Facing up to type 2 diabetes
April 2014 — In my job as a health and science reporter for a Philadelphia newspaper, I often interview folks who have been affected by a variety of serious, sometimes crippling diseases.
Over the past months, for example, I have written pieces on people impacted by multiple sclerosis, ALS, and advanced Lyme disease. All of these ailments can wreak havoc with one's life, with catastrophic and sometimes even deadly outcomes.
But more than these possible tragic consequences, what ties those I have interviewed has been their absolute acceptance of their disease and their equally absolute refusal to give in to it.
Despite their hardships – and they are legion – each seems to have reached an optimism and acceptance that gets them through their days and nights.
One woman with late stage Lyme disease who was a former roller derby girl and now suffers uncontrollable seizures spends her days bedridden, planning a nonprofit organization to help fellow Lyme disease patients. A woman who has had MS since 1992 regularly runs a support group to help others with the illness. And a wheelchair bound ALS patient continues to host dinner parties (with lots of help from her friends), play regular games of Scrabble, and attend school board meetings as an elected representative.
I want to be clear: none of these three are Pollyannas. All admit to down days, anger, and occasional crying jags. As the woman with MS admitted, "Some days I throw a pity party, but I try not to invite anyone else."
What does this have to do with type 2 diabetes? Lots. Too many of us with diabetes operate in a state of denial. In part, this is because the symptoms of type 2 diabetes – unlike MS, ALS or advanced Lyme disease – can be dismissed more easily. It doesn't mean that our symptoms aren't consequential; it just means that we can easily ignore them until something goes really, really wrong. Because of that, many of us tend to live in the future: i.e., we'll start better diets on Monday morning or get exercising next month.
For the folks I've been interviewing, such opportunities for denial don't exist. If you can't walk or suffer seizures, you have to face your diagnosis every moment. And while this is nothing to envy, it does make the present very much so. Perhaps as a result, each interviewee expressed an appreciation of what they have and a desire to make the most of every day.
The other lesson I've taken from my interviews is that you can make a difference, no matter what shape you are in. The thing that has most struck me is how much all three continue to work for others. It can't be easy for the woman with ALS to attend school board meetings; she lost most of her ability to speak several weeks ago. But giving to others takes her out of being a person with a disease and gives value to her life.
Type 2 diabetes is no fun. Sometimes there are highs and lows that are inexplicable. You need to balance your diet, do your exercise, and manage your stress levels.
And you need, I think, to step away from denial. To face your type 2 diabetes diagnosis and think about how lucky we are that we do have some control over our chronic condition.
And, that we have a choice in how we choose to deal.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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