Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Q: Lately, I have been feeling so alone in dealing with my diabetes. I really have no one in my life that has ever had diabetes. I’m trying to take it more seriously, but everyone is telling me I’m fine! I feel like yelling at them and saying if I don‘t take good care of my disease it will affect my life later on. I want to live a long, healthy life. How do I get everyone to understand?
Dr. Gary says: I am sorry to hear that you are feeling so alone. Living with a chronic condition like diabetes can feel like a lonely road when you don’t have other people in your life who are traveling along beside you, to vent, to share, to support you. Nobody gets what it’s like being diabetic like another diabetic does. And, as you have experienced, many non-diabetics don’t get it at all. That’s why you might hear comments like, “You look fine. Have a piece of apple pie.”
What can you do about all those people around you who don’t understand your challenges? Here’s what I tell my clients: We can’t control what other people think, feel, or do. So for starters, it might help to lower your expectations for getting people to understand what it’s like to be diabetic. People are who they are.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Actions speak louder than words. Demonstrate to your friends and family members that you are committed to your diabetic self-care (like when you say no to that piece of apple pie). They will be more likely to take your diabetes seriously if you they see that you’re taking it seriously. Encourage them to ask questions. And try not to be disappointed when they don’t live up to your expectations. Be firm, for example, with those who encourage you to ignore your diet.
Your friends and family members may just not want to believe that you are diabetic and what that means for your life. That’s called denial. So a little compassion on your part might be helpful. Use teachable moments when they arise to let them know how they can support you while also providing reassurance that you are doing everything you can to stay healthy. Be patient. Over time, you may be able to recruit a few converts for your support team.
Take good care of yourself! Make yourself a priority by staying focused on your self-care routine and that long, healthy life you have planned for yourself. It all starts with you! And stay connected with your friends on Diabetic Connect. The most awesome support team on the planet is right here for you, my friend!
Q: I have had a year of surgeries, healing, and finally going back to work. I have put on 15 pounds from not being able to walk well, and after having had excellent diabetic control, I now find my Type 2 diabetes out of control. I need help getting myself back on track. Do you have any suggestions? P.S. I am also a 5th grade teacher and am exhausted at the end of my day. HELP!
Dr. Gary Says: Sounds like you got knocked off the horse and are having some trouble getting back on. Given what you have been through, it’s not surprising that your self-care routine was shaken up.
First, let’s take a look at that term “out of control.” Saying that your diabetes is out of control implies that getting control is already beyond your reach, that the situation is hopeless. End of story. But it’s not the end of the story. So how about if we dial back on the intensity here, and reframe your situation as “I have had to face a lot of challenges over the past year. My diabetic control is not back to where I want it to be. YET! But I know I can change that.” See the difference? Your diabetes can be better controlled because you are the one in control. Perception is reality.
Take a step back and define your goals. Sounds like better day-to-day self-care – and better numbers – is at the top of the list. Maybe followed by losing the 15 pounds you gained. My point is to decide what your priorities are so you can tackle them one by one. And don't pressure yourself to turn this around overnight.
Now, put your problem-solving hat on and develop a strategy for achieving these goals. What’s it going to take for you to take the best possible care of yourself each and every day? What are the steps? Given that your body was shaken up by a year of surgeries, it may be time to sit down with your doctor or a diabetes educator and see if you need to tweak your self-care plan, given the surgery as well as your return to a high-stress job. It may be time to make some changes in your routine. Or a better way to say it: you have an opportunity to make some changes in your routine.
Be kind to yourself. Keep an eye on that negative self-talk about what’s not going well when it comes up. Give yourself lots of credit for dealing with a year of challenges and getting back to your life. Watch your work-life balance, and build in rest and rejuvenation into your life. Even if you have to schedule it. And get lots of support.
Life is a process, with some bumps and twists along the way. What’s important is to pick yourself up and get back on the road. Remember: One step at a time.
To learn more about this topic:
Adjusting Expectations to Meet the Reality of Diabetes
Three Key Factors to Diabetes Control
Dr. Gary McClain is a therapist, patient advocate and educator who works primarily with individuals facing chronic medical conditions to help them cope with the emotional side of their illness. In this series, Dr. Gary answers questions from the Diabetic Connect community about how to cope with the mental and emotional challenges of diabetes.
Do you have a question for Dr. Gary? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.