Shot: Staying Alive with Diabetes


Copyright © 2013 by Amy F. Ryan

Provided with permission from Hudson Whitman/Excelsior College Press.

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Excerpted from Shot: Staying Alive with Diabetes

What sent me to the hospital that night had nothing to do with diabetes. I learned in the emergency room that there was nothing wrong with me. Well, there was nothing new wrong with me anyway. I still had the diagnosis itself to grapple with, but there was nothing other than the diabetes. There was no blurry vision. There were no heart palpitations. There was really no confusion in my mind. Other than my soaring blood glucose level, there was nothing physically wrong with me. That's what they had sent me home.

I insisted that my symptoms must have been a side effect of the pill that I had taken only minutes before onset. "That's unlikely," the emergency room doctor said. "Those aren't typical side effects. It might be a case of the nerves. That would be completely understandable."

Nerves? He was telling me this was nerves? That was a little insulting. I had just learned in the course of one day that I might go blind, my kidneys might fail, and I might never be able to have a baby. And this guy was telling me that I had a case of the nerves? The outrage of it all was enough to stun me back to some level of stability.


None of the doctors whom I would see over the next few weeks would confirm what I knew to be the case: That I had broken into a cold sweat, that my vision had been swimming, and that my heart had been racing because I was about to drop dead on the floor. They all said the same thing. I was likely suffering from anxiety, and I had probably suffered a panic attack. And thus I was introduced to another new reality that I could have lived comfortably without: Failings of the mind are every bit as powerful as failings of the body, and sometimes harder to control.

People who have diabetes suffer from anxiety and depression at a rate that can be twice as high as the population at large. Symptoms of those conditions can confound a person with diabetes, because so many mimic the symptoms or complications of diabetes. Breaking into a sudden sweat? It could be low blood sugar, or it could be your mind. Too tired to drag yourself out of bed? IT could be high blood sugar, or it could be your mind. Tightness in your chest? It could be heart disease, or it could be your mind. Tingling in your feet? It could be neuropathy, or it could be your mind.

Those of us who have diabetes do not have a corner on the market for depression and anxiety. Chronic disease sufferers of all sorts find their physical ailments compounded by the physic weight of it all. The prevalence of anxiety and depression in association with chronic medical illness is a well-documented phenomenon. So maybe people who have diabetes haven't cornered the market, but we do have a special top shelf area for those who know what a glucose level is, for those who have had a glucose level so low they could not tell you their home address, and for those who have had a glucose level so high they have fallen into a coma.

Why shouldn't we feel overwhelmed and anxious? Type 1 diabetes is a relentless disease that does not let you rest. It doesn't let you forget about it even for an afternoon. Type 2 diabetes is a scourge all its own, letting you ignore it for a while if you choose, and then catching up with you later, as you always knew it would. Gestational diabetes has its own class of fear, where the life of your baby depends every day on your glucose level. It is exhausting not to get a break. It's hard to worry about complications, and it's torture to fret about the life developing inside of you.

Last Modified Date: April 22, 2014

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