When you are first diagnosed with diabetes you are likely to find yourself filled with emotions. There are many lifestyle changes you may have to make and you are going to have a whole new set of concerns, things you never had to think about before. It can feel totally overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Follow these simple, but critical steps to help yourself as you navigate this frustrating and sometimes baffling disease.
STEP ONE: TAKE CONTROL
Unlike many chronic diseases, with diabetes YOU can be in control of your disease – it doesn’t have to be in control of you. And so your very first goal after you have been diagnosed should be to take control of your emotions.
PHASE ONE — DISBELIEF (AND MY CONFESSION)
At first, you may feel total disbelief. I know I did! My doctor said I had diabetes and I have to confess that my immediate reaction was, “Oh, no I don’t!” And nothing she said could convince me I was suddenly, overnight a diabetic — even though I obviously was.
I fought her – hard! I wouldn’t test. I didn’t change my eating habits except to cut out most sweets from my diet. You know, candy bars, cakes and cookies. But even then, I refused to really believe I was a diabetic. I just “played” at being diabetic. Oh, I made token gestures. I kept a log book – and entered the few blood tests I did take in it – sometimes as often as once a month! But in my mind I was just playing a game because I didn’t REALLY have diabetes. It was all a mistake.
This might be your first reaction, too. If it is, try not to take as long as I did to fight your diabetes. It was over a year before I finally accepted the fact that I really WAS a diabetic.
Start learning all you can right now about diabetes and how it can affect you. Knowledge is power, and you need all the power you can get to navigate yourself safely through the sometimes rough times ahead.
Even if you don’t really think you have it, go along with your doctor’s evaluation and FIGHT it! Pretend you have it and do the things your doctor recommends. You could be not only saving your sight and your limbs, but your internal organs, too! And believe me when I say you don’t want those things falling apart in your body just because you can’t accept your doctor’s diagnosis!
PHASE TWO — ANGER
Again, if you are like me, you are very likely to be angry. I was FURIOUS when I finally realized I really did have diabetes. It wasn’t FAIR! I ate candy bars by the bagful, and loved – I mean REALLY loved my sweets – and there was NO WAY I was going to go the rest of my life without eating all of the wonderful, sweet, tasty things I loved!
Anger is a very common and very valid emotion for people who have recently learned they have diabetes. Don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself feeling furious. It’s okay to feel great anger because, to be honest, it ISN’T fair! But then, we were never guaranteed life would be fair, were we?
Try to channel your anger into productive activities. Aim your anger AT the diabetes and yell at it, “No way you are going to get the best of ME!” Show it who’s boss by taking your meds, controlling your diet, exercising daily, losing weight (if that’s what your doctor recommended) and show that rotten disease that YOU are the one in control — not the diabetes.
PHASE THREE — FRUSTRATION
Another emotion you are very likely to experience is frustration — frustration with the limits on your diet, having to take extra meds, being told you need to keep to a strict regime (HA HA HA! That’s pretty much impossible for me!), having to lose weight or exercise every day or maybe both, having to keep track of your numbers — there are just so darned MANY things to be frustrated about when you have diabetes!
Reducing the stress levels in your life can help you cope with the frustration of having diabetes, but how do you reduce stress levels when the very fact that you have diabetes is stressful? It feels like you are stuck in a whirlpool — everything you do makes you spin faster and faster until you want to just scream, “LET ME OFF! It’s all too MUCH!”
You can start by writing down all of the things that frustrate you. Put down everything in your life, things at work, kids, relationships with others, household things and, of course, everything medical related. The longer your list is, the better. You need to get all of those frustrations out of your head and onto paper where you can take stock of them and deal with them – one by one. Just writing them down will help slow the whirlwind a little.
Now take a long, hard look at the things on your list. Which one thing on your list do you feel would be the easiest to get under control? Mark that as #1. What’s next? Mark it with a #2. Are there two or three things that seem like they would all be about the same difficulty to control? Mark them all with the same number. Don’t make this hard on yourself. Just skim the list, numbering things from easiest to control to most difficult (or seemingly impossible) to control.
Now that all of your frustrations are numbered, you are ready to start tackling your frustrations — one at a time — to eliminate or minimize each item on your list. Get creative with your solutions. Think “outside the box.”
For instance, does just the thought of keeping track of your blood sugar readings drive you nuts? You don’t HAVE to keep a written log book. There are different ways to keep track that might be easier for you.
Some people just let their meter memory keep track. Before they go to their doctor they print out their log and take it with them. (Or let their doctor “read” their meter.)
A better way might be using an app, where all you have to do is open it on your phone, tablet or computer, click on a Plus + sign, enter your blood sugar number and click Save? If it automatically enters the time of day and has little images to click on for before or after a meal, would that help?
Many diabetes apps have the ability to show you graphs so you can see at a glance how much of the time your numbers are in your target range and how often they are high or low.
If you think an app might work for you, check out the link at the end of this post for review of an app that does just this.
If a frustration is something seemingly impossible to eliminate (something at work or with a close family member, for instance) try to think of ways to minimize your frustration. Can you put a large plant on your desk to block your view of someone you don’t get along with? Can you have a heart to heart talk with the relatives who live with you and ask them to help you overcome your frustrations?
Is your house filled with carb-heavy foods that you love but shouldn’t be eating? Ask your family members to help you by either not bringing those foods into the house or at least hiding them from you so they won’t tempt you.
Even if you can’t eliminate all of your frustrations, with some creative thinking you should be able to at least minimize the majority of your frustrations.
PHASE FOUR — DESPAIR
You might find yourself at some point feeling totally at a loss — even in despair. Diabetes is a very sinister disease, especially because often you don’t FEEL any different than you did before you had it. You can’t tell it’s there, so you tend to want to just ignore it.
And then when you get to a point where you can’t ignore it, you can become completely overwhelmed by it. You might feel like life just isn’t worth living if you have to give up so many of the foods you love so much, change your daily life completely, and live so differently from the way you want to live.
If you start feeling like this, TALK about it. Talk to your doctor, to your spouse or housemate or your grown children. But talk to SOMEONE. As soon as you verbalize your despair out loud to someone else, the power it has over you will diminish. And no matter how powerful it seems at the moment, remember that this is just another phase of having diabetes. It can’t overpower you unless you allow it to — and you are NOT going to allow that to happen. You can put this phase behind you, just like you have done with everything else.
PHASE FIVE — RESIGNATION & ACCEPTANCE
Eventually, no matter how many of these five emotional phases you have gone through, you are going to find yourself finally accepting your diagnosis of diabetes and you will become resigned to the fact that, yes, you ARE, in fact, a diabetic.
At this point, you can truly start to take control of your diabetes and begin to tell IT what it can and can’t control in your life. This is when having diabetes becomes a “habit” that you control just like any other habit in your life.
You get up in the morning and you test your blood sugars, take your meds, and schedule your day to include those activities that are necessary for you, so that diabetes does as little harm to your body as possible.
Being diabetic is not fun, but it isn’t the end of the world. Just think of all the people who contracted diabetes in their childhood, but are living full, happy lives today as adults. If they can do it, so can you!
Remember always that unlike many other chronic diseases, with diabetes YOU are the one who can control how it affects you. It’s your choice how you do that and if you have read this post this far, I know that you are going to be a survivor, because just like me, you have the will, and the desire to live a full, wonderful life — in spite of having diabetes. Together we will prevail!
And now, here is the link I promised earlier for my review of the app I found that is so very easy to use.