Trying to Get Diabetes Right

I read an article today on perfectionism and its impact on blood chemistry. As you may guess, people who want to do things perfectly tend to have more stress around whatever their areas of focus might be.


It doesn’t take a research psychologist to figure that out since most of us, when we want to do well, feel extra pressure—a surge of epinephrine, cortisol, or other stress hormones that get your heart pumping and raise your blood pressure and blood glucose level. We simply feel these changes. But what if the focus of your effort is diabetes? What if you are trying to get diabetes right—how does that work for you?

We all know that when you go see the doctor and he looks at your blood glucose records, what he is looking for are those numbers out of the range that your levels are supposed to be in. Or it might be your parents evaluating your numbers, as was the case with the parents I saw this morning who called their son’s blood glucose levels “bad sugars.” Evaluating how someone is doing with their diabetes control presents a continual challenge to not judge him, and yet we know that he is likely to feel judged, particularly when we keep calling his numbers “bad.” If you have diabetes you may do this to yourself, too, taking the number that shows up on the meter personally, like you did something wrong or somehow were responsible for it.

Sometimes you are, but if this is how we view those numbers much of the time, we are likely to do what the boy I saw today did: first lie about the numbers and next just stop checking blood glucose levels. He struggled with getting diabetes right. The reality of diabetes is that few people get it right.

We all know that we can do the same thing two days in a row and get entirely different results. So if you believe that you can attain perfection with diabetes control and get it to stick around for a while, you may get frustrated. At best, you may pass through the normal range, or really dig in and do it all for a while, like a woman I know who had an HbA1c of 4.5% during her pregnancies. She was perfect—temporarily. Following the birth of her babies she was also perfect—perfectly out of control.

Finding a balance is tough, and it is tough to persist in the face of taking good care of yourself but not getting the results you would like.

So I wonder, how do you persist? What keeps you going when it gets frustrating? Do you take time off? Do you talk with a friend? How do you get back on the daily treadmill?

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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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