When you think about diabetes self-management, does the word “courage” ever come to mind? I think living with diabetes is a hero’s journey. It takes courage to face diabetes’ crew of monsters.
Psychologist Joe Nelson wrote here about some of the courage his clients have shown:
I recall the 40-year-old who struggled with a needle phobia and had the courage to see a psychologist and work on this phobia so he could give himself his own injections and do his own blood glucose checks. Or the 14-year-old who has the courage to tell his friends he has diabetes. Or the 50-year-old who has the courage to ask her work friends for their support in managing her eating by changing their usual Friday morning treat to fruit rather than the usual caramel rolls.
Diabetes as a hero’s journey
In a classic hero’s tale, the hero leaves home on some sort of quest. It could be to defeat a monster, rescue a maiden, find a treasure, or follow a dream. In the process, he usually has adventures, meets people, and learns important lessons.
In stories, the hero usually chooses his quest. In real life, our journeys are often forced on us. Often those journeys involve illness. You may have read books like this one about people fighting cancer or some other horrible disease.
In my life, multiple sclerosis (MS) has been a long and hard road. It’s still an every day adventure.
Diabetes is such a journey. There are monsters to face, but there are also treasures to win, if we have courage. Here are some of the places where diabetes requires bravery:
• Fear of complications. This fear can hang over you day and night. It can take all the joy from your life and all the motivation from your self-management. But complications are preventable. Even if they come they are manageable. We just need the guts, knowledge, and support to do it.
• Fear of change. Diabetes asks you to change the way you eat, move, and live. We all know change is hard and scary.
• Fear of imperfection. Even the best self-manager makes mistakes now and then. If we believe those errors are disasters, we may not try very hard. It’s easier to forget diabetes, and many people do until complications get their attention.
• Fear of pain. Injections and blood glucose checks can hurt. If you fear pain, it will take some courage to do those sticks. The first time is the hardest, but any time you are feeling tired or stressed, fear of discomfort can cause you to skip a check you should really make.
• Fear of authorities. I believe each person has to be in control of his own management. When a doctor or authority figure tries to push you into something you think is wrong, it may take courage to find your own way. It can also take courage to work with doctors as equals to get the best results.
Rewards of your journey
Does learning to live with illness bring rewards? It certainly has for me. I have new attitudes — I’m more forgiving, more accepting, more able to handle change.
Illness forces us to accept our limits and make us focus on what’s important. Illness encourages us to face the possibility of death. Maybe not pleasant, but accepting mortality is a treasure that makes everything in life seem more valuable.
Self-management builds confidence. That confidence can carry over to other areas of your life and inspire you to try new things. Self-management teaches discipline, which might help us succeed at school and work.
The ups and downs of self-management might make us more forgiving of ourselves and of other people in our lives. That will pay off in better relationships and less hostility.
People are some of the greatest treasures we can find on any journey. We might meet some new ones in a doctor’s office or support group or online. We might deepen and renew our relationships with people we already knew.
But all these positive rewards take courage to find. We have our fears, and they are justified, though maybe they’re not quite as bad as we imagine. We have to act despite our fears.
In your life, how have you shown courage? What monsters have you conquered? Which ones are you still fighting, and what treasures have you won?