We think a lot about the physical component of diabetes, but the mental component is just as significant. How does diabetes affect you or your loved one mentally or emotionally? How have you learned to deal with the mental aspect of the condition? Any tips, positive phrases, mantras, or ideas to share on getting out of a diabetes funk?
When naming my blog, I knew that I would write more about life with diabetes than with celiac but I still wanted to acknowledge the impact that both diseases have on my life. What I have been surprised to observe over the last 2 years of sporadic writing here (today is the 2nd anniversary of my blog!!) is actually how little I had to say about life with CD.
What do I mean by that? Well, both diseases affect my life every.single.day. And yet, celiac does not take the emotional toll that diabetes does. Why is that? Well, maybe I should be more specific. It no longer takes the emotional toll that diabetes does.
When I was first diagnosed with each (a year and a half apart), my honest first emotional reaction each time was relief. Relief that what had been making me so sick had a definitive diagnosis, a name and a treatment (no matter how much that treatment happened to suck!). I also intelectualised quickly that while the CD determined what I ate (or didn’t eat, as the case may be), the diabetes influenced the timing and quantity of my meals. I suppose these are coping mechanisms.
Celiac is a more black and white disease. The treatment is a 100% gluten-free diet. That means not a crumb, not using the same toaster or the same serving utensils used for gluten foods, and in some cases, making sure that food has been processed in a gluten-free facility or at least a gluten free line. It’s a lot of knowledge to have about food ingredients and you have to stay current as manufacturing and ingredients lists can change.
It has a ridiculously steep learning curve both in things you need to know and ways to cope emotionally. You have to re-learn how to eat, how to shop, how to think about food, how to enjoy a meal with friends, how to trust someone else to cook for you, how to ask the right questions at restaurants, how to leave the house without the fear of being “glutened”… My diabetes managment all but disappeared during the first 8 months or so of dealing with celiac, and the connections that I wrote about yesterday were far more celiac than diabetes oriented during that time. Only once I had reached a plateau of sufficient knowlege and coping with CD, was I able to start dealing with both diseases.
An important aspect in the emotional toll for me, is that there is no self-judgement with celiac (the judgement is reserved for people who think I do this to follow a fad) and there isn’t any guilt. There can be sadness, especially at first, for what you have to give up. But personally, I am rarely touched emotionally by what I cannot eat. I don’t know if it’s knowing how sick I get when I am accidentally glutened or if it’s just that the whole 100% gluten-free thing is clear cut enough not to be questionned. And there are results. As long as I am gluten free, I have no symptoms and no clinical signs of the disease since the flattened villi in my intestines has grown back.
Diabetes, on the other hand is all about (striving for) balance. Some insulin, not too much, well calculated and at the right times. Some carbs, not too fast-acting, well calculated and at the right times. Some exercise, planned in advance, preferably the same amount at the same time each day… Learn how to handle the stress that life throws at you and stay vigilant to make sure your diabetes devices are always in perfect working order.
And even when I do follow all the “rules”, my blood sugar doesn’t necessarily follow through with the results I’m looking for. I get a few appointments with a specialist each year which can feel like the quarterly judgement for all moments I haven’t been perfect. But even the medical professional judgement is nothing compared to the self-judgement that happens daily as blood sugar levels spike and fall.
Diabetes “results” are also a lot less tangible. Whether or not my overall diabetes management is on target and whether or not I’m coping well currently, my blood glucose levels still go high and still go low, which influence hormone levels in my body, which influence emotions, which influence blood glucose levels… and on and on.
So 19 and 18 years later respectively, diabetes takes up much more of my mental and emotional space than CD. Most of the time I manange to cope well but there are definitely times when other aspects of my life take precedence and coping with chronic illness no longer has enough head space to get dealt with. The only tip I have goes back to what I was saying yesterday. Sharing my story and hearing others’ stories – knowing that I am not alone in dealing with this – is the most powerful way for me to manage the emotional roller coaster.