Wholly Healthy

Diabetes is often perceived as a physical disease, an issue with one’s body.  But those of us with diabetes know that it affects every area of our lives, including our emotional, spiritual, and mental health. People with diabetes are more likely to experience depression than the average person, and it doesn’t take a doctor to explain why. Diabetes is daunting, complicated, and confusing.  There’s no one-size-fits-all explanation or treatment plan, and even when we arrive at something that works, diabetes throws us a curveball and we are forced to reinvent our treatment regimen—time, and time, and time again. 

With the demands of diabetes, it is no wonder that many find themselves struggling, doubting, and crumbling.  The pressure is immense.  And, for the most part, the person with diabetes carries the burden, even when one has a fantastic medical team, a supportive family, and an encouraging group of friends. The saying that one can feel alone even in a crowded room rings true. 

I’ve had diabetes for four years now, and though I’ve had my moments, I’ve been able to maintain a positive attitude and a healthy mindset. How?

First, I let myself grieve when I was diagnosed.  I got mad. I threw fits like a toddler.  I cried.  A lot.  I asked God relentlessly, “Why me?”  I was angry at the world for going on without me as I sat on my couch surrounded by stacks of glossy diabetes brochures and hospital bills.   

Much like when a loved one dies, people with diabetes are told to “move forward” and “let go.”  The truth is that something as profound as a life-altering diagnosis cannot be pushed past artificially.  You need time to process and grieve the loss of a well-functioning body and a life of eating whatever, whenever.  Until your loss is recognized and reflected upon, you will remain imprisoned.  (Of course, if you feel that you are exhibiting signs of clinical depression, a consultation with your doctor is in order.)

Second, after realizing that the woe-is-me attitude was no longer benefiting my health, I had to “put on my big girl panties.” I had two options:  do or die.  Literally.  The treatment for type I diabetes is insulin therapy, and without insulin, I will die.  I realized that there was no point in managing my disease part-time, because in doing so, I would be choosing a slow, painful death from heart disease or kidney failure.  

So in order to “do,” I started educating myself.   I joined online diabetes forums, read books, subscribed to diabetes and other health-related magazines, and frequently met with my medical care team.  I put diabetes into my everyday vocabulary. Owning my disease became a source of empowerment for me.  The more I talked about it, the less ashamed and “sick” I felt.

Third, I began to reach out to other people.  I did this by blogging and reading other blogs, by answering strangers’ questions about my insulin pump, by making it a point to talk to someone else who was facing a diagnosis, and more.   I realized that isolating myself wasn’t improving my physical or mental health.   By claiming my disease in conversation with others, I was encouraging them to do the same, a win-win.   

We’ve probably all heard the saying, “There is power in numbers.”  When you begin to open yourself up to support, encouragement, and questions, you will find that you are not alone in your disease.   Knowing that someone else understands your struggles and accomplishments is motivation to keep talking, changing, and learning.

Finally, I realized that diabetes requires a careful balance of one’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.  If you aren’t mentally healthy, it will show up in your blood sugars. The priority, of course, is making sure that your blood sugars are in a healthy range.   But we cannot neglect the other legs on the chair, because if you take one away, the entire structure becomes unbalanced and doesn’t function to its fullest potential.  

I encourage you to diligently strive to nurture your entire health, not just the physical.   In doing so, you will find camaraderie, support, education, and encouragement.