Living with Diabetes and Dealing with Emotions Part 1

Living with diabetes

This is a two-part article on diabetes and mental health. How a diagnosis and lifestyle with this disease affects the patient's emotions. The main purpose of this two-part “Living with Diabetes and Dealing with Emotions” is to bring awareness to the emotional side of the disease and have our readers share this piece of information done with two experts on the field of emotional support but that are also living with Diabetes themselves. I invite you to read this informative piece and leave your comments; if you are a person living with diabetes, have a loved one living with diabetes and how you manage to cope with it.

My grandma has been living with type 2 Diabetes for a while and recently my father-in-law was prescribed to start using insulin; he had been having issues with his sugar and triglycerides for a while, but it was after he went through taking care of his breast cancer and the chemotherapy that he developed type 2. With the help of my mother-in-law he has been taking control of his Diabetes and is leading a normal life, cancer free. Almost all of us in our family did not know much about this medication and since I am more in touch with health matters because of my job, I immediately started flooding myself with all this information, especially since I lost an uncle last November due to complications with Diabetes. That’s how I came across this amazing  Diabetes Online Community (DOC) on Twitter: I have to say I am relatively new to that social media channel but it has been an eye opening experience, especially with the large variety of communities supporting each other united by their own specific health condition. It is so nice to see people from around the world sending out messages of hope to those who are going through the same situation.

Just the other day I was in the #ourD tweetchat as an observer, looking for a special topic on Diabetes, how it affects the patient’s mental health and emotions. The #ourD chat gets together every Tuesday at 3pm Est. to talk about different topics regarding Diabetes. That day that I came into the tweetchat, they were focusing on how Diabetes affects their emotions and feelings and could even influence their blood glucose levels. Most, not all, people who were participating agreed that it is something hard to live with, and that unfortunately mental health care is not normally provided, but all were together in saying how great it is to be a part of this special group, feeling like they are your team cheering from the sidelines. One of the participants even shared that until joining Twitter and finding other people with diabetes he used to feel like the only person with diabetes in the world but he has now learnt and met so many people that he feels whole.

That excellent and insightful conversation got me wishing there was more, and there is… lots of videos and blogs talk about it. However, it keeps me wondering and hoping there was more awareness on the importance of taking care of your emotions and mental health when dealing with Diabetes or any other chronic illness. So, this is why I wanted to share my small piece of support to such an important aspect in this life changing diagnosis.

It was while searching through Twitter that I found two clinical psychologists who are also living with type 1 Diabetes. I suppose I could have looked for any other psychologist, but wanted to have a firsthand view on how to cope and take control of your emotions when dealing with Diabetes. These two psychologists have an immediate bond with their patients, as they personally know about the highs and lows of blood sugar and what that can do to a patient's mood.

I had the pleasure of talking to Dr. Beverly S. Adler and Dr. Mark Heyman (more information on them below), and here are their thoughts:

There’s a big difference between type 1 and type 2 diagnoses, and this is something both of them emphasized. Although they are both life changing diagnoses, the moments they are discovered in the patient’s life encounters them in two very different stages of their lives. Furthermore, it is not the same thing dealing with a child’s tantrum, teenage angst or adulthood stress and anxiety. It is a broad topic that needs a deeper look and analysis. According to "Dr. Bev"(as she is known) there is a large spectrum of reactions, “newly diagnosed type 2 patients could feel traumatized, guilty and experience regrets. As for the type 1 patients, if they are diagnosed as a baby or toddler, because of their young age, they know no difference; and if it happens to a teenager, they see it as something that makes them 'different' and ultimately they must learn to take more responsibilities for self-care”. However, Type 1 Diabetes could also manifest in young adults as it happened to Dr. Mark Heyman; he was diagnosed with type 1 at the age of 21 and according to the NIDDK, "Type 1 Diabetes develops most often in young people; however it can also be diagnosed in adults"

Dr. Bev also accentuated on the fact that type 2 diabetes has become an epidemic and unfortunately that is not the case of psychologists. There is no epidemic of specialists treating diabetes as CDE’s (Certified Diabetes Educator) which is a really small specialty in the mental and behavioral health fields. “It is very important to help patients with diabetes not feel the burden of the disease, to accept what is; the patient has the two choices of either not accepting it and being emotionally miserable or accepting it and not seeing it as a burden but as just an extra part of your daily regimen like brushing your teeth or showering”, says Dr. Bev. “Take it one day at a time; diabetes can feel overwhelming at times and patients may feel a variety of emotions all at once, which is why it is important to have a good support system and take the small steps it takes to take care of themselves. good self-care, many people will be able to lead long and complication-free lives like any other person”, said Dr. Mark Heyman.

Dr. Heyman also says, “Diabetes is a condition that requires intensive self management, you need to know what you need to do and how your system will react. It is  also important to connect, to find a support group that knows what you are going through and who can give you support and advice”. To him all the different diabetes online communities are helping people manage their emotions when they probably do not have the option of seeing a psychologist or an expert on the matter.

Social media has come to change the perspective of how a PWD (person with diabetes) struggling with their emotions could get immediate support and communicate with other PWD’s. As per Dr. Bev it is a wonderful change, for those who are a little older and social media had not been invented when they first got diagnosed. “The technology of the Internet has made the connections shrink; distances among people with diabetes around the world are non-existent in this space”, said Dr. Bev. She also commented on how this support channel helps people not feel alone. From the emotional point of view of diabetes, its patients have the opportunity to learn from many people, whether they are professional or also patients living with diabetes. All the shared information is just a click away, but it is also important to watch out for misinformation and the recommendation from the experts is to be discerning. Other sources of information like blogs can give a deeper look on what a PWD can be going through and give chance for others to express themselves and not just in a 140 characters limit. “The growing online diabetes community is very active and highly engaged in bringing awareness to other people”, says Dr. Heyman.

Please join me on the second part of this message as my guest experts talk about the importance of having the support from people close to the patient’s heart, coping strategies and the “Diabetes Etiquette” for friends and family members.

Dr. Beverly S. Adler is a Clinical Psychologist and Certified Diabetes Educator in her private practice in the greater New York City area. She just celebrated her 39th Diaversary (complication-free) with type 1 diabetes and specializes in treating patients with diabetes no matter the age. She is a true advocate that anyone can live their life with diabetes and have no complications as long as they take care of themselves. She is also the author/editor of two “must-read” inspiring books “MY SWEET LIFE: Successful Women with Diabetes” and “MY SWEET LIFE: Successful Men with Diabetes”. You can find more information on “Dr. Bev” on her website

Dr. Mark Heyman is a clinical psychologist who also has type 1 diabetes for the past 14 years.  He focuses in improving the lives of people living with diabetes and other chronic illnesses by using his personal and professional experiences. Diabetes and Behavioral Health are among his specialties. He is an assistant clinical professor at the UC San Diego and works for Human Care Systems Inc. He has also written featured blog entries for the Behavioral Diabetes Institute in San Diego.

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Dr. Beverly S. Adler @AskDrBev
Dr. Mark Heyman @DiabeticPsych