Turning Diabetes Into a Positive Force

What does diabetes do to us, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well? How can we turn this inner experience into a positive force in our lives, transforming our relationship to diabetes so that it contains to positive attributes we can be grateful for? And what are some practical things we can do take make that transformation real in our lives?

What does it really mean to live with diabetes?

Those of us with diabetes all know the physical demands and impacts the condition can have. But the emotional impact can feel even more significant sometimes. Living with diabetes 24 hours a day is tiring, and when our blood sugar feels out of control, it can be maddening, leading to feelings of shame and helplessness. But there are steps we can take to change our relationship to diabetes.


Turning diabetes into something broader

What I described above is the negative impact of diabetes. But we want to take this diabetes “monster” and turn it into something that is multi-dimensional, so that we can see that along with the negative qualities, there are some deeply positive ones. Doing so will require a shift in our perspective.

The shift we need to make is a necessarily contemplative one; perhaps even spiritual. This is deeply personal territory, but there are some overarching, universal themes that apply here. We need to see our lives, and the world around us, from a broad and deep perspective. If all we’re worried about is comfort, convenience, and physical trappings, diabetes will always be a monster.

But if we see our lives on a deeper level, placing value on things such as cultivating wisdom, creating meaningful lives, and cultivating inner peace and tranquility, diabetes becomes something altogether different. It becomes a teacher. Diabetes can teach you about balance, creating a deep sense of patience and an ability to let go when things don’t go your way. These are all deeply spiritual values that diabetes reinforces every day.

Daily practices to help us shift our perspective

What can we do on a practical level to cultivate this shift? First off, we can meditate. There was a study that showed engaging in 15 minutes a day of meditation (and using contemplative calming techniques) helped people lower their A1C values when compared to a control group who did not use mediation. And even if it didn’t affect any physical outcomes, it’s undeniable that it helps shift our perspective into a more contemplative mindset.

Meditation isn’t he only game in town, though. Service work — that is volunteering, mentoring, and so forth — has the same kind of effect. Working for the good of others forces us to look outside of our own experience; outside of our own likes and dislikes; outside of the irritations of our own diabetes. Even everyday activities such as exercising or taking a walk can be contemplative outlets if we do them with the right intent. As many Zen teachers have pointed out, doing the dishes is no less contemplative than meditating on a mountaintop — we just treat them differently.

Diabetes will always be a source of pain and frustration. And no change in perspective takes that pain away. But it doesn’t have to be ONLY pain. Diabetes can be a great teacher and a source of wisdom, a force that propels our lives forward in deeply fulfilling ways. We just have to listen.

Want to learn more about maintaining emotional health with diabetes? Read “Reducing Diabetes Stress: Alternative Treatments,” “Relaxation Techniques for Stressful Times,” and “Spiritual Self-Care and the Use of Prayer.”

  • Catlady C

    Wow. When I clicked on the title of the post, to read the article, this is not what I expected to see!! I thought I would get some hints and tips for taking my experiences since being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and educating others about diabetes and how to avoid it! I must say, I haven’t had any of the negative feelings mentioned!
    Perhaps it is because of my attitude before the diagnosis, or perhaps the attitude when I was diagnosed, or maybe it is the support from my health care team, or the support of my family and friends. Or the wealth of information/education opportunities thanks to sites like this and others, as well as many publications.
    I was a teen when my mother was diagnosed with diabetes. That would put her in her early to mid 50’s. Initially, she had to make some diet changes, and later was on medications. I couldn’t tell you much else, because she didn’t talk about it much. I now realize, that was not the right way to go, to tell the truth. I have no way of knowing why she didn’t say much. Perhaps she was afraid of the stigma, or perhaps she was like the people your article talks about – one who had trouble accepting her diagnosis and new lifestyle. What I did get out of the experience, though, was that because she was diabetic, I had a good chance of becoming diabetic, too. So, it was always in the back of my mind that one day, I might (or might not), have to adjust my diet and eliminate all the sweet foods in my life. So, I figured, I was going to enjoy food until a doctor told me otherwise. She lived into her early 70’s.
    Well, when I was diagnosed in October 2016, I was actually relieved! No more waiting, wondering – now I knew that yes, I was diabetic. First, I was slowly introduced to medications that would help me to control the disease. I met with a dietitian, to learn to read labels and understand sugar, carbohydrates, and glucose. I learned how insulin works in the body. I learned. And I found out, that so much more research and advancements in knowledge about diabetes happened in the intervening years, that my dietary restrictions were no where near as severe as those my mother had to follow. It was fairly easy for me to adjust my diet – I had already begun reducing the processed foods I was eating. I did face some challenges – I was not previously accustomed to eating three meals a day, and that is still a work in progress. However, I have made progress, and have been getting rave reviews from my health care team at how well I am managing my diabetes.
    But equally important, in my opinion, is that I talk to my friends and family. I tell them what I’ve learned about diabetes, I tell them about my progress, I tell them about the habits that I’ve changed . I tell them when I’m doing well, and what to expect when I’m struggling. Because I have been educating them, I find that I get a lot of support from them. They know what I’m doing, and why. In some cases, it is helping them to pay more attention to what they are doing and eating. And it helps them to understand what is going on with me.
    Maybe I’m just lucky. But, having a positive attitude from the start has really made a difference. One thing – I definitely have a positive outlook on the future – I have hope. Because of all the things I’ve already said about the advancements and the health care team and support, I am older than my mother was at the time of diagnosis. So, I have hope that with continuing to follow my team’s instructions, and continuing to learn myself, and continuing to follow a healthy lifestyle, supported by my family and friends, I will probably live longer with diabetes than she was able to. I’m 59 now, and figure I’ve still got a good 20 years plus left in me!!