Last week, Scott Coulter introduced the primary psychological problem presented by living with diabetes. This week, he provides some solutions…
We have to remember that feeling overwhelmed and hopeless is very often a sign that we’re thinking into the future rather than staying in the present. Hopelessness is, by definition, future-based. And the idea that “I can’t handle this” is almost always based on taking today’s situation and projecting it into the future — and then getting exhausted with the idea. When we bring ourselves back into today, we often discover that whatever we were facing that felt so “unmanageable” actually is, well, manageable. It’s that old adage of “one day at a time,” or the saying “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” One day is manageable, even when it’s not a good one.
We’ve also got to remember that whatever our diabetes is doing, it’s not the ONLY thing in our lives. Goodness, love, and peace are all around us, even if we have to make a little extra effort to reach out to them. I’ve often sat down on my couch feeling overwhelmed, only to have my cat come over and plop down on my lap. Within a few minutes, I’m rubbing my cat’s belly, listening to him purr, and finding my energy focusing not on what’s wrong with my diabetes, but the happiness that’s literally sitting IN MY LAP! True, it doesn’t take away the pain I might have been experiencing, but it does remind me that diabetes is a PART of my life, not my WHOLE life.
Now, let’s consider the second issue — untangling those emotional “bunches.” As I mentioned, anger tends to be the “leading force” when we feel overwhelmed. And that makes sense — anger is forceful, proactive, and feels like it’s “taking charge.” It’s also very easily translated into action. The action we want to take in anger is seldom a wise choice, but it’s action, and when we’re feeling overwhelmed and stuck, ANY action seems attractive.
What we need to be able to do is wait out the anger and look deeper. That’s hard to do. Anger is incredibly attractive for the reasons mentioned above, and it FEELS good in the short-term to act on it. So we need to learn how to delay our immediate gratification in favor of finding an intelligent long-term choice. Counting deep breaths is an old trick. Meditating is pure gold in this situation. Prayer, particularly when deeply and authentically practiced, can be great assistance. Talking to a loved one is helpful. Running, walking, biking, swimming, playing sports, or other forms of exercise are amazingly good at helping us wait out the anger. There are countless ways to wait out the anger. The trick is simply having the willpower to make that choice. Like I said, anger is seductive, and it feels good in the moment. But if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the calmer voice in the back of your head — “wait, don’t act, let it pass.” You’ve simply got to make that choice.
Once you clear that first hurdle of choosing to wait, you can address the real issues. Anger is the “lead” emotion because it’s so concrete and satisfies our desire for instant gratification. But in my experience, it’s never the true “driving force.” It’s not the deepest emotion; it’s just the loudest. The problem, of course, is that if we don’t actually acknowledge what truly IS the deeper emotion, nothing we do will solve our problem — because we haven’t really even SEEN the problem! That’s why acts of revenge are notorious for FAILING to bring people closure.
When we slow down and wait, we can address the feelings underneath the anger that really are “driving” our emotional state. In my experience, the real drivers are almost always feelings of loss, feelings of deep hurt, feelings of pain and sadness. These are all the feelings we don’t like to share with the world; all of the feelings we’ve been told make us “weaker.” But they don’t. They are, in many ways, the feelings that most speak to our humanity, to our love for those around us, for ourselves, and for the greater world. These are the tender feelings, and the ones that allow empathy, sympathy, and inclusion. And while they can be painful to sit with, there’s one very important point you’ve got to remember: Acting out in anger doesn’t make them go away. The choice is not “act in anger OR experience the pain.” The choice is “address the pain directly and make wise choices, OR gloss over it with anger, cement the pain in your subconscious, and let it run your life without you even knowing it’s running your life.”
Living with diabetes is hard. Heck, living ANY human life is hard. There is a lot of pain in the world, and nobody gets to have things exactly the way we want all the time. But there’s a lot of beauty, too. Life is precarious, precious and fleeting. In the end, Bill Hicks said it best in his stand-up special (find it on YouTube if you haven’t seen it — it’s brilliant):
“[Life] is a choice, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your door, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one.”
And that’s really the choice I’m talking about. Fear of our real feelings drives us toward anger, the easy glossing over of what’s really happening. Love is patient, tender, and willing to face pain. Love drives us toward experiencing what’s really happening. Fear makes diabetes overwhelming, eternal, and unmanageable. Love reminds us that we can handle it. Love brings us back to the moment, that always manageable present moment.