The Courage to Live With Diabetes

I was recently working with a teenager who was struggling with managing his diabetes. He was struggling with school and his family as well and used a technique of avoidance to get through life. This technique is tempting to use, since no effort is made and no new skills are necessary. However, avoidance is also the most likely to have severe consequences and, ironically, lead to the most difficult challenges anyone might face: diabetes complications.

So this kid was struggling because he couldn’t find the courage to brave the challenge of shots, tests, and, worst of all, structure. This is a real dilemma, because he believed that his avoidance was a type of bravado suggesting that he didn’t care about all the consequences of not dealing with his diabetes. In fact, his avoidance was a lack of courage and an inability to deal with his fear of imperfection when he couldn’t get his diabetes controlled just so.

But there are many opportunities for courage with diabetes. Years ago, I worked at “Camp Needlepoint,” a camp in Wisconsin for children who have diabetes. What I remember vividly about this camp was that, at the end of the week, we would celebrate with those campers who had given themselves their first injection. These 7- and 8-year-olds would get up in front of the entire camp to receive an award for having the courage to give their first injection independently. I still get tears in my eyes when I think of the power of that celebration and the smiles on their faces for being recognized for their achievement.

I also recall the 40-year-old who struggled with a needle phobia and had the courage to see a psychologist and work on this phobia so he could give himself his own injections and do his own blood glucose checks. Or the 14-year-old who has the courage to tell his friends he has diabetes. Or the 50-year-old who has the courage to ask her friends at work for their support in managing her eating by changing their usual Friday morning treat to fruit rather than the usual caramel rolls.


This post is for all of you (you know who you are) who have the courage to live well with diabetes in the way that is right for you. Congratulations, and keep up the good work.

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Joe Nelson: Joe is a psychotherapist in private practice in Minnesota, where he specializes in the psychology of chronic disease and sexual problems and works with couples, families, children, and teens. He has been a Licensed Psychologist since 1985 and has earned a master’s degree from St. Mary’s College Winona, a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Minnesota, and an associate’s degree in human services from the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.

Joe has worked with troubled youth in Chicago and Minnesota and on a special project on Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. He was the first social worker hired by an affiliate of the American Diabetes Association. He worked at the International Diabetes Center for 20 years, directing psychological services there for 12 years. A Certified Sex Therapist, Joe co-developed the Sexual Health Center at Park Nicollet Clinic.

Having practiced meditation for over 30 years, Joe offers instruction in mindfulness-based meditation to patients in groups and as individuals. Joe is married, has a 23-year-old daughter, and enjoys scuba diving, motorcycling, golf, and being outdoors doing almost anything.

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