There's a lot you can learn from living with diabetes. The way you think and talk about it can alter your outcome.
Managing (and living well) with diabetes isn’t just about pricking your finger, taking insulin and meds, and counting carbohydrates. A huge part of living well with diabetes truly comes down to what we tell ourselves about the disease, about its role in our lives, about our ability to face its challenges again every single day, and how we think and talk about the disease as a whole.
In fact, the way we think and talk about any challenge has a huge impact on our relationship with that challenge.
For example, if you’re on a walk and approaching an extremely steep hill, telling yourself “I don’t think I can reach the top” could lead to a very different outcome than, “I’m going to reach the top! I can do it!”
As people with a disease that demands constant effort, taking responsibility for potentially harmful habits could be one of the most important steps to improving your life with diabetes.
Here are three things I strive to never think or say about diabetes.
“I hate diabetes!”
Imagine having to live with someone for the rest of your life, and every time you disagreed on something, you told yourself, “Ugh! I hate her so much!”
The intense animosity and underlying resentment that would build between two people is undeniable. Now...think about how often you say the same thing about your diabetes?
The moment we express hate and feed that hate daily is the moment our relationship with the disease becomes a constant head-to-head, exhausting battle.
The expression “I hate diabetes!” may seem like harmless venting, but our relationship with diabetes is going to be a long one. (Someday, they’ll cure it though...right?) You can’t break-up with diabetes. You can’t give it the silence treatment. You can’t even ask it to move out and find a new roommate.
If we’ve gotta live with diabetes for the rest of our lives, we’ve gotta take care of our emotional relationship with it, too. I’m not suggesting you have to love your diabetes, but perhaps there’s a middle ground. Sort of like your relationship with that one sibling who means well but the two of you just don’t “click” the way you easily do with your other siblings.
Instead of “I hate diabetes,” what if those moments of frustration and difficulty sounded more like, “Arg! I am struggling with diabetes today!”
The word “struggling” implies that you’re facing a challenge. The word “today” implies that perhaps tomorrow things could be a little different.
And then, the critical reminder: “I am doing the best I can today.” We all have days where our blood sugars are frustratingly high and we’re tired of dealing with it, but no matter what those numbers look like, you are still doing the best you can. Sometimes your best looks wildly “perfect” and other days it’s far from perfect.
“I suck at managing diabetes!”
Remember that big hill you were walking up? Consider diabetes is a neverending hill in the game of life, telling yourself you suck at walking up hills could have a pretty devastating impact on that unavoidable journey.
And you, my friend, have to wake up every single day and walk up that hill again.
The truth is that you don’t suck at managing diabetes. The truth is that managing diabetes is really, really challenging. Some days, the challenge is more than we can manage. Some days, it feels more manageable.
The fact that diabetes is really challenging doesn’t define anything about you.
Diabetes itself may suck -- it’s a lot of work and it ain’t going away. But you do not suck. You are awesome.
Every single day you wake up and start walking up that crazy hill again is another day of proving your awesomeness. Now, you may get tired. You may have to take a minute or two to rest on your way up, but you do not suck at walking up hills just because it’s challenging.
Instead of, “I suck at managing diabetes!” what if those challenging moments sounded more like, “Diabetes is challenging...and I am awesome for facing it every day!”
I know, it’s a little “rah-rah!” and you’re probably wondering if I sell pom-poms, but I’m serious, too.
Instead of tearing yourself down for struggling, talk yourself through the challenging moment while building yourself up to face it all again tomorrow.
"Diabetes is the worst."
Well, this one (and other statements like it) is all about pity. The worst kind of pity: self-pity.
Personally, I’m grateful I have diabetes (and two other autoimmune diseases) compared to some of the challenges other people face. Personally, I’m pretty sure everybody faces challenges -- and diabetes is one of mine.
There are many challenges in life that I feel are far worse than diabetes.
Is living with diabetes really complicated? Really challenging? Sometimes even really scary?
You bet. But, it’s not a death sentence. It has ended lives, but it’s not a terminable disease.
Diabetes has treatment options that make nearly every part of life still liveable (albeit far more complicated and difficult sometimes). And yes, living well with diabetes requires tremendous discipline around habits like nutrition and exercise, but that means we have an even bigger motivation to live a healthy life than our non-diabetic peers!
Instead of resenting diabetes for demanding those healthy habits, we could appreciate it for substantially increasing the value of those habits.
And we could appreciate diabetes for substantially highlighting the side-effects of less-than-healthy habits.
And above all else, diabetes can teach us the value of resilience. The power in struggling and showing up for another day despite how hard yesterday might have been. Some people never learn the superpower of resilience.
And the resilience you learn through living with diabetes can fuel your resilience for other parts of life.
Embrace the challenges of diabetes. Embrace the good things diabetes might offer your life, and you just might wind up healthier and stronger than your non-diabetic friends!