You know what? I don’t like diabetes. I was going to write about perspectives today — about the meaning of individual suffering and the greater good, about attachment and our ability to rise above it, and so on. I’ve been on a very philosophic kick lately. A lot has been changing in my vocational life, most of it very much for the better, and I’ve been inferring all kinds of things about what it must “mean” — in other words, trying to interpret these events to understand what it is the “universe” or God wants me to do. And that’s all well and good. I often relate to diabetes in this way.
I have a long history of searching for the good in having diabetes, pointing out the gifts that accompany it, the lessons I’ve learned from it. And I’ve shared those on these pages fairly frequently. It’s how I tend to cope with things, and on the whole it’s not a terrible approach. But there’s a downside to it. The downside is that I often forget, or perhaps even trample underfoot, feelings of anger; feelings of discontent; feelings of being… Well, being PISSED OFF!
Now, living with diabetes is a varied thing — some are lucky and run into few complications, others have very brittle diabetes and struggle constantly. There is no set course for this disease to take. It affects all of us differently, and our individual bodies, chemical makeups, habits, feelings and instincts impact the course diabetes will take in very direct ways. But I can guarantee that all of us, from the most tightly controlled to the least, have at least SOME feelings of anger.
The problem of living with it
When I was an adolescent, my father was dying of a slow, debilitating disease. It left him impaired cognitively, functionally, and physically. I spent many days after school taking care of him. Through the entire six-year process of his sickness and early death, I was mad. I was furious. But I wasn’t ever able to express it. Doing so would only have made things worse, would only have caused him more confusion and the rest of the family more trouble to clean up. Calm was the order of the day, and so we stayed calm. On the outside, that is. In our own heads, we seethed, screamed, punched, kicked, and cried, but never out loud.
It was during this time that I learned I had diabetes. Oh, that was one hell of a day. And from the start, I related to diabetes in a similar way. I accepted it, I treated it as something that would never go away. I worked with it, and did my best to put a strong face on it and roll with it. And this was a good approach in many ways. In most ways, in fact. But it had one major flaw — the anger I felt about having diabetes went into the same untapped chamber that all of the anger from my experience with my father went. It buried itself beneath layers of philosophic thought, passive acceptance, and some sadness.
Flashing forward a number of years, the anger that sat buried during my father’s final years came out. It came out in therapy; it came out in the middle of the Utah desert during a four-day sojourn into the wilderness where I screamed at the top of my lungs for the first time in my life. It came out after the storm had passed, and it felt safe to finally express how I REALLY felt about what I had gone through, what my father had gone through, and what my mother had gone through.
The trouble with diabetes is that it NEVER goes away. There is no “finish line” to this disease. It’s with us constantly, and we never have the luxury of walking away from it. And because of that, it can be extraordinarily difficult to really express how much we can HATE IT sometimes! Knowing that I will have to manage this disease for the rest of my life means I MUST be able to accept it, live with it, and not live in anger. But at the same time, I need to remember that some anger is OK.
This week’s blog entry might seem negative. That’s not even remotely my intent here. Ultimately, anger is a feeling we have a right to just as much as any other feeling. It’s not an inherently negative feeling. But it must be worked with wisely. And it must be heard. That’s the point I’m really trying to make here. All of us living with diabetes will feel anger from time to time — sometimes intense anger, sometimes passing anger. We don’t get to walk away from managing diabetes, and we don’t get to act as if it’s not here. But we don’t have to deny our feelings, either. Anger is a part of this, and it’s a perfectly healthy part.
So join me in these final closing words:
Diabetes, you’ve taught us many things. We live with you, we accept you, and we know you’re not leaving anytime soon. But you know what? That doesn’t mean we LIKE you!