emotional health

How to live with diabetes without continual anger, anguish or sorrow

There are several different approaches as to how to live a good life with diabetes, and they can be summed up as follows:

1. The “submissive obedient” model

Some say –as did the doctors of yesterday– that a good life with diabetes means strictly adhering to all of diabetes’ behavioural demands (schedule, sports, food, etc). The idea was that if we didn’t keep to these rules, we’d end up with very serious complications later on. This, in essence, could be thought of as the “fear model”. In this approach, everything we do to live a healthy life with diabetes, we do out of fear. While this is by no means healthy for the mind, it can sometimes help people safeguard the health of their bodies.

Living in constant fear doesn’t allow us to live with happiness, fulfilment or peace, which are fundamental and very necessary for a happy life. And indeed, we all have a right to a happy life. Thus, as I see it, the fear model really doesn’t work.

2. The “obsessive” model

Some say that the solution would be just the opposite. According to them, fearlessly living with diabetes means “dominating” diabetes. They say, “don’t allow diabetes to run your life, but rather the opposite, learn to beat it. Find out all of its associated demands and then you yourself take a knowledgeable and wise decision.” The positive aspect of this model is the feeling that “diabetes will not beat me”, which gives the person in question a greater sense of strength. But is this true? Can diabetes be kept in check in such manner that that it cannot harm us in any way? The fact is that it cannot. We can greatly reduce the secondary complications of diabetes, yet we cannot eliminate them 100%. So the “beat diabetes!” model suggests a total control over the disease by the person affected. This is either a total fantasy or you have to stay on top of all the news and treatment innovations to keep it under better control. But then again you have to follow through with all your other activities as well! Not being up to date on the latest in diabetic medicine and research can moreover become a new fear. This model therefore entails huge self-treatment efforts while not offering any guarantees for good health, as each person’s health has its own limitations, regardless of whether or not you have diabetes.

3. The “unconscious rebel”

I’d rather not say too much about a “no worries, no problem” model. This is the approach of diabetics who completely deny it in their daily lives and conduct. They somehow feel that only other people with diabetes will be unfortunate with their health. We might compare this attitude to driving a car with no brakes. While it could happen that an occasional person living by this model might get lucky with his/her health in the long term, most people will not.

4. The “logical realist”

The last model, which happens to be my personal solution, is as follows:

Be persistent (yet not compulsive) about learning how to better treat your diabetes. Yet don’t allow diabetes to devastate you, and at the same time don’t try to beat it! Live with diabetes just as you live with other threats: understand them and decide on what you can do within your power to better protect yourself, yet don’t expect such protection to be 100% foolproof. Don’t forget “the good things in life”: happiness and joy. Don’t lower the risk by dramatically changing your lifestyle yet don’t run the risk because you hate having to deny yourself everything that you’d like to eat regardless of the implicit danger. This model of “living with diabetes” can help you lead a conscious, realist life that is not distraught by diabetes.

Life always involves some risks that can never be completely avoided. How boring our lives would be without risk! Diabetes is merely one more risk that others don’t have. While it must obviously be borne in mind, there is no need to be totally unyielding or obsessive about it.

Living by this model means that the diabetic makes an effort to avoid the major risks but not all the minor ones as well. Avoid huge amounts of sugar without precaution, but not every little grain of sugar! Living this way means that you want to avoid intense unpleasant long-term feelings like depression and continual anger, yet you accept all the short-term feelings against diabetes without unnecessarily prolonging them.

When you’re with good friends who tempt you with appetizing cakes, what do you want to do?

•  Zealously and courageously resist them (to such point that your friends feel bad), telling them that it is better for you not to eat them because of the diabetes (and due to the subsequent increase in your blood glucose levels, which you do not want).

Enjoy eating them yet with a bit of concern – perhaps eating a bit less than what you would like – knowing that they will raise your blood sugar level, but you can fix it later on at home by adjusting your treatment accordingly (for insulin-dependent diabetics who have left their rapid-acting insulin at home).

Eat them up with delight, completely ignoring your diabetes.

Your decision ought to be what we might call a “happy medium”, falling somewhere in between these extremes.

An emotionally healthy life with diabetes includes all the problems and mistakes of proper treatment. It includes all the unpleasant feelings caused by the disease: fear, anger, anguish and sorrow. Sometimes it is very hard to divorce oneself from the short-term feelings. But don’t let yourself get carried away by those feelings! Psychological therapy might even be needed when unpleasant feelings become very strong and last for a long time.

Let’s discover together what we need to live with diabetes without many emotional problems!
  Axel Hirsch
Traslated by Susan Feuer
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