Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Mental Illness, Stress, Anxiety and Diabetes

Mental Illness, Stress, Anxiety and Diabetes

Living with Type 1 Diabetes, or any form of Diabetes for that matter is not easy.  It is not just the routine aspects of care such as giving yourself injections, testing your blood sugar, changing your tubing if you have a pump, or going to the doctor every 3 months to check your blood work.
The thing that is most often overlooked is the emotional strain or mental illness that can come with the disease. 
It is the anxiety you feel before you prick your finger.  I still have times where I have the lancet against my finger for a minute and I just can't push the button.  I have to take a breather and then get it done.  It is against human nature to cause pain to yourself.  Not to mention fear of needles and anxiety towards that
It is the anxiety you feel when you test your BG and it is high or low.  What do you have to do to take care of that?  How can you stop it from happening in the future?  Will this high BG test result in some sort of immediate complication? 
How about your doctor visits...  Are they going to find something new that is wrong with me?   I get worried about my HBA1C... is it going to be higher than last time?  If so, does this mean that I have failed over the past three months at managing my diabetes effectively?  What sort of guilt comes with that.
I think that we all have some of these thoughts or worries sometimes and that is perfectly normal and to be expected.  We deal with a lot.  People who don't have diabetes do not necessarily understand that. 
What I have come to realise is that a higher HBA1C can be the result of illness over the past three months, if you had lots of unexplained highs or lows, if you were stressed more than usual, if you were having trouble sleeping, etc.  Can I control these things?  Not really.  As diabetics we need to give ourselves a break.  What we live with is not our fault.  We do the best we can with the hand we were dealt.  The way I see it is that as long as we are doing our best, regardless of the outside factors we may be dealing with, that is all we can do.  There is no reason to feel guilty or anxious about that.
All this said, as diabetics we are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, or other mental illness.  It can be overwhelming sometimes and at those times it is important to seek out professional help.  It is nothing to be ashamed of. 
I have a close friend who deals with another chronic illness.  He needed an organ transplant to survive.  At one point he was taking over 25 pills a day.  These were not pills that had little side effects, these were major drugs that had bigtime side effects.  The guy is amazing for going through what he did and still dealing with it on a daily basis. Yet, he told me once he went through years of self destructive behaviour before he finally accepted that he was going to live with his illness and get some peace within.  This isn't the sort of thing men usually talk about but it made me realise that it isn't just diabetes that can get a person down, it is any form of chronic illness.  It also made me realise that reaching out to friends can be a great thing.  Some friends will understand, some won't.  But, getting to relate to a true friend is something that is invaluable.  It is worth it to reach out, take the risk and let others know what is going on with you.  It can be extremely rewarding.   
I have a close family member who has MS.  It is a brutal disease and she deals with it like a pro.  If you didn't know her, you would not know that she had any health issues.  My mother and her were talking and she said that she hoped I could accept my illness quicker and easier than she did.  People with chronic illness tend to have some emotional baggage that comes with it... it takes time to realise that and to conquer it.  The sooner I can do that, the more rewarding my life will be.
The point I am trying to make is that it is important for us to not just look after out physical health but it is equally important to tend to our mental health.  If you find yourself feeling down, feeling burnout, being overly anxious, seek help.  In the long run, it will probably make the biggest difference in your life.  I am still struggling with this and I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in August 2011.  I am just starting to realise that to live with this disease you have to find some acceptance within.  Try to put things in perspective.  Overall, my life is really great at this point.  Yeah, I have a disease... but I also have a supportive family, a loving wife and great friends.  That is the stuff that truly matters.

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