I hate going to the doctor’s office. As someone living with diabetes, this makes no sense. Doctors and the efforts of medical researchers have made my life viable. My entire existence from the age of 15 to the present is ONLY possible thanks to the miracles of modern medicine. And here’s another thing: There’s nothing particularly unpleasant about my doctor’s visits, OR my doctor. He’s a perfectly nice guy who treats me with respect. And the worst experience to be had is a simple blood draw; not FUN exactly, but I’ve given myself over 20,000 injections in my lifetime — so I’m pretty much OK with needles.
So why do I hate going to my doctor? The answer to that question can be found in the Star Wars trilogy — the old one, from the late 70’s and early 80’s, not the horrendous new batch we’ve been subjected to in recent years. In “The Empire Strikes Back,” there’s a scene where young Luke Skywalker enters a cave where, in the words of the grammatically-challenged-yet-wise Yoda, “greatest fears [he] will face.” And indeed, he finds Darth Vader in the cave. They fight, and young Luke wins be lopping off Vader’s head with his light-saber. As the head rolls toward him, Luke looks down to see the face behind the visor is his own. A dramatic way of saying that our greatest fears are rooted in fears about ourselves. What scares us “out there” is just a reflection of what scares us in the deep recesses of our own psyches.
The deeply recessed fear that comes up every time I go to the doctor’s office is the fear of failure. You see, I’m not really scared about what he has to tell me. I’m not scared to hear what my A1C is, or scared about my blood pressure being too high. My blood pressure IS higher than it should be, but it’s not the consequences of high blood pressure that scare me so much as the fear of looking like a failure! Having diabetes already gives me a feeling of “biological failure.” I know, this is incredibly neurotic on my part, but it’s true. There is a fundamental part of me that feels like I FAILED some kind of biological test by having diabetes. And so hearing I have high blood pressure makes me feel like I’ve failed another bio test.
I react the same way to high blood glucose readings. I get upset not so much because of what high numbers can lead to, but because I read it as a failed test. I mean, I even call it my “blood tester.” Blood glucose MONITOR or METER would be a much better term for me to use. Who knows if changing the term would really shift my feelings about it, but it couldn’t hurt. But my point is this: Diabetes can trigger a lot of these deeply held and often hidden feelings that we carry around with us.
I’ve always had fairly low “self-esteem.” There are probably myriad reasons for that, and I don’t need to turn this week’s blog submission into a personal journal entry. But I can say this: Diabetes has tickled that little recessed psychological issue in me and it will often bring it forward. Diabetes is such an ever-present, intense thing to live with day-to-day that I think it has a tremendous power to tap into that area of thought and feeling that we like to keep hidden, both from the outside world and from ourselves. It affects us on a fundamental level. I’ve often wondered what came first for me: low self-esteem, or diabetes? Did having diabetes make me feel like I failed the “bio test,” or did learning I had diabetes simply tap into a recessed feeling that was already there, waiting to react to the news?
I don’t know the answer to that question, and it really doesn’t matter which came first. What matters is that they are connected in the present. After a number of years working as a therapist, I’ve come to the conclusion that we worry about the “root causes” of things a little TOO much. We agonize over where some fear or worry or anger came from, and in the end all we do is add anxiety about the cause ON TOP of the thing we’re agonizing ABOUT. Recognizing the patterns in the present is a far more productive practice, I think. For me, that means catching myself each time I start reacting to a high blood glucose level or getting anxious for the next doctor’s visit. It means catching myself and simply recognizing that what I’m doing is rooted in a deeply held but ultimately false fear. And then letting go and moving forward.
Letting go and moving forward — we have to do a lot of that living with diabetes, and we have to do it on a level a lot of blissfully-disease-free people don’t have to. Because we’ve been dealt a hand that includes this disease, we have to examine ourselves deeply. And when we do, our fears come up. When those fears come up, we need to learn to recognize them, label them, let them go and move forward.