Handling the Threat of Diabetes Complications

Living with diabetes doesn’t mean living a debilitating life — we live with a disease that leaves us a good measure of freedom and flexibility. There are ups and downs, to be sure. There are days when blood sugars don’t behave, and I’ve had a few hypoglycemic episodes that required emergency intervention. I don’t mean to make light of all this — for myself or my fellow Diabetians. We don’t live with an easy disease, but we DO live with a manageable one that allows us a good degree of normalcy.

I’ve never had much issue living with the day-to-day tasks of diabetes. But I have always struggled to come to terms with the fact that diabetes complications could be in my future. I have lived my 23 years of Diabetian life under generally tight control, but even tight control isn’t the same as normal, non-diabetic levels. And lately I’ve noticed a few new health quirks that very well could be byproducts of those 23 years. In fact, I’ve scheduled an appointment with a specialist for a few weeks from now to find out about one of those quirks that seems more likely than not to be diabetes-related.


As I nervously await this appointment, I find myself grappling face-to-face with that old, looming specter of “future complications” in the here and now. And so I thought I would take today’s blog entry to talk about how we feel toward complications, and how we handle the emotional weight they carry — whether that’s the weight of living with a complication already in our life, or the worry that one or more complications might, at any moment, interrupt our life.

The Shining
There’s an old truism for horror films — the threat of something off screen, when done well, is far more terrifying than something explicitly horrible, violent, or scary ON screen. The on-screen monster provides a jolt, but the off-screen threat creates dread. It’s why after watching The Shining, I had trouble sleeping for the next two months. It wasn’t a graphic movie, or a movie filled with grotesque monsters. It was a slow descent into madness, every minute tinged with an eerie, “what’s going to happen next?” kind of dread. That’s what made it such a great horror film!

I think complications can feel like that — like the off-screen dread, rather than the on-screen sudden jolt. And as a former therapist, I know that ongoing subclinical stress is far more destructive to our psyche than one-time traumatic events (generally speaking, of course). And it’s harder to catch. Low-grade stress can easily get lost from our mind’s attention, and simply sink down into our own subconscious, generating negative feelings that seem to just come “out of nowhere.”

Making peace with this takes a daily commitment. We need to allow ourselves to dig deep for at least a little while everyday; and if that fear is in us, we need to give it the chance to step out of the shadows. I have fear right now, and I’m reminding myself over and over that it’s OK and that I don’t need to push that fear into a corner. I simply need to acknowledge the feeling and accept that it’s with me.

It’s never as black-and-white as we think
When we become scared, we resort to black-and-white thinking. It’s a survival tool — our bodies were designed to feel stress when faced with imminent danger. That served us well when we might cross paths with a saber-toothed tiger and needed to decide what to do. In those survival moments, it’s crucial that the mind is able to identify a strategy, let go of ambiguity, and carry out the action. But unfortunately, the link runs both ways — stress can have the effect of turning EVERYTHING into black-and-white scenarios on us.

Complications certainly can feel like meeting that hungry tiger in the woods. And then it’s only a short hop over to assuming that “all normalcy is lost; life as I knew it is over.” But this is seldom the case. If my appointment confirms that I am dealing with the issue I suspect, it will mean changing some things, and going through some unpleasant moments. In the long-run, it will be OK (so don’t worry about me out there in the Interweb…), and even in the short run, it’s not an example of “losing everything.” But when stress gets the better of me, it sure becomes easy to frame it that way.

We really have to remember to step back and get out of that survival mentality if we hope to confront complications with any measure of wisdom. There’s no denying complications are scary for all of us, and the idea of facing one isn’t pleasant. But fear and stress and worry — these aren’t uncontrollable, exterior things. They are inner feelings, and we can work with them. It will be OK.

The FDA has approved the world’s first “artificial pancreas” for people 14 and older with Type 1 diabetes. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more.