Living With the Fear of Diabetes Complications

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Living With the Fear of Diabetes Complications

Diabetes is a serious condition, but not necessarily a debilitating one. It has the power to cause major medical problems, but it’s not guaranteed to cause any of them. It’s a “vague threat” more than it is an outright assaultive one. It’s the “offscreen” monster that might, or might not, jump out at any moment.

I remember reading a movie review a few years ago in which the author posited that all truly scary movies use tension and the threat of something happening to build up a sense of dread. The reviewer explained that this sense of dread, this unbearable waiting for something horrible to happen, was always far scarier than the sight of something bad actually happening.

There are times when diabetes can make us feel like the protagonist in a very good horror film, counting every carb and obsessing over our numbers so we don’t get caught. More than outright terror, it can evoke a sense of overriding dread, fear, and even outright paralysis when things aren’t running smoothly.

I can tell you I’ve felt that dread on a few occasions. Every now and then I’ll have a few weeks, as does anyone with diabetes, where it just seems no matter what I do, my blood glucose does not want to behave. It’s not something that happens all too frequently, but when it does it can be absolutely maddening. Nothing is more terrifying to someone with diabetes than daily high blood glucose with no rational explanation for it. Loss of control is, without a doubt, the greatest fear for people living with diabetes. If we were all part of some serial comic book, the good guy would be “Captain Predictable,” and his nemesis would be “Dr. Chaos.”

So, how do we confront the uncertainty of living with diabetes day-to-day? What do we do with the fear that can arise when our blood glucose is having a period of defiance to our commands? How can we manage ourselves when we’re falling short of managing our blood glucose?

In my humble opinion, we can do one of two things: we can ratchet up our frustration and give up (I’ve done that, and it doesn’t seem to help anything), or we can breathe, take a step back, and have a sense of humor about diabetes.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Vietnamese monk and peace activist, has given the world a number of wonderful quotes. One of his most well known is his advice to “smile, be peace.” The word peace, particularly for those of us in the Western World, translates to political, social, and world peace. But Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition is one that focuses on the inner world just as much as the outer world (if not more). So when he talks about “being peace,” he isn’t suggesting that if I start smiling more in South Philly, the murder rate in Kensington will go down, or peace will come to the Middle East. But what he is saying is that by remembering to step back, to take my own trouble a little less seriously, I can have a sense of peace in this moment, whether or not my disease is behaving as it should. And ultimately, if we extend that practice to a whole community, to a nation, and to the world, it can lead to world peace, but that’s a topic for another blog.

So then, how do we step back, take ourselves a little less seriously, and smile at our problems? Everyone has his own way. As always, I invite you to share yours in the comments below. This is a great topic to share your thoughts on, so please crash the servers with as many comments as you can post!

I have found two things that always seem to help me smile at my own struggles. That’s not to say I always remember to use them, but when I do they always seem to do the trick. The first is meditation. Twenty minutes a day of simply sitting, breathing, accepting the world as it is and appreciating each moment as a gift. When I’m consistent about it, the world is a beautiful place, even if my control is having one of its little bouts of insubordination.

The second thing I’ve always tried to remember is to see the humor in diabetes. When I was a freshman in college, I had a few euphemisms I used for taking my insulin shot. My favorites were “I’m gonna go shoot up” and “I’m gonna go stab myself” (OK, maybe slightly inappropriate). My friends all knew what these little sayings meant. Even casual acquaintances knew what they meant, as I was the only person with diabetes on our small campus. One day I managed to combine the two, announcing with a smile to the crowded table in the dining hall “I’m gonna go shoot myself.” The entire table went silent, as people tried to process what I just said, why I said it so casually, and whether they should be calling the crisis center.

There have been other humorous moments like that throughout my journey with diabetes, and I’ve always tried to notice them and appreciate them. They can help take away some of the fear and erase some of the worry that can be so hard to ignore. So, the next time you feel that offscreen monster creeping up on you, remember to stop, take a deep breath, take a step back, realize that nothing is so serious in this life that you need to give in to fear, and smile.

Severe gum disease, also known as periodontitis, may be an early sign of Type 2 diabetes, according to a new study. Bookmark and tune in tomorrow to read more.

Originally Published November 15, 2012

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