Ignorance Is What?

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Diabetes is a management disease. It involves a lot of daily monitoring, a lot of analyzing trends and patterns, and a lot of number-crunching. Information is the name of the game for us Diabetians. And we live in an age where the ease of obtaining that information in real-time is vastly easier than it was 20–30 years ago. My mother knew a neighbor who lived with Type 1 diabetes through the 50’s and 60’s. He only got information on his blood glucose every several weeks, or even months. He had no way to check his daily blood glucose. He used pig insulin, slower to act, less precise, and much more cumbersome to administer than today’s fast-acting insulin.

So ignorance isn’t bliss for Diabetians. INFORMATION is bliss! And I know this firsthand. Still, even we can fall into the habit of ignoring information from time to time. We might just feel fatigued, and want a break from managing this disease all the time. I’ve certainly been there. Or, we might be going through a rough patch where our body doesn’t seem to be responding the way it ought to, no matter what we do. I’ve been there, too. Or we might just let ourselves get a little lazy because we’ve got other things we’re focusing on. It happens.

When these lapses do occur, how should we respond? I say we ought to respond with a little bit of kindness toward ourselves. Shame can be a very destructive thing for managing diabetes. Really, it seldom does any good, in ANY situation. Remorse, sure, that’s OK. Resolve to improve in the future? Absolutely. But excessive shame leads us nowhere. Often, that kind of shaming leads directly to the same behavior we’re shaming ourselves for in the first place!

Think about this scenario: You ignore your blood glucose for a while, because you’re feeling overwhelmed and too busy. You try to get back on track, monitoring here and there, but the numbers aren’t what you want them to be. You get frustrated and start in on a self-defeating cycle of shame — “oh, they’re off because I’m slacking, it’s MY fault, I can’t get anything right, I’m too busy…” You know the drill. Before you know it, that shame and self-deflation has led you right into a state of helplessness. Instead of helping you see the situation more clearly, diabetes has just become ONE MORE THING you’re failing to take care of. And because it’s a helpless situation, anyway, why bother? And so you go back to ignoring the damn thing…until you monitor again in a few days, get some more bad numbers, and start the cycle all over again.

It becomes a snowball. But if we learn to be a little kinder to ourselves, we can avoid that snowball altogether. Imagine that same scenario again, but this time, imagine that when you see those high numbers, you take just five minutes to take some deep breaths, calm your mind and your body a little bit, tune out the judgmental little soundtrack that’s trying to indulge in that heavy shame, and see the situation clearly, calmly, without judgment — good OR bad. Just SEE THE INFORMATION.

If we can start from the basis of information, instead of “success or failure” (leading directly to shame for each perceived failure), we can see with a clear head. In this case, perhaps we would have the insight to realize, “hey, I’m just trying to do too much here — I need some help, let me delegate some of this and make time for my health again.” I’ve had to do exactly that on the job at various points in my career. In one particular job, the demands became too great, and lunches started becoming more and more rare. After spiraling into exactly the kind of shame-based cycle I’m talking about, I took a step back. When I could see the situation without all of that emotional junk tied to it, I realized exactly what needed to happen. I sat down with my supervisor and explained that I simply could not let go of my lunch, and I would have to take very short breaks throughout the day to monitor.

But even if the reason for a lapse is nothing more than a lazy spell, that self-kindness is vital. I’ve had those spells, too. I’ve had periods when I wasn’t monitoring often enough, because I just didn’t want to deal with it. When I noticed it, I didn’t go beating myself up. I knew that would only lead me back to feeling helpless. I gave myself a little slack, acknowledged that diabetes is hard to live with, and then committed to monitoring more regularly. And by coming at the problem from a calm place — a place where I could see the whole picture with clarity, instead of seeing through a clouded lens of shame and anger — I could also see that I really DID need some kind of outlet where I could express some of my feelings. It’s one of the things that prompted me to start writing, in fact.

So remember, embrace information! It’s your friend, even when it’s telling you what you don’t want to hear. Drop the shame: It won’t help you, and it’ll probably pull you down. And be kind to yourself when you slip. It’ll make getting back up that much easier.

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