When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, my family’s focus was instantly turned to understanding new terms, like “blood sugar” and “A1C” and trying to figure out how to make sense of the urinalysis kit that was sent home with us from the hospital. For several months, my family and I worked through the specifics of day-to-day diabetes management until having a bathroom cabinet dedicated solely to syringes and test strips felt normal.
But after the initial shock of diagnosis was over, we were left to reconcile the fact that diabetes doesn’t leave my world until I do. That was a heavy concept to digest as a seven year old. Even now, as an adult with twenty-seven years of type 1 diabetes under my belt, the day-to-day physicality of diabetes isn’t what gets me down. I can test my blood sugar without wincing, or change my infusion set without minding the pinch. A new Dexcom sensor stings for a second, but then just blends into the background.
It’s the day-to-day head game of diabetes that messes with me. It’s doing everything “right” and still having an unexplainable high blood sugar. It’s doing everything “wrong” and ending up at a mysterious 112 mg/dL. It’s worrying about complications that haven’t yet come to pass. It’s gracefully dealing with the ones that have. It’s preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. It’s the complicated relationship with food, numbers, device hardware…and with mortality. Having my emotional health intact is what best equips me to handle the physical demands, in all their chaotic capacities.
Even if I am testing my blood sugar and taking my insulin, if I’m not attempting to manage my emotional well-being as much as the physical, my health suffers. I’ve seen this time and time again, but I saw it in full scope last year, when I experienced a few months of feeling emotionally down. My desire to do something as simple as check my blood sugars was non-existent, and my overall numbers suffered as a result. It wasn’t until I was back on the emotional climb that I found myself able to test, and react in a healthy way, to the numbers I was seeing. My emotional balance, or lack thereof, seems to contribute directly to my diabetes management.
I take the best care of myself when I feel equipped to handle the psychosocial impact of diabetes. Life with diabetes isn’t about the diabetes itself, but about the life it’s a part of. There is a life to be found after diagnosis, and it’s a good one. Being able to take a blood sugar and remove the blame and guilt from that result, focusing only on the actions needed to correct that number or duplicate it? Viewing diabetes as something that doesn’t define you, but instead simply serves to explain why glucose tabs live in your glove compartment and there is a pile of used test strips on the floor by your bedside table? Being active and involved in a life that isn’t rule by insulin but is instead fueled by it?
And realizing that diabetes isn’t something we can perfectly control, but we can do our best to manage it? That’s the balance I constantly seek.
Kerri Sparling has been living with type 1 diabetes for over 27 years, diagnosed in 1986. She is the creator and author of Six Until Me, one of the first and most widely-read diabetes patient blogs, reaching a global audience of patients, caregivers, and industry. Well-versed in social media and its influence on patients, Kerri presents regularly at conferences and works full-time as a writer and consultant. Her first book, Balancing Diabetes (Spry Publishing), is scheduled for release in spring 2014.