The Diabetes-Shame Connection
Sharing can make a difference
December 2012 — Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the connections between diabetes and shame.
While my type 2 diabetes remains under good control — save for an occasional low from too much exercise or a high from a bit too much ice cream — the diabetes I'm currently ruminating on, and worrying about, belongs to my baby sister.
Diagnosed about a year ago, J. is in her fifties with two children, and though she has talked a good game about planning to lose weight, get exercising, and gaining control of her bad dietary habits, so far there has been little visible progress. She's prone to the "I'll do it tomorrow" school of thinking that affects so many of us with a chronic disease – since the disease isn't going anywhere, it can be tended to the next day, or maybe the next, complications be damned.
None of this is meant to be judgmental. Having written a column in October about a well-meaning friend interfering with my hard won diabetes care, I've tiptoed around my sister's diabetes, trying hard to be helpful, but not pushy or interfering. Yet when I see her stalled and ashamed of her condition, I have to admit that I do long to get more involved. Even as I know – really know – that all I can probably be is counterproductive.
To be honest, it breaks my heart.
What I long to tell her is simple — feeling bad about having diabetes is one thing and taking care of your diabetes is another. You can feel shame about having the disease, but trying to deny its existence by not taking care of yourself will surely lead to misery.
If she were to ask me about what she should do, this is what I would tell her — start right now. Take your glucose readings regularly, even if they sometimes scare you and you long to toss the meter out the window. Start walking two, three, or four miles a day. Throw out all the junk food in the house and eat fruit and vegetables and protein until you get yourself to a healthy, fighting weight. Losing weight when you have diabetes, I'd tell her, has nothing to do with appearances or fashion — it's that a healthier body makes it easier to do everything else and also helps with the depression that she and I share.
Work through your meds until they work for you. If Glucophage makes you nauseous (as it currently does) question your doctor until you find something you can tolerate. Ask your doctor every question in the book and if he or she doesn't answer your inquiries to your satisfaction, find one who will. Meditate daily to reduce stress, which can have a detrimental effect on blood sugars, sure as candy canes.
And, incidentally, I'd tell her to start loving herself with her diabetes, and to put away the shame. That if she ever wants to talk to me about how to get a handle on diabetes, I'm here.
Because when it comes to diabetes, it really helps to share.
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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