In 2009, after struggling on and off with diabetes, I found myself sick and frustrated, hopeless, angry, and defeated.
There seemed to be little information on managing both a unstable moods and a health condition. However, by using simple methods to devise my own life management plan, I’ve greatly reduced my chances of complications and premature death.
My blood sugar was over 400. I’ve cut that more than 50 percent. My A1C test, which was a shocking 13.5, is now close to 7.0.
The A1C (glycogenated hemoglobin) test is well known to most diabetics. It shows what percentage of your hemoglobin, the protein in your blood that carries oxygen to the brain, is coated with sugar, according to the Mayo Clinic website. It indicates your chances of complications and premature death. High numbers, like 13.5, are very bad.
Learning to Manage My Diabetes Took Advocacy
Much of my difficulty learning to manage my diabetes came with a medical system that expected me to change my habits overnight with little or no help or guidance. I felt I was being judged at each appointment with my family doctor. The approach saddled me with feelings of failure and frustration.
A medical professional I met at a diabetes education workshop recognized that my condition was serious, and referred me to a skilled endocrinologist.
When I was cut from her caseload after missing or cancelling several appointments due to a bout of depression, I advocated for an accommodation in the office policy based on my disability. I shared statistics on early mortality for people with mental illness. In return, I agreed to do my best to make my appointments.
When she asked what she could do to help me, I told her I needed flexibility, support, and an open-minded attitude, in order to find solutions I could work with.
Specifically, she has been willing to patiently make multiple attempts at medication changes and dosages, focused on my strengths and accomplishments, not my “non-compliance” or “failure.” She always maintained a positive, encouraging attitude.
This helped change my negative mindset, and I started looking forward to appointments and became willing to make changes. Collaboration with my doctor was a key to learning to manage my diabetes.
Learning to Manage My Diabetes Meant Overcoming Denial
Until my doctor removed me from her caseload, I had been living mostly in denial. This is easy to do when the effects of the illness are often invisible until damage is done.
When I lost my doctor, I realized I could not cure this illness on my own, that I needed help. I accepted that I had a serious condition, and started taking actions to move toward better health, beginning with following through on appointments.
A workaholic, I put all my energy into my job, and never learned to manage my personal life. If I couldn’t achieve it all, I would give up. This led to apathy.
Caring for my elderly father during his terminal illness had also left me depressed and exhausted
Learning to Manage My Diabetes Step by Step
At first, all I could do was show up to see the doctor. Years of roller coaster moods, and their effects, made it difficult for me to maintain the complicated routine I thought I needed to stay healthy.
Having a stake in my care by securing a good doctor, and committing to work with her, got me started on a proactive path. I could not turn things around overnight, but I decided to focus on what I could do, not on what I felt I couldn’t do.
My next step was to start taking my medicine every day.
Since I had to take the meds with food, I focused on eating regular meals twice a day that didn’t require a lot of planning or cooking. These steps alone significantly reduced my blood sugar.
By now, I was learning to manage my diabetes, and starting to become empowered.
My blood glucose monitor became a great tool, giving me instant feedback on my efforts. I accepted insulin therapy, and incorporated “movement” into my life, with moderate walks from 30 to 60 minutes. I moved down to an A1C of 8.5.
Later, I experimented with grocery shopping, easy cooking, and reducing fast food meals.
Finally, three months ago, I gave up eating sugary desserts and snacks, which brought my levels to near normal.
All these changes took 18 months to two years.
Positive Self-Talk Helped A Lot
There was more to learning to manage my diabetes than just absorbing information. Although I had had plenty of diabetes education, I had no power to implement any of it when I started getting serious about self-care.
I did not realize it, but I had been unconsciously feeding myself a steady stream of negative self-talk, focusing on how impossible the expectations were. I even lashed out angrily at friends who tried to encourage me, telling them I could not, and would not, do things like track my blood sugar four times a day.
After taking just a few simple steps, my thoughts began to change. I started learning to encourage myself.
I learned that lapses were just “setbacks,” not “failures.” and that it was more important to keep trying than to be perfect.
The idea of “practicing” new behaviors was new to me. The concept helped a lot.
Sometimes when I went swimming, I would repeat to myself a positive statement my therapist suggested about acknowledging every improvement, no matter how small.
There were times I fell off the wagon, and reversed all my progress. This would temporarily discourage me, but eventually I came to view the needed changes as challenges, not burdens.
Making routines that work for you
The idea of daily routines used to fill me with dread. In the past, I had struggled with routines, due to the ups and downs of my moods. In the beginning, my perfectionist mindset caused me to feel pressured to do it all right, and any setback was enough to throw me off course.
When I embraced my imperfection, I allowed myself to find things that worked for me, instead of trying to follow what seemed like impossible plans and advice.
I gave up on sticking with a rigid food plan in the beginning.
My initial goal was just to eat some kind of meal twice a day. I found foods that I liked that could be incorporated into healthy eating.
When I realized that exercise sometimes reduced my blood sugar over 100 points per session, I decided I would rather exercise regularly than take higher doses of medications, or drastically cut my food intake
Progress Made More Progress Easier
However, after I started feeling better I was motivated to try new things, such as gradually incorporating fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. The key was experimentation and finding workable solutions that I could live with over the long haul.
Today I am still working to improve my condition. Besides reducing my risk of complications, I have enjoyed many benefits from all the work I have done.
Although I always thought the mood disorder was preventing me from developing healthy habits, I have found that healthy living makes managing everything else much easier. The fog in my brain has cleared, and I have more energy.
Best of all, I have not just achieved specific goals, but I have taught myself a process of change that is working on other areas of my life, too.
I encourage everyone with diabetes to start today with one small step to work toward a healthier life.
How can learning to manage my diabetes guide you toward a healthier life, if you don’t have diabetes?