Nothing Like Experience To Ease Diabetes Anxiety

A little over five months ago, when the doctor told me I had Type 1 diabetes, somewhere in my head I began a mental list of “Things Eric Can Worry About.” And how quickly that list grew.


Rational and irrational, born out of ignorance, born out of reading too much, heightened by unfamiliarity and inexperience, and exacerbated by the “Why me?” soundtrack playing in the background—throughout the first several weeks of living with diabetes, the catalog of both legitimate concerns and trivial items bouncing around my brain became longer and longer. Worrying about one thing meant worrying about another.

Of course, anxiety breeds anxiety. It feeds off minutiae. At least, that’s what happens to me when my head gets cluttered with too much too fast. Dealing with diabetes, my diabetes, was new and scary. And, so, those major items on my list, such as achieving a lower blood glucose level, lowering my HbA1c, taking a statin to prevent high cholesterol, learning carbohydrate contents of foods—I thought those would take up all of my time. I assumed diabetes would take precedence over everything else.

On the contrary. Management soon became, well, not “routine,” but I found it much less difficult than I’d initially feared. I settled into a self-management groove within a few months. However, most big-ticket items on my diabetic worry list were pretty intangible: numbers on a page, numbers on a monitor, numbers thrown at me by my doctor; it was a pill I needed to take in the evening, or a clear liquid that disappears into my body, or the promise of prevention—by doing x and y and z, I would lower my chances of developing complications years later.

Often, the results of effective self-management won’t show up for months, or years. Or, actually, they don’t appear at all: You won’t develop retinopathy; you won’t show signs of neuropathy; you don’t have a heart attack. Which is wonderful. But while eating healthy today, exercising today, and taking meds today contributes to my overall physical and emotional well-being at the present, when I was diagnosed it didn’t give me the level of satisfaction I wanted—and most likely needed—as I came to grips with diabetes.

That’s why, in those first few months, I fixated on and worried about so many of the little things I felt I could control. I stressed over how to carry the monitor and test strips with me, how to arrange supplies on the diabetes shelf in the bathroom, how to be discreet at meals when checking blood glucose, how to inject insulin without making it obvious. I worried about the temperature in the fridge (insulin pens in the door, in the butter compartment), or that I’d touched the test strip and messed up the reading, taken my medicine an hour too late, injected my basal insulin too early, or missed a blood glucose test by an hour. The world might come crashing down if I was 15 or 20 carbs off in my count. And preventable situations were the worst. What if I was stuck in traffic, carbless? What if I went low while standing up in a friend’s wedding? I became anxious about running out of test strips, needles, lancets. And I lay awake for hours before I started on an insulin pump, wondering how to dress with that tubing, how to sleep, exercise, take a shower, change the site, and on and on.

Today, only a few short months later, while I’m not worry-free, I have scratched most of these items off of my mental list.

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  • Bev

    You are an inspiration. I am currently undertaking a diabetes educator course.
    Thnaks so much for your article…
    Cheers Bev

  • Jenifer

    Thanks for your story. I found out I had diabetes 2 in Feb. and have had anxiety everyday because of it. So much to learn and depending what I eat, depends how I feel. Been to classes to learn what to eat and try to keep it under control. Has been very stressful for me. Good luck and thanks again there are people out there that are going through the same things.

  • Kathy

    Thanks so much for your comments. It really helps to know there are people out there with the same problems when you feel like you are all alone with them.

  • traceyg

    I’d like to hear more. I’ve been managing my type 1 for 2 years I still have the same anxieties as you with the “carbless in a car” or somewhere else. I have crackers stored in my glove box for those moments and of course carry glucose tablets. But every once in awhile I have those dips out of no where which causes me anxiety.

  • James D

    Nicely done, Eric.

    I’ve had to go down the same path since been diagnosed as Type 1 at the start of the year and this is the best artilce I’ve read that addresses my reality.

    For me, the most frustrating part is trying to find the right job since being diagnosed. While I am highly skilled and qualified in my field, I am leery about returning to the work environment that I believe triggered the episode that got me hospitalised.

    Consequently, I find that the usual anxiety that accompanies a job interview causes a drop in glucose levels and a rise in anxiety, irritability and confusion. There have been two interviews since I’ve been diagnosed and this happened both times. In both cases, despite my best preparations, by the time I got to the interview I honestly wanted to do nothing more than sign in and go straight home.

    I’m still attempting to devise a strategy that will counteract this. I made the mistake of returning to smoking to calm me and take advantage of the fact nicotine causes a brief rise in BG levels. Bad idea! Now I’m learning to pre-empt the anxiety rather than dealing with it.

    You know the old saying ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. So, breathing exercises are top of the list, then visualisation and rituals. I’ve conditioned myself to relax when I tap three times on the back of my hand. That last one requires auto-suggestion and meditation to program the association.

  • KAT Tratz

    I found out about my diabetes a year ago. I have type one. I have a problem leaving my house. I am afraid to pass out. I just want to live a somewhat normal life. At this point I try to avoid to leave my house as much as possible. I don’t know what to do. My fears (anxiety) stop me from living my life. Any help?

  • Amos

    Five years ago my battle with diabetes and anxiety came together. I did not realize they intermingled and fed off of each other. When I decided during a panic attack – “go ahead, make me fall on the floor of a heart attack or low blood sugar in this restaurant so I can be done with it!” – and I did not fall down and the panic attack subsided and I realized I was feeding off my fear of the disease, not the disease.

    It is a rollercoaster ride and sometimes I just get off by ignoring it. Then I will test out A1C of 12 and go back into the ring – and will succeed the score (3 months later) of 7.9 – then I am worn out again…. I began Lantus 20 units at bed a year ago and have now grown a spare tire at the mid section. GREAT. I am self employed and have also learned that I can not get any health insurance because insulin dependent diabetes is an instant “NO”. CRAP! There is some State plan that is like medicaid available – though costs more. But had I known that I would have just dealth with feeling crappy on Metformin.

    Well tested out 310 this am and Lantus not enough. Enjoying my friggin tuna this afternoon and am going back in for the next round. I do support my family and have to work – I do have 5 children dependent on me – I cannot get health insurance, food stamps, energy assistance, unemployment, etc as I am at that “could you just pay me a dollar less an hour so I can get some help” situation and I seem to hold onto just enough pride to prevent me – but as I wear out I wonder what others do to snap out of the dolldrums of it all…????