Thankful for Diabetes?

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Is there any reason to give thanks for diabetes? Is it crazy to ask? Maybe. But I know I’ve experienced some gains from chronic illness. I’d give it back in an instant if I could, but still… Have you found any upside to diabetes?

I was 37 when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, or MS (after ten years without a diagnosis). In my 40s, I would look at my friends and others who were stressed about little things going wrong, or wrapped up in work they didn’t even like. I would think, “I don’t have to take these annoyances seriously any more.” It was like being twenty years more mature than my age.

On a blog entry I wrote here, Bob Hawkinson commented that diabetes had taught him to live more joyfully. “Today is a gift,” he said. “I like to unwrap my gifts everyday and live fully and thankfully… I like to laugh at myself and try to find humor in every situation… As I celebrate my 46th D-anniversary this week, I am just happy to be alive and thriving.”

Spiritual strength seems to be a common side effect of illness. Replying to the same blog post, Beth wrote, “When I first wake up in the morning, I lie in bed for a while, noticing the Joy of breathing. I remember God, and breathe. I dedicate my waking hours to Love, and breathe… Whenever I go outdoors…I take a moment to be aware of how much I enjoy seeing the sky… I notice moments of Love throughout my day, and enjoy those moments. I breathe my thankfulness.”

Beth strikes me as a wise person, and I wonder how much diabetes helped her find this wisdom. Dealing with diabetes is a challenge, and succeeding at a challenge can be a source of strength and growth. Will Ryan, the “Joyful Diabetic” wrote, “When we achieve a level of self-care mastery, great joy results. I focus on the taking care of myself, and my A1C tests show I’m on target.”

Many people with diabetes become more disciplined and focused because of it. Have you noticed that the skills and effort necessary for diabetes management have helped you in other areas of life like, say, school?

Diabetes management requires physical activity, and that can be a blessing. On the Web site Diabetes Forum, 808 Bravo wrote, “Since being diagnosed, I started going outdoors… started walking, jogging, biking, and soon I’ll be hitting the bike trails with the guys again… these activities have given me more time with my 2 girls.” That sounds like a life improvement!

Certainly the health behaviors required by diabetes will help us stay in better health in other ways. In The Book of Better: Life with Diabetes Can’t Be Perfect. Make It Better, Chuck Eichten says the number one best thing about diabetes is that “You are in charge of it…with most potentially deadly diseases, there isn’t much you can do about it…you have to trust the surgeon and hope…or trust the treatment or the medicine and hope…with diabetes, you can’t cure it, but you can make it better…”

Some people say chronic illness makes them more compassionate to others. My son Sekani, who was disabled for two years with an organic brain syndrome, says that as a result, “I don’t judge people much anymore. How can I, after where I’ve been?”

When asked, “What good things has diabetes brought you?” many people (after slapping the questioner) mention the people they’ve met, the friends they’ve made, or the professionals who have helped them.

I know support groups have greatly enriched my life. Several of my best friends come from these groups. Last week I went to Fisherman’s Wharf with a friend who has MS. We were both on our scooters, and we must have made an interesting pair to look at, because lots of people were staring. But we had a great time. I’m glad she came into my life, which would never have happened without our illness.

Actually, if I hadn’t gotten sick, I wouldn’t be writing this column and connecting with some of our great readers. So I’m thankful for that.

I’m thankful for the wonderful little things that happen. While writing this piece, I’ve been listening to a 1999 all-star tribute concert to Bob Marley on YouTube. Just now, the singer Tracy Chapman, whom I love, came on and sang Marley’s song “Three Little Birds,” which always makes me cry.

I stopped writing and watched Chapman sing — she just seemed so lovely and happy to be there. It was a beautiful moment. I have moments like that frequently with the babies Aisha and I take care of. They just have so much joy. I really don’t think I’d be here to see that — I’d be too busy — and I don’t think I would appreciate it if illness hadn’t slowed me down.

So I’d rather not have MS, and I’d rather you didn’t have diabetes. You probably agree. But there are things to be thankful for in it. Have you experienced any of that?

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