There Is No Right Answer

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Diabetes is a game of numbers. Blood glucose running too high, too low, a little a high, a little low, just right. Too many carbs, too few carbs, too many units, too few units, an insulin ratio that’s too high, an insulin ratio that’s too low. Everywhere we turn, it seems, we have these cold, hard numbers staring us in the face, telling us in very exacting, precise ways whether we “got it right” or didn’t. There are meal plans to follow, exercise regimens to follow, dietary guidelines, and much more that I’m not even remembering at the moment.

The point of all this is that as people living with diabetes, we face the “right or wrong” test on a daily basis, and it’s so easy to get a little lost in it. It’s also easy to start thinking there is one right way to do things. But I think diabetes is actually a much more fluid thing than that. I don’t think there is one right way to manage this disease any more than I think there is only ONE way to get from my house to the grocery store. I could take the main street, the back roads, the long way, the short way, and so on. You get the point. There is always more than one way to get somewhere, and there is always more than one “right way” to handle something like diabetes.

What springs to mind first and foremost is the medical management side — the meal planning, the insulin levels, the blood glucose results, and so on. But I’m actually thinking more about emotional coping. After all, I’m a therapist.

Is it working?
There was a certain TV psychologist who coined the phrase, “how’s that working for you?” It was a common response he’d give when people explained why they were engaged in whatever destructive behavior landed them on a talk show in the first place. I’m not a fan of this particular TV psychologist, or pop-psychology in general. As someone who’s spent a great deal of time working in the field, I see the shortfalls of quick-fix pop-psychology. Nevertheless, I liked this phrase. I thought it was a good question to ask. Because in the end, that really IS the point. Whatever approach you take, you should ask yourself “is this working for me?”

It’s easy for all of us, and sometimes particularly easy for people like me who work as therapists, to get tunnel vision. We can start assuming that OUR way of coping is the only GOOD way of coping. We can assume that someone who looks different from us, responds differently from us, is wrong. On the flip side, we can assume the inverse is true: someone ELSE’S way must be better, and our way MUST be wrong.

We need to move past that. What we need to ask ourselves is whether what we’re doing is working. Is it HELPING us manage our condition, or making it harder? Is it relieving stress from our lives, or is it ADDING stress on top of what’s already there? Is it leaving us feeling OK about ourselves, or leaving us feel like failures? That’s the real test. That’s the real test for ourselves, and for others.

In the face of “failing numbers”
This talk about emotional coping is great and all, but what about when the numbers we’re reading on our meters are giving us a failing grade? There is no denying that a reading of 250 on our monitor is a problem. It means something went wrong — we miscalculated our insulin, we miscalculated our food, we missed something. It might also simply mean our system is reacting a little strangely today, and it will return to normal tomorrow. But that 250 is a bad number.

We need to “untangle” our blood glucose from our feelings about ourselves. This is a pretty common problem for people — we attach our feelings about ourselves, our feelings of self-value, to external indicators, to salary, to grades, to all sort of things. Success makes us happy and like ourselves, failure makes us miserable and hate ourselves. We need to avoid that as Diabetians. The more we can untangle these two things — our emotional reactions and our physical, diabetes-related reactions — the happier we’ll ultimately be. And it will help us avoid that black-and-white thinking that says there’s only one right way to handle this stuff.

There are many roads to take living with diabetes. So don’t worry if your road looks a little different from my road. Just ask yourself if your road is working. That’s all that matters when all is said and done.

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