Afraid of Diabetes

Does diabetes scare you? I know multiple sclerosis (MS) scares me. Both diseases can progress and cripple our lives. How does fear of diabetes affect your life, and more important, what do you do about it?


In May, Quinn Phillips wrote here about the scare tactics used by the American Diabetes Association and others trying to raise money or prevent diabetes. Many readers agreed with Quinn that being scared was not helpful for most people.

“Scare tactics are in my opinion a waste of time,” commented Jim Snell. “Finding positive/reassuring and corrective tactics seem far more productive in my mind.” Most psychologists would agree. Fear can motivate, but without a doable alternative, it can be paralyzing.

Too much fear promotes denial. Allez, a commenter on Quinn’s article, wrote about her husband, “Scare tactics might just push him to realizing that his tingling feet and wounds that won’t heal are going to lead to an amputation, if he doesn’t start doing something. Don’t know if it’ll help. It hasn’t yet, and he’s seen some pretty scary commercials lately.”

And that is typically what too much fear does to you. Small amounts of fear might energize you and get you to pay attention, but the threat has to seem manageable. If there’s nothing you can do, and the future looks too awful, you will tend to give up and try to enjoy the time you have left.

Of course, some fear of diabetes is justified. The complications of diabetes are truly scary. So are the effects it can have on your family and your finances.

Fears are stressful, and stress isn’t good for MS or diabetes. Fear increases insulin resistance and blood pressure and interferes with the body’s natural healing systems. It makes it harder to enjoy life.

I have some self-confidence, so even though there is no good medical treatment for MS, I have never given up on doing the best I can for myself. I wouldn’t say fear motivated me. For me, it was more the challenge of understanding my condition and finding ways to fight back and have the best life I could have.

Over the last 30 years, some fears have come true. I need to use a wheelchair to leave the building now. I have fatigue and pain and other symptoms many people with diabetes probably share. I make a lot less money than I used to make as a gainfully employed nurse. It has been hard on my wife and family, I’m sure.

It’s still scary — it could get a lot worse. But I now believe it could get better, which is key (if it’s true, which I think it is). That’s why it’s important to understand that diabetes can get better, too. You may decide not to pursue getting better, even if you know you can. But if you believe you can’t, you certainly won’t try.

Of course, there are a lot of other things to be scared of besides health problems. Every time we look at media, we can be frightened out of our wits. You look at environmental news and it’s all global warming and oil spills, threatening our survival. You look at war news and our government is fighting some place you never heard of. You look at politics or the economy and see all kinds of threats to our freedom and well-being. You look at your bank account and worry about paying bills and your children’s future.

In my opinion, some of these fears are realistic. Others are being pushed on us to keep us scared and quiet.

All of that is stressful. So is chronic illness. So what do we do about it? I think we take the best care of ourselves that we can, and look for ways to address just one other threat. Some things, like global warming, put me into despair, so I don’t think about it much. For things I feel less hopeless about, I try to speak up, write letters, maybe contribute some money or volunteer at a food bank or something.

For any threat, all we can do is the best we can, and just doing that will reduce our stress and make us feel better about our lives. At least, that’s been my experience. What do you think?

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  • Joe

    I respect my disease, but I do not fear it. The best remedy for fear is understanding, and I have set out to learn as much as I can, as well as to take an active role in my medical treatment.

    Doctors who recommend using fear (or guilt) as a motivator for their patients are, in my opinion, taking the lazy way out. It takes more effort to educate a patient than to frighten them, but in the end knowledge is always a better motivator.

  • Bob Fenton

    I like Joe’s first sentence. Self-education seems the only way to develop an understanding of diabetes.

    Doctors do not have time to do much education in 10 to 15 minutes. Many doctors are so fearful of their patients developing hypoglycemia that they resort to fear tactics. They also use fear tactics because they have not stayed current with the knowledge needed to treat people with diabetes. Fear is used to keep people on oral medications because the doctor could not tell the patient how to titrate insulin.

    I just remind the doctor that it is my diabetes and to get over their fear. Does not always work, but has slowed them in telling me to bring my A1c up as I age.

  • Mary G

    I agree with Joe and Bob…I am more fearful of the doctor than I am of my diabetes and possible MS diagnosis. As Bob said, the doctor does not have much time and often use scare tactics in their treatments. My current PCP would much rather prescribe a procedure, test, or prescription than to take the time to listen to me. He has given me dire warnings if I don’t follow HIS protocols. Instead of treating us as individuals, we are held up to “standards of care” that may or may not be helpful in our particular situation. As Joe said,we need to educate ourselves on our condition using reputable sources so that we know how and what to discuss with our doctors. It keeps the “mystery” out of the equation which in turn helps to reduce anxiety and fear. My neurologist has adopted such an approach. He asks questions, listens to mine, suggests treatments and their pros and cons. It doesn’t take much more of his time. I am more willing to follow my neurologist’s advice than my PCP’s as now I have the confidence I need to improve my health outcome. It’s the sense of not being in control of my own destiny that I fear the most. I am not just a “number” on a chart…

  • jim snell


    excellent thoughts. Once I started to learn all I could on my type 2 diabetes, I was in better position to assist my Doctor and understand the urgent necessary need for me to collect all revelent data and do the caveman fingerpricks to provide my Doctor with the Data to help me.

    Once he had good data – blood, diet , exercise et all, he could wheel in with focused assistance.

    For me the choice was simple: either work the problem at home using available tools at low cost or be stuffed in a hospital as they attempt to bail it out at the highest costs available.

    Thank you. Best wishes and good luck with your health.

  • JohnC

    Some excellent observations here… something that does seem to be missing at times.

    Perhaps too many Doctors have a real fear to encourage their patients to educate themselves — it really is the diabetic who treats their disease and the doctor is the coach. Like really, what do you think your Doctor is going to do in ten minutes anyway and they don’t like it when you say NO. Great results often bring them around — but not always — some are a proud (nice words) bunch!

    It is useful for the Doctor to remind you to not believe everything you read! My real control started many years ago after I read Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution. Like most I couldn’t always follow his advice (especially with LADA T 1.5) but it gave me the resolve to find my own solutions to good health. Since then my library has gotten really big. However there is a lot of information (by so-called experts) that is true garbage. is an excellent source of reliable information without all the commercial hype that goes with diabetes.

    Yes I get really peeved sometimes trying to manage something that consumes so much time and alters my life in such a big way. Consider the diseases you could have where there is no control or future — that does it!