Diabetes and Mental Health: Leann’s Guest Post

In the month of May, You Can Do This Project is sharing personal stories from people discussing how they balance the management of both diabetes and their mental health. Earlier this month we published a group video on the topic – if you missed it, check it out here.

Today, we hear from Leann.

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Any time I see awareness raised in the news or on social media about the mental aspects of living with diabetes it gives me hope. Every time we find the honesty and courage to talk about the emotions and thoughts of living with diabetes, I’m reminded that I’m not alone. Mental health is a fundamental base to build physical health. If I’m overcome with frustration and depression, my choices may make the most expensive pump/meter/cgms combo ever invented useless to me. I never signed up for this disease, and I certainly can’t be a “Perfect Pancreas”.

In the past I believed that if I were perfect, I would never have to feel shame from my doctor for “bad” blood sugar readings. I thought that the power of perfection would protect me from the fear of complications and that it would be easy to talk to family and friends about my daily struggles.

Now I know, not only am I not perfect, but that is not a useful or worthy goal. I do my best now and sometimes I have to define “best” in different ways at certain moments. I have to decide whether I want to trade the opportunity for the real joy of being alive now to live in a self-imposed bubble instead. I have to weigh the work and the rewards in the choice to balance a week of healthy eating with an enjoyable night out with friends. I can’t let my avoidance of judgmental people force me out of spending time with others.

What I have come to find is that willingness and acceptance are my favorite tools if I want to find balance. Willingness gives me the energy to keep trying, even when I find myself frustrated by a string of lows. While I may be miserable, tired, or cranky in the moment, willingness reminds me that this is not supposed to be easy, but in each of those moments, I have a choice. I can afford to quit trying for only so long before consequences catch up with me. In each moment, I can choose to be willing to really look at what I’m doing and what I value in the long run. I can try to make the best choice in that moment.

Acceptance means that I don’t have to like the fact that I need to make these decisions, but I can be kind to myself while doing them. No, it’s not fair that anyone has this disease. It certainly isn’t fair to receive the amount of stigma and shame that we sometimes do from others and even ourselves. But beating myself up or punishing myself does no one any good. Mentally, the worse I feel, the worse I do. When others think that shame is a great motivational tool, I am reminded that the unpredictability of this disease can cause others to grasp at illusions of control in order to feel safe themselves. There is no safety found in shame. When I see others talking about what really helps us emotionally, I have hope that the result will be more people who are understanding and supportive.

 

Leann Harris has lived with type 1 diabetes for 14 years. As a Positive Psychology Coach for people with diabetes at Delphi Diabetes Coaching, she focuses on the mental fears and emotional challenges of thriving with diabetes.