I’m honored to be invited to share this blog with the readers of Diabetes Self-Management. I’ve written many articles for the print version, such as “The Healing Value of Fun,” “Making Positive Changes,” and “Getting a Hand from Social Agencies.” It’s one of the best self-help magazines out there.
A short introduction: I’ve been a nurse all my adult life, taking care of people in a wide variety of settings. In 1989, my career and my life took a sharp turn when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). I had to learn something harder than taking care of other people, which was how to take care of myself.
I wasn’t good at that at the beginning, as most of us aren’t. Self-care—I prefer the term “self-care” to “self-management,” but they both mean the same thing—isn’t something they teach you in school. You don’t find out about it on Sesame Street. Most of us have few role models for self-care, since our parents were too busy working to take care of themselves or show us how. In fact, self-care pretty much goes against everything our society believes our lives are about and our bodies are for. We’re supposed to be here to produce and consume, which doesn’t leave much space for self-management.
I believe our bodies are the most precious gifts we will ever be given and the most valuable assets we will ever have. But we treat them like used cars. And when I say “used car,” I’m not talking about some late-model, certified Mercedes-Benz. More like some $200 junker from the back of the lot, not even worth a regular oil change. We want to drive our bodies to all our work and other demands, and even our entertainment, without putting much effort into them. And when they break down, what do we do? We take them to a mechanic (with a medical degree), and say “Fix this.”
But when you have a chronic condition like diabetes or MS, they can’t fix you. You find out that your health and your quality of life depend mostly on what you do for yourself. But you don’t get much support for it, and all of life’s other problems keep getting in the way.
So it’s hard, but I gradually got better at taking care of myself. In 2002, Hunter House published my first self-care book, The Art of Getting Well: Maximizing Health When You Have a Chronic Illness. I’m proud of this book; it’s all about overcoming barriers to self-care. I set up a Web site with articles and teaching materials on self-management. Most of my work has been in the world of diabetes. Diabetes is the only condition in which American medicine recognizes that self-care is important.
For the last five years, then, I’ve been speaking to community meetings, diabetes support groups, and diabetes educators about self-care. This experience changed my life and my thinking. I learned that self-care will only take you so far. In the modern environment, most people cannot live well without a lot of skills and a great deal of support. I believe that diabetes complications and Type 2 diabetes itself are primarily caused by unhealthy environments. Those who get sick are those who lack the power to resist. Self-management requires empowering ourselves and changing our environment. That’s the approach I take in my new book, Diabetes: Sugar-coated Crisis—Who Gets It, Who Profits, and How to Stop It (New Society, 2006).
In this blog, I will share tips on self-management, and I hope that you will share yours. I will also provide a look at the social causes of illness. These causes include stress, isolation, barriers to exercise, and unhealthy food. More importantly, we’ll look at what to do about them.
Working with our health-care professionals is a major part of successful self-management. I currently work for a program called New Health Partnerships (NHP), which aims to help patients and providers work together for better health outcomes. I will be sharing some of NHP’s ideas and experiences in this blog also.
I’m really looking forward to connecting with DiabetesSelfManagement.com readers and hope we can learn from each other. In the meantime, you can see some of my articles and books at www.art-of-getting-well.com.