The “Terrorism” of Diabetes

Since the fall of the twin towers on 9/11, we who live in the United States have collectively experienced a new way of life—one that is affected by the possibility of something horrible happening.


Before this tragedy, most of us were relatively innocent, not intending to harm anyone else in the world and somewhat naive about the potential for bad things to happen. We found out on 9/11 that that some things cannot be controlled, and we are finding out now through our fear about more bad things happening that the cost is high, emotionally and energy-wise, when trying to prevent future events. It would be great if we could ignore and deny this reality, but if you’ve been to the airport recently or watched the news, it’s hard to stay unaffected.

Diabetes has its own parallels to terrorism. It would be unusual if you were unaware of possible complications of diabetes, such as heart disease, retinopathy (eye disease), nephropathy (kidney disease), and neuropathy (nerve disease). Almost everyone hears about these “terrors” from health-care professionals, and even if you don’t, you are at least likely to have heard about Uncle Bill’s amputation or Aunt Betty going blind from “well-meaning” family or friends. No matter how you get the message, you do get the message that if you don’t take care of yourself, bad things may happen to you.

This threat of bad things is likely to get your attention and, for a time, motivate you to really get on track. However, the effect of constantly being on guard is not likely to help your motivation—it is actually more likely to be draining on your resources. As with going through security at the airport, if you are subjected to the same thing every day, it no longer gets your attention; you may find that your energy to stay on top of things begins to wane and you get lazy. The problem is that the threat doesn’t go away, and if you are not dealing with it the anxiety about it gets bigger. It’s the same with diabetes: The threat of complications doesn’t go away, and if you are not doing what you need to do to care for yourself you are more likely to have anxiety about it.

This situation of being fear-driven is familiar to many of us. We often think that this is the stuff that helps us change, and for some it really works, but as I pointed out earlier it can backfire and cause us to quit paying attention. Change is really a combination of (1) fear getting our attention, but then (2) us redefining our situations in positive terms so we feel drawn to keep up positive changes. This is where a support group can be useful, to help you keep up hope. It is also where seeing a therapist to work on changing your belief system can help in the battle against being discouraged. When you find positive support, it will help you have the energy to persist with your self-care in spite of the psychic shadow of complications.

The threat of diabetes complications can be scary. It can act as a motivator to make you begin to pay attention, but it is important to focus on the positive when trying to effect behavior change. This strategy can help you remain diligent as any lurking terrorist waits for you to look the other way.

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  • spongebob

    Do any of you commentators actually have diabetes?

    I find most of your advise so useless! Its textbook pablum.

    Want to really help?
    Donate your salary to diabetes research.

    and speaking of research, why has more progress been made in control of HIV/AIDS in last 20 years, while its been 100 years since insulin replacement became viable?

    I really don’t expect a reply. What could you possibly say?

  • Chaaaz

    Gimmee a BREAK! Now, we have people comparing having a disease to 911??? It’s not bad enough that people in our lives are constantly nagging us about our diabetes; that healthcare providers are issuing Doom-and-Gloom predictions of disabilty, dismemberment, and ultimately death, but now the “support” magazines have fallen in line with the naysayers, and compared having a genetic disease with the ghastly images of terrorism.



  • Florian

    In 1967 when I was diagnosed with Type 1 at age 30,(Juvenile Diabetes back then), I was told that if I stayed on my no sugar diet, took my daily shot of NPH insulin, and tested my urine I could expect about 20 good years and then it would be all down hill from there. The Doc told me about the things that could happen if I didn’t do what he said. I worried constantly during the first 10 years about going blind, having my foot amputated, and getting kidney disease. Before we got to 20 years I was using a glucometer and intensive insulin therapy with NPH and R. I didn’t have any signs of complications and I was now more relaxed but Hypos became my worst enemy. By 30 years I was still without complications and now we had the analog insulins which made intensive therapy a lot easier. I am now entering my 40th year and I am very very lucky to just have some numbness and tingling sensation in the feet. I will stay the course and hopefully get my 50 year medal from the Joslin ClinIc. A1C 5.5%

  • Linda

    I have just visited a community in Venezuela. There Diabetes is a terrorism that the people live with constantly. Their diet consists of rice, beans and arapes (fried corn bread). Diabetes and its complications are rampant in the community. But unlike the U.S., medication for the disease is not available.

    I consider myself very fortunate for the medications that I can easily obtain.
    I have better education on the disease. I have better control with a glucometer. I have access to healthier foods and many sources of exercise.

    I agree with Florian – our chances keep getting better as long as we keep educated about the advances in knowledge of the disease.

    To answer ‘Spongebob’ – Diabetes(like lung cancer patients who have smoked) is often considered self-inflicted by those who are not familiar with the disease. I am sure you have run into those who think we have diabestes because we have abused our diets. Less money is given for research to such diseases.