solutions to difficult problems takes volumes of creativity.
8. Learning Compassion for Others—as Well as for Myself
I thought I was a mean person—seriously. I snapped at my kids for no reason. I yelled at them for tiny infractions. Then, five years ago, I was able to get my blood glucose under much better control, using Dr. Richard K. Bernstein’s "Diabetes Solution" regimen.
My kids were amazed, especially my oldest son, who was away at college at the time. When he came home a year later, I was nice! It was like—"What happened to Mom?!" Most important, I’ve learned I can love myself, because my irritability had been a result of poor blood-glucose control—not a result of my "mean" personality.
Now when someone around me exhibits troubling behavior such as anger or an inability to concentrate, I have compassion, realizing that this behavior could be physical in origin—the result of hunger, tiredness, a vitamin deficiency or even diabetes.
9. Developing Spiritual Awareness
In the past, I tried to figure out what I had done to deserve such a horrible disease. But I have come to learn, through soul-searching and contemplation, that maybe I developed diabetes to teach me the most I can learn in this lifetime about discipline, love and the importance of loving myself.
I was surprised when our consummate satirist, Haidee, said: "Having diabetes requires you to confront your own mortality at an earlier age than most. People with diabetes can come to learn their purpose in life through this self-examination."
Through my own experience, I know that if you examine all that you’ve learned about yourself through diabetes, you may discover your higher spiritual purpose.
10. Being in Control of My Own Destiny — No More BAD News!
Lao Tzu, a Chinese sage, said, "He who gains victory over others is strong, but he who gains victory over himself is all powerful."
Yes, we can be in control of our destiny. However, it takes being an active participant in our diabetes—researching, reading and being fully engaged in our own health. It is highly rewarding and empowering to have so much control in our own hands.