Diabetes Self-Management Articles

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Listening to Diabetes
Using Guided Imagery for Relaxation and Insight

by Susan Shaw, M.S.W., C.Ht.

Walk in the woods until you hear the sound of water and come to a stream. Next to the stream sits a box that will float. This is a box where you can put away anything you’d like to be free of just for now. You can return to these things later if needed. After you have filled the box, close it, put it in the water, and watch as it disappears downstream.

Walk until the stream widens and forms a private healing pool. Let the water be the perfect color and temperature. There is a sandy place to rest your head. You can take off all your clothes or be in a bathing suit. A fluffy towel and robe lie ready for you.

Immerse yourself in the water and notice its special healing power. If you would like it to, allow it to penetrate under your skin, into your muscles, even into the cells. Feel the healing action of the water washing away tension. Bring awareness through your body starting with your feet, until every part is washed and refreshed. Include your internal organs, the stomach, the pancreas, the heart. Take your time. Release anything that you no longer need and let the stream carry it away.

While you relax, a little bird comes and looks at you a long while, then flies away. The bird comes back, bringing a message. When you understand the message and are
ready to get out of the pool, then dry off, dress, and go back through the woods the way you came before returning to full awareness.

“Listening to diabetes” exercise
A standard practice in interactive guided imagery is to allow an image representing a medical condition to form. This can be powerful for people with diabetes, as it can reveal anger, grief, sadness, fear — all of the most difficult feelings inherent to living with diabetes. If you try this, you should be aware that a disconcerting image may arise, but if this is the case, listening to what the image has to tell you can be especially valuable. Children commonly imagine their diabetes as a dog who wants care and attention, while adults may imagine diabetes as chains in which they are locked or as a potentially dangerous animal. To avoid excessive anxiety, draw the image on paper instead of closing your eyes. Be curious: Ask what it wants and needs, and let it “talk.” Make an agreement to give your diabetes what it needs. Interpret the experience afterward and decide if lifestyle changes are warranted.

If you decide to explore guided imagery, you will most likely want to find a facilitator. Check with your doctor or a local psychotherapist for a recommendation, or visit www.healthy.net to find facilitators trained in interactive guided imagery. Always ask facilitators about their training, experience, and philosophy to make sure they will be a good match. If you’d prefer not to have an actual facilitator just yet, you can find recordings of guided meditations meant to trigger the relaxation response at www.mbmi.org (click on “Store”). Or, for more imagery exercises, read the classic book Rituals of Healing: Using Imagery for Health and Wellness, by Jeanne Achterberg, PhD, Barbara Dossey, RN, MS, and Leslie Kolkmeier, RN, MEd.

A personal note
Years ago, when I was mired in a struggle with blood glucose control, a hypnotherapist suggested that I allow an image to form to represent acceptance. As I entertained my image of breezes blowing through an open window with fluttering curtains, I understood the meaning of acceptance for the first time and let go of my excessive fear of hypoglycemia. Later, when I was bothered by a nagging feeling that I wouldn’t live long enough to see my son graduate from high school, Marielle Fuller guided me to encounter a jester — representing lightness, wisdom, and humor — to take me to three places that would teach me about hope. I heard a clock ticking and found myself on a mountaintop with my son. Somehow, my fear of early death disappeared, and I intuitively knew that I had a long life ahead of me. I have since guided many others on their own imaginary journeys. I hope that you, too, will close your eyes, take some gentle breaths, and travel someplace that will teach you about hope.

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