Thankful for Diabetes?

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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15 thoughts on “Thankful for Diabetes?

  1. Discovering I have Type 2 (May 1998), was probably the 2nd best thing that has happened to me. 2nd because the 1st best was “discovering” Victoza 105 days ago and my belief it is a “miracle drug”. Please research this drug before talking to your Doctor who might not even be aware of V.

    The reason my discovery in 1998 was so important is very simple. AWARENESS and the desire to live – to change my life. Of course denial was the first response but then began a continuing education process that resulted in my using Victoza and could not be more satisfied with my numbers and condition.

    By the way, I discovered my condition by accident via an insurance policy rejection due to BG of 204!

  2. So interesting, Bob! I also discovered my condition via an insurance policy rejection. I would gladly give up my diabetes, but I have to say that it has made me so much more aware of diet, and of the importance of exercise! It’s ironic that I’m probably healthier with it than I would have been without. (I also LOVE Victoza – but would love to see the price come down a tad…)

  3. I have always said if I HAD to have a disease, diabetes isn’t the worst. hah I have also said I am thankful for it. I was always a chunky kid and ate whatever I wanted. After discovering I had Type 1 at age 12, it FORCED me to control my eating and shape up. I also grew up learning how to live with it, instead of it just hitting me when I’m older and already set in my ways. I truly believe I would be morbidly obese if I didn’t have something to keep me in check. Maybe it’s a drastic “something” but… in a weird way… I think I am healthier for it.

  4. Well if I must have a chronic disease I would choose my diabetes – really! It is very much treatable with the knowledge that is out there — not necessarily the current main stream though.

    Yes it has made me reflect more on how I want to live my life… even if it is about 2 hours at a time. Yes it is a pain sometimes (like dreams of running out of insulin, etc.). I’ll bet you that my health wouldn’t be as good without the changes I have had to make.

    Bottom line: it is NOT something that needs to lead to a very bad place if you go after it with a passion. I’ve found that personal education is really, really, really important. So I guess it is my disease of choice!

  5. When I was first diagnosed on Christmas Day 2003, I wasn’t too thrilled with my “gift” of diabetes and it is not even returnable! I was in agony with two huge kidney stones and had gone to the hospital emergency room with unbearable pain and vomiting. In retrospect, maybe those stones were the real gift. Though my blood glucose was over 300, I had no symptoms and might have died.

    It’s not like I didn’t expect it. Diabetes ran on both sides of my family and I had developed metabolic syndrome, much to my dismay. One aunt had lost a foot to diabetes. Living with a deadly chronic disease isn’t something I want and I would give it up in a second if I had a chance for a pancreas transplant or artificial pancreas.

    On the other hand, diabetes has made me live like I am dying. I started taking eating seriously and am a low carb vegan (yes, this is possible). This has done wonders for my blood glucose control and my overall health. No dead animals, no dead fish, no dairy, honey, or eggs. I discovered that I had thousands of grains, seeds, nuts, fruits and veggies to choose from and now run vegan pages on Facebook. I got serious about exercise. I got serious about doing the things I always dreamed of but kept putting off until tommorrow. Tommorrow might just not be another day no matter what Scarlett O’Hara thought in Gone With the Wind but I do know that I have today.

    43 YEARS AND 3 wonderful children later it must be working

  7. Seven years ago on Fourth of July weekend, my grand-daughter was diagnosed with type one diabetes. We were absolutely blind-sided. She was only two years old and had spent the last few months being sick, but the doctors kept saying don’t worry she’ll be fine. Now they tell us she has a chronic disease!
    After going through diabetic classes, learning about carbs, and giving shots to one another it was time to go home. I can’t begin to tell you how awful it was to have to hold down a screaming two year old so another could prick her finger or to give her a shot. We’d try to be strong but we’d end up crying together and loving the baby when we were done. EVERY 90 mins to 2 hours around the clock….more if her sugar was low.
    To my surprise, seven years ago, I was diagnosed with type 2. I started out with the usual meds…then added Byeta…Lantus and on to Humalog. I was told I no longer make the insulin I need. To make a long story short….that wonderful two year old would hold my hand when I needed a shot…prick my finger for me when it was time to check and together we learned and grew.
    It is now seven years later, we are both on pumps and life is good. She doesn’t feel alone and when we see the ice cream truck go by we go to the freezer and get a sugar free pop. Her A1C runs in the high 6’s and mine was 7.7 last appointment. You can bet she had a few words for me…:)

  8. I’ve had type 2 for over 15 years. I had 100 pounds to lose and I now have 60 more to take off. Had I not been diagnosed I probably would have settled for being a big gal with little or no purpose. Diabetes is indeed a challenge because it makes you change. You either get with the program or get run over. I’m not one to let anything win – I am a fighter. I’ve recently started writing a blog (who hasn’t?) about my journey – It has been a sort of therapy for me and it’s my hope and prayer that what I have to say will help someone else with the same challenge. If something that helps me can possibly help someone else – then it’s all been worthwhile. I’m determined to get the rest of my weight off and kick this disease to the curb. Ok – I know I can’t get rid of it – but it’ll get a whole lot better. I want to kick the insulin and oral meds to the curb if at all possible – just control it with diet and exercise. It’s not easy – but nothing worth having in this life comes easily! I’m a better person because of diabetes. I have to be!

  9. I’ve had gestational diabetes with all 3 pregnancies (I’m 29 weeks pregnant with #3). It has definitely helped me to make my pregnancies healthier, both for me and the babies.

    The first, I did NOT have to start medicine, it was controlled by diet and exercise, just had to keep a close watch on my sugar levels. The second, and this one, I started glyburide to control my sugars, and it has helped tremendously. The other upside to “medicated” gestational diabetes, is that they watch you closer, and you get extra ultrasounds at the end.

    Every extra chance to get a peek at our baby, and check on her, is a blessing! And I know that the extra careful watching my diet and making sure I exercise, which is key to keeping my sugars under control, has helped me have healthier pregnancies and easier deliveries!

    It’s hard to do something healthy just for yourself, but when it is for the baby inside you, it is much easier!

  10. I take better care of myself now. I don’t always put myself last. I eat a healthier diet, and I exercise more. I am in better health since my diagnosis in 2005 and I keep my A1c just below 6. I have more energy to spend more quality time with my kids and grandkids.

  11. Great stories — thanks as usual. Mark, you have to do something about those numbers — they’re way too high. Are you working with a good doctor or diabetes educator?

  12. To be a “successful” diabetic, you need a strong network of support and, yes, sometimes, help. By learning to ask for help when I need it, I have been able to drink from the well of infinite kindness many times. Each time, both me, as the recipient, as well as the giver, have been touched by grace. It’s a powerful, life-enriching experience. And I think it has made me a kinder person who then passes it on, drinking from the well as a giver rather than a recipient.

  13. At 65 years of age with almost 53 years since my diagnosis, my life has been filled with great things. Many of my blessings have been because of T1D. My husband and I adopted a beautiful baby boy in 1974 because we were concerned about my condition affecting an unborn child. This baby has given us 2 beautiful grandchildren.
    I love food and would probably be obese had I not had to watch what I ate. In addition, I will always say the healthy diet I have followed has kept my family and me healthier.
    Finally, God has used my diabetes as a stepping stone to speak with others, especially the children in the middle school where I taught, on how to cope with this chronic condition. While I would much rather not be T1D, I always try to make lemonade (sugar-free, of course) from the lemon I have been given.

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