Welcome to Thursday of DBlogWeek! Here’s today’s prompt:
May is Mental Health Month so now seems like a great time to explore the emotional side of living with, or caring for someone with, diabetes. What things can make dealing with diabetes an emotional issue for you and / or your loved one, and how do you cope?
Wow! Where to begin?
Any chronic illness can be depressing, but in many ways, Diabetes is unique. To call it time-consuming and draining is a grave understatement. Most other chronic diseases have (by comparison) fairly easy, static management. I don’t say this to belittle or downplay the seriousness of those conditions, but take (for example) hypothyroidism. Your doctor tests the level of thyroid hormones in your blood, and prescribes a dose of levothyroxine (Synthroid) to replace the hormone deficit. You take your dose once a day, and all is well.
Diabetes, by contrast, requires constant measurements and changes based on so many factors that they are almost innumerable. For people with any type of diabetes, there’s the constant drain of being hyper-aware of what you eat. How many carbs in that sandwich? There’s constant monitoring. Not just going in for bloodwork every few months, but multiple self-administered blood glucose checks per day. For people with Type 1 Diabetes, add in the additional complication of needing to self-titrate dosing of a medication (and one that is considered “high risk” in a hospital setting, no less) based on all of those factors (diet, blood glucose levels, etc).
Despite being a PWD (rather than a caregiver), I can also identify with loved ones who find it exhausting. Having been in a long-term relationship with a person who had multiple chronic, (potentially) severe medical conditions, I can identify with the constant feeling of being “on call”. It can prevent you from travelling far, committing to activities, or just being able to get out and live your own life. When you’re at home, worrying about a loved one with a chronic medical condition can dominate everything you do.
No wonder, we’re constantly exhausted, burned out, depressed, etc!
So, how do you cope? Well, for myself, I adopted a multi-pronged approach. It started with planning- running through all of the possibilities of what could go wrong, and then figuring out ahead of time what to do in the event of those things occurring. This, more than anything is a huge stress reducer. It prevents panic in the moment of crisis because if something goes sideways, you already have a plan of action. Figuring out what to do is usually the hard part. Actually doing it is, by contrast, relatively easy. Taking action always makes me feel better. It’s a huge stress reliever. It’s 100 times more stressful to be faced with a situation where you don’t know what to do than it is to be faced with a situation where you can do something about it.
And guess what? Being stressed, tired, burned out, overwhelmed, and depressed is also a situation that you can do something about. Very meta, am i right?
The other major thing that has helped me through times of extreme stress is finding someone to talk to about it who can offer reassurance, support, and advice. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be a mental health professional. It can be random fellow PWDs from the internet. If you take a look at Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, or almost any other social media platform/site, there are tons of folks posting about their individual challenges, screw-ups, and other issues, and they are always getting great advice and support from others in the diabetes online community (#DOC) who have been there, done that, and gotten the t-shirt.
If you think professional help would be beneficial, though- go get some! I’ve spent plenty of time talking with therapists (MFT), psychologists (PhD), and psychiatrists (MD). There are even hyper-specialists that specifically focus on Diabetes and related mental health issues, who in addition to training in mental health issues are also Certified Diabetes Educators (CDEs). Two with whom I have personally interacted are Mark Heyman and Beverly Adler.
Think about that for a minute- there are so many people out there with diabetes who have resulting mental health issues that there are actually people out there who specifically specialize in helping people with diabetes cope with the depression, burnout, and other crap that inevitably crops up. If it’s that common, then there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed about in asking for help when you need it. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. It’s normal. If you need help, get it. Reach out. Whether you seek help from a professional, or just the pseudo-anonymous internet DOC, take that first step. It may just wind up saving your life.