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The Emotional Impact of Type 2 Diabetes

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I have type 2 diabetes. When the GP called me to come back to the surgery in December 2015, I did not expect her to be telling me that I was now diabetic.

I do have a family history of diabetes, so there is a genetic predisposition for it. But I also have severe asthma which is controlled by daily steroid use plus large steroid doses when I have an asthma flare-up, and flare-ups are frequent.

Unfortunately, steroids interfere with how my cells respond to insulin and thus my blood glucose levels rise. This is what led to me being a type 2 diabetic.

I was shocked when I received this diagnosis and left the surgery feeling overwhelmed but determined to have as much control over it as I could manage. Because of my daily use of steroids, I had to start immediately onto medication. My diabetes couldn’t be controlled using diet and exercise. One of the other side effects of the steroids is weight gain. My asthma not only caused the diabetes, it also created problems with managing it!

With so many family members having had diabetes, I knew a bit about it and I also knew it was a serious chronic disease. But, there was so much more to learn! There is nothing like personal experience of a disease as a teacher. Diabetes is such a complex disease! It isn’t easy to manage. It takes effort every single day. And despite all my best efforts it can go out of whack without me being able to figure out why! So, I am trying to manage something that seems to have no rhyme or reason!

The toughest thing I have faced is the emotional drain I have experienced. I am quite an anxious person and this doesn’t help. The emotional aspect of diabetes is significant. You can go through periods of feeling:

  1. Overwhelmed
  2. Fed up and frustrated
  3. Fearful and worried
  4. Guilty
  5. Burnt out

When I feel overwhelmed I tend to skip measuring my glucose levels. When I am sick (recently I had the flu), I just can’t be bothered taking any measurements. It just became too much!

I get fed up and frustrated when my glucose levels go all over the place and I can’t figure out why. There are close to 40 factors that can cause fluctuation in blood glucose levels. That’s why it’s so damn hard to balance everything and work out what is causing the effects. And sometimes, I don’t even want to try to work it out! I just try to deal with it.

Frustration comes too with the sudden nausea that occurs when my blood glucose levels take a dive, or when high levels give me a raging thirst, headache and blurry vision.

Fear, for me, is associated with knowing what can happen in the long-term. I saw these sort of things happen to members of my family: amputations, blindness, neuropathy. And it can happen despite all the efforts I make to manage this disease.

Guilt is a linked to the pervasive media messages linking type 2 diabetes to lifestyle choices and, in particular, to obesity. Most of the community believes this. This just isn’t correct! It is far more complicated than that! Not every obese person ends up with type 2 diabetes, and some skinny people do acquire type 2 diabetesMy emotions around guilt are more to do with external factors such as the reactions and beliefs of other people. I like to be pretty upfront about my diabetes as it makes it much easier for me around what, and when, I eat in social situations. Not everyone is comfortable with this approach but it works for me.

Then there are the helpful “experts” who like to tell me what I need to do and especially those who have some weird and unorthodox ideas about “cures and treatments.” I have a background in science and a son who works as a medical scientist in this area, so I could even be affronted by this advice! It requires patience and diplomacy to deal with these “helpful suggestions.” But, it uses up your energy, your reserves of patience and adds to frustration.

Burnout happens for the same reason it can for any chronic illness. It is very trying to be constantly managing health issues. There really isn’t any respite and this can take a heavy toll on my resilience.

It is hard to accept that my body won’t work the way I want it to and that it just won’t do all its processes the way they are meant to happen.

Type 2 diabetes is a serious chronic illness that isn’t well understood in the community. It takes serious efforts to live with. As a diabetic I need to be kind to myself and not beat myself up when things are out of kilter. Being diabetic isn’t my fault, nor are the fluctuations that happen.

Getty Image by mthipsorn

Originally published: May 10, 2018
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