A Three-Part Series by Robin Fein
What does it mean to stay positive while managing a chronic illness like diabetes? This three-part series of articles will cover this topic in depth—looking at how we can examine our attitudes and our actions and see where we can shift towards being kind to ourselves and focusing on the positive– both in how we manage our bodies AND our minds.
This can be difficult as diabetes requires constant vigilance– we have to monitor what we eat and how it affects our bodies, our energy and our mood. Also, type 2 diabetes is an illness with a lot of stigma; many people regard it as an illness created by lifestyle. So we feel guilty and to blame– “if only I had better control over myself, this would never have happened…” is a common refrain. There is shame and judgment from ourselves and others.
The truth is that diabetes is not your fault (as you can hear from this healthcare professional), but we do have to learn to take better care of ourselves because we had a genetic propensity to develop this illness. Now that we have the disease, we have to create a “caregiver self” that takes charge in the face of the demands of the illness and the fear of what diabetes can do to our bodies over time.
How do we develop this caregiver self? It can be challenging because many people (especially women) have a hard time taking care of themselves—often it’s easier to take care of others first while neglecting our own needs. Maybe diabetes just seems too complicated and we would rather be in denial. That brings us to the purpose of this guide: to help you create a basic plan so diabetes feels less overwhelming.
How to Stay Positive With Diabetes
I’ve based the suggestions in this series on what I have learned about diabetes since my diagnosis about 14 years ago, as a co-leader of a monthly support group sponsored by the national organization called Diabetes Sisters and my professional experience as a psychotherapist.
Manage your body:
- Learn what is healthy for your body. Get educated about diabetes and explore what kinds of food choices and exercise make you feel better. Use how you feel and the numbers on your meter as great information that can guide your choices.
- The foundation of good self-care with diabetes is working with your healthcare professional, taking your medications as prescribed and monitoring your blood glucose on a daily basis.
- Become your own health advocate by continuing to learn about diabetes and your medications, and being an active participant in your healthcare. Think about what your health goal is for the upcoming year. Compile a list of questions for your doctor before each visit—what do you want to know? What are you curious about? Knowing that you are ultimately in control of your health decisions can make a big difference in how you feel about diabetes.
Manage your mind:
- Our minds are powerful and we can choose where we want to focus. Direct your thoughts towards gratitude for life in its abundance. Let positive thoughts connect you to what is present all around waiting to be observed.
- Develop compassion for yourself. We will never be perfect in how we manage this disease. There will be times when we eat the cake at the party or the bread that we’re trying to avoid. But remember… in every moment, there is a chance to make a different choice and it’s not productive to beat yourself up for choices you’ve made in the past. Accept that you’ll make mistakes and that’s OK—tomorrow is a new day and you’ll have fresh opportunities to make different choices.
- Ask yourself some questions. Does your state of mind (feeling depressed, anxious or stressed) interfere with your ability to take care of yourself? Do your relationships? Understanding how the different aspects of your life are impacting your heatlh is a great place to start when you’re formulating your self-care plan…
- If you are feeling emotional pain, can you do something about it? What’s one small action you could take that might address the difficulty? Would it help to talk to someone else about what your feeling? Can you identify what thoughts are going through your head that are making you feel bad?
- And be sure to make time for pleasure. Do things you like to do. It helps to create balance in our lives which can contribute to a sense of well-being.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series that will cover how to take action and become a self-caregiver!