Dealing With Diabetes
Reaching out can help you cope-and thrive
Your lab results are in, and yes, you have type 2 diabetes. But wait: You don't feel any different. Surely nothing is wrong. There's no reason to turn your life upside down over this. It's not something you need to worry about right now …
Denial: It's just one of the many ways people react to the shock of a diabetes diagnosis. Some may feel perfectly healthy, so the diagnosis just doesn't seem "real." Some have such terrible memories of family members' experiences with the disease that they can't bear to think about it. Others know so little about diabetes that they're just plain terrified. The list of emotional reactions to a diabetes diagnosis is not unlike the stages of grief that people experience in coping with loss and tragedy: some combination of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, before finally attaining acceptance. When it comes to diabetes, you can also add sadness, frustration, anxiety, guilt, and shame.
"People respond in a spectrum; we're all different and we all respond in different ways," says Paul Ciechanowski, MD, MPH, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine. "People are going to have different rates of accepting their diabetes diagnosis, and that's OK."
What's a problem, however, is when these quite normal reactions take their toll on a person's health. All too often, someone who is newly diagnosed will suddenly isolate herself from others, withholding news of the diagnosis—or at least her anger about it—from loved ones. When such behavior leads to neglect in managing diabetes, the result can be dangerous.
So what can you do if you find yourself in that downward spiral? Find someone you can speak to about how you're feeling. "Understand that the sooner you talk to people, the sooner you can start to live a normal life, and not live two separate lives," says Ciechanowski. If you're loath to ask for help, think about it in terms of your physical health: Taking care of your feelings will help you take care of your body—but only if you make it a priority. "I had a patient who leaves for work at 6:30 a.m., gets home at 6:30 p.m., and doesn't have any time for herself," Ciechanowski says. "She doesn't work out anymore; she gets home and makes dinner, helps her child with homework, and her type 1 diabetes gets pushed out." If you are a caregiver at home, it's crucial to remember your own needs along with everyone else's. That may mean carving out personal time to exercise or asking family members to help keep diabetes-friendly foods in the refrigerator.
Appropriate introspection, healthy habits, and communication with others may be enough to help you cope. But watch for signs of depression, which indicate that you need additional help from a professional. Note that you may or may not feel intense sadness if you're battling depression. More telling signs include fatigue, insomnia, weight loss or weight gain, and flagging interest in activities you used to enjoy. If you have these symptoms for more than a couple of weeks, talk with a health care provider. And remember: About a third of people with diabetes develop depression at some point. You are not alone, and help is out there.
ADA Resources That Can Help
No one knows the challenges of coping with and managing diabetes better than other people who have it themselves. Support groups are a place to ask questions, share your concerns, and solicit advice from others who have lived with the disease longer than you have. Some groups cater specifically to people with type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes; others are open to everyone. If you have a child with diabetes, there are special support groups for both you and your kid.
- Support groups. Offerings vary depending on where you live. Visit ADA's Web site, enter your zip code to find the closest ADA office, and call for information about support groups available in your area.
- ADA's Family Resource Network. Caters especially to families and to children with diabetes. Contact your nearest ADA office to see whether a Family Resource Network is active in your area.
- ADA's Family Link. Connects families to others in similar situations. Parents can seek advice about caring for children with diabetes, and children can get to know other kids their age who have diabetes. Call your local ADA office for information.
Online message boards, forums, and social networking Web sites can be a source of advice and a place to make friends.
American Diabetes Association message boards. The message boards offer different forums for people with type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes; teens and young adults; parents of children with diabetes; people who use insulin pumps; Spanish-speakers; and others.
On the Phone
The American Diabetes Association National Call Center offers phone and online support for people with diabetes. The call center distributes a broad range of documents about diabetes, including information on emotional well-being and dealing with a diabetes diagnosis. Call center representatives can listen and offer advice, too. Remember that they are not medical professionals, though, so you will need to see a doctor for any medical questions. To reach the ADA National Call Center, call 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383) or e-mail AskADA@diabetes.org.