It’s always a shock to discover you have a serious, chronic disease. But when that disease requires daily, disciplined management, significant lifestyle changes, and is as far from glamorous as a disease can be, insult is added to injury.
If you have Type I diabetes, you were probably born with it and grew up learning the risks and restrictions. Type II can appear at any stage of life, affecting autonomy and self-image, leisure time, family time and celebrations.
You may have to lose weight, which is hard for everyone and, because we all have unique biological makeups, it may be harder for some than others. You will definitely have to regulate everything you eat and drink. Those who are newly diagnosed, or who have been told they are pre-diabetic, have a window of time during which immediate lifestyle changes may reverse the diagnosis.
There is no guarantee, but given the seriousness of this disease, attacking it head on as quickly as possible is well worth it. Even if a rapid response is not sufficient to change your diagnosis, it will put you on a path for continued healthy management of your illness.
Learning to Manage Diabetes
Many people are angry and sad about the loss of spontaneity—no more nights out drinking with friends without setting a strict limit, no restaurant meals without asking what’s in all the dishes and moderating portions. Add to that the inconvenience and indignity of having to monitor your blood sugar frequently (which can be awkward if you’re single and dating), perhaps having to inject yourself with insulin, and it’s not surprising many people have trouble sticking to the prescribed regimen.
Diabetes means changing your routine to a degree most of us have never done before. It means thinking about the disease every day, even if you want nothing more than to forget. It means taking care of you.
You are not just your body, but physical health is the key to emotional, psychological and spiritual thriving. If you don’t build healthy habits into your life—balanced eating, regular exercise, stress management and relaxation—you put yourself at physical and emotional risk.
Blood glucose levels interact with the brain and, therefore, mood. If you’ve been a mostly cheerful person, you may find dark moods are suddenly part of your life. If you tend toward bouts of melancholy, those bouts might get worse. It’s a lot to handle.
Adjusting to New Lifestyle Changes
Remember, though, that however hard it is now, it will get easier. A habit is a neurological shortcut, a way of not spending time making decisions, and in the beginning, you have to manually override: consciously make those decisions to resist whatever promotional signals for ice cream or an after-work margarita that your brain is sending.
Eventually, your new habits will become your friends, making it much easier to manage your illness. Be kind to yourself during this adjustment period. Diabetes is not your fault. You are not being punished—your body is responding to instructions from genes selected for thousands of years ago in conditions that are nothing like today’s world and are certainly not personal.
Still, it is entirely human to take it personally and to need help coping with overwhelming feelings, including grief and anger. Maybe you’re not a “rules” person. Maybe you’ve failed at diets, food regimens, or other health practices in the past and feel panicky that you can’t do it. Maybe you’re afraid of what the future may bring. Or if you’ve been ill for years before being diagnosed, as too often happens, you might not be able to imagine feeling better.
Seek Out Professional Help
Fran Weiss is a psychotherapist in private practice for over three decades, an Associate Clinical Professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in NYC. Fran Weiss is Senior Psychotherapy Consultant to the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in affiliation with Columbia University, College of Physicians & Surgeons, and Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan, the latter in conjunction with the Joslin Clinic and NIH research granted studies The Lift Program, The Diabetes Prevention Program and Look Ahead Study.
She has worked with Types I and II diabetics for many years in partnership with nutritionists and endocrinologists, tackling the frequently devastating emotional fallout from diagnosis. She understands that for some people, it’s a major mental shift to nurture “me” before a partner, child, or elderly parent. It may stir up feelings of guilt or anxiety—things that can be hard to talk about, especially when everyone is saying “diet” and “exercise.” Diet and exercise are important, but so is making sense of – and peace with – your internal world.
Having worked with patients with cardiovascular disease, cancer, and others with serious health issues, Fran has a deep understanding of the effect of illness on people’s lives. She’s a specialist in eating disorders, weight regulation, and body image, and brings that experience to her work with diabetics, who may not have ever had “issues” with food, but who have to learn to think about eating differently.
Being a diabetic doesn’t mean being an invalid. It doesn’t make you less of a person, or less of a sexual being. It means facing an arduous, lifelong struggle and developing courage and resiliency to keep getting on with getting on. There’s nothing wrong with needing support in doing this.
It is important to have a doctor you trust to answer whatever questions about symptoms and medications you might have. But beyond the medical support, it might surprise you how helpful it can be to talk to someone who ‘gets’ both the physical and mental effects of diabetes. You may even discover benefits in being more in touch with your body than ever before. But the greatest benefit, of course, is life itself, always precious and worth protecting.
You can feel better. Help is available. Fran Weiss maintains a private practice in New York City. www.franweiss.com 212.362.6019
About the Author: Fran Weiss, LCSW-R, BCD, DCSW, CGP has a Private Practice in New York City. She is an Associate Clinical Professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. For over three decades, she has been the Sr. Psychotherapy Consultant to the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in affiliation with Columbia University, College of Physicians & Surgeons and Weill Cornell Medical College. and consultant to the Sleep Disorder Center at Weill Cornell Medical College. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Board for the Certification of Group Psychotherapists, American Group Psychotherapy Association ,and Chairs its Standards Committee.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on February 28, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com