Living with Diabetes: What Matters Most?

Blog, Wellness

by Melinda D. Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDE

Every person with diabetes is different when it comes to how diabetes fits into their lives. For some people, it’s front and center—a daily focus on blood sugar numbers, managing medicines, counting carbs, etc. For others, it’s so far in the background that there are times they completely forget about it—needing reminders to take their medicine or check blood sugar from time to time.

It can be hard to find the right balance between recognizing the seriousness of diabetes and living a “normal” life.   We want to be able to give it the attention that it needs for our best health – yet at the same time, not have it occupy all our waking thoughts.   This article offers some tips to help any person with diabetes think about what really matters as it relates to their life – and their diabetes – and to give it a healthy balance of attention (without having it be overwhelming!)

The first question to ask is, “how does diabetes fit into your life?” Knowing where you’re starting from is key. The next step is to recognize that there is no such thing as “normal.”  You may feel branded or burdened because you live with a chronic condition.  At times you may feel discouraged that something in your body is not working “right”– but know that everyone juggles with multiple challenges from time to time.  

Diabetes is just one of the many things that make you who you are.  Think of all the many hats you wear and roles you play.   For example, you may be a wife, a worker, a parent, a friend, a sibling, a boss, a pet-owner, a cook, a reader… and so many more.    Giving attention and care to all the roles you have is important.  It’s one of the big reasons there is a movement to not label people who live with diabetes as “diabetic” – as it is too limiting and does not define you!

Everyone has roles or parts of them that they don’t love, or that don’t always seem to be working in their favor.  It may be a challenge at work, worry about a loved one or living with a health condition.  What matters in the long run is how we choose to navigate life through the tough times.  If we can maintain the right perspective about the challenges and see them as just one piece of our whole, beautiful, complex self– it makes living with these challenges a little bit easier.  And we feel a little more “normal.”    

One strategy for keeping all we juggle in balance, including diabetes, is to focus on our values and what really matters in our lives. Ask yourself, “What is inspiring to me now to live my best life?  What will matter most five or ten years from now? What am I doing to help me get there?”  Think about some specific goals you have … both for your life and for your diabetes.  Take a look at the examples in the chart.  Do any of these matter to you?   What goals would you write for yourself?

Life goals

Diabetes goals

Enjoying activities with family and friends for as long as possibleAttending graduations and weddings for all my grandchildrenParticipating fully in my faith-community and/or favorite organizationsPlanting and raising vegetables in my garden every year

Keeping an A1C under 7Reducing the risks complications (including problems with eyes, heart, feet and kidneys)Reducing or getting off medicinesSpending less time thinking and worrying about diabetes.  Feeling more in control.Feeling that diabetes is less of a burden.  

When we’re focused on our values (what really matters to us over the long-run), it can help us stay motivated to do the small actions along the way that are necessary to achieving our goals. Once you’re clear on your goals, you need to brainstorm specific activities you can do or actions you can take to help you achieve those goals.  Here are some tips for doing that well:

Define your SMART steps:   Ask yourself, “What are the specific steps or actions I can be taking to make sure I achieve my goals?”   SMART steps are clear descriptions of actions that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed.   For example, if your goal is to keep your A1C under 7, examples of SMART steps you can be taking to help ensure you get and stay there include:   I will take my medicines as prescribed every day

I will keep my appointments with my healthcare provider and discuss anything that worries me

I will take two 15-minute walks a day, 6 days a week (and longer when possible!)

Set a daily intention – Begin each day by thinking of something small you will achieve that day. If you’ve got a list of things to do, do the hardest thing first to put it behind you.

Keep track – Some people find it helpful to keep a record – paper or digital – to remind you of your goals and check off when you’ve accomplished them.  

Celebrate your success – When you accomplish your goal, take time to acknowledge it and really pat yourself on the back. Maybe even build in a small reward for yourself!

Stay connected – Support from friends, family, and communities like this one will help you stay accountable and succeed in the long run!

Don’t limit your health goals to weight loss – Think about other goals that can improve your health: getting adequate sleep, doing more activities that bring you joy, meditating to reduce stress, and practicing mindfulness.

Remember – it’s a continuous process! Since goals are designed to be small and achievable, don’t stop once you achieve your short-term goal. Evaluate your goal and set it again… you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish in time!

Take time to think about what matters to you – as it relates to your life as well as your diabetes.  Based on that, set realistic and SMART action steps of things you can actually do to keep you on the path towards your goals.  By keeping a focus on your goals and values – you will come to appreciate and find comfort in a new “normal.” 

If you’d like to join a diabetes support group to learn and share with others, join here.

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