Amy Tenderich was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in May of 2003. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Diabetes Mine and co-authored the book Know Your Numbers, Outlive Your Diabetes. You will frequently find her speaking at diabetes, health, and social media events across the country.
We tend to think of developing complications as “the end of the line.” On the contrary, I’ve discovered many, many diabetes veterans out there who live quite active and happy lives despite the complications they’ve endured.
“The psychological side of complications is often a bigger issue than any physical damage,” says Shawn Faulk, a Certified Diabetes Educator at Sharp Healthcare in San Diego, CA. She’s had type 1 diabetes since she was 12 years old, and now over 50, she’s experienced eye and kidney disease, gastroparesis (nerve damage to the stomach), and neuropathy.
First, she says it’s important to get away from the “blame factor.” This is our subconscious tendency to believe that if you have complications, it’s your fault for not taking proper care of yourself. Remember that many people living with complications today spent a lifetime struggling to maintain steady blood glucose control with only the most primitive tools; they didn’t have the advanced home glucose meters and early-detection tests available now.
Second, it’s important to never give up. Faulk says that “complications are like a grief process, like a death—you go through stages of denial to acceptance. When I see patients, I want to find out where they are. Often they either feel helpless—like ‘it’s inevitable, I can’t do anything’—or they’re just so depressed about their loss and the changes in themselves that this paralyzes them.”
Ann Gann, a 58-year-old retired high school teacher from Tennessee living with type 2 diabetes and peripheral neuropathy, says it well:
“Educate yourself. Don’t succumb to being overwhelmed. Focus on one thing, master it, and then move on to the next. Focus on small steps toward better understanding. It’s okay to ask your doctor questions—even if it’s the fifth time you have to hear it before it sinks in. That’s all right. This is a process, a journey. No two days are ever going to be the same.”
Finally, Faulk says: “If you’ve got one complication, you have to target more tight glucose control. You don’t want to develop another. We’re so lucky now that we can stop the progression to blindness and other damage, due to the great treatments we didn’t have in past… I’ve survived. I’m working full-time. I’m out there. It’s never too late.”