Living with Diabetes and Dealing with Emotions Part 2

A two-part article focusing on living with diabetes and dealing with emotions. Life after diagnosis and how mental health could be affected. With the help from two clinical psychologists who live with type 1 diabetes themselves, I’ve wrote this article to help promote awareness of the importance in keeping a good balance between handling the disease and the emotional side of it. In this second part we look a little deeper in coping strategies, having a good support system and the “Diabetes Etiquette”.

There are simple strategies that people with diabetes (PWDs) could use to tackle the emotional side of diabetes that can have a profound impact on their health and physical well-being. It is proven that the emotions can sometimes interfere with physical health. Both Dr. Beverly S. Adler and Dr. Heyman shared coping strategies that should be vital in dealing with a diagnosis and living with diabetes. One word that was a constant in our conversation was “empowerment”. Take control of diabetes not the other way around. “Roll with the punches, don’t let a number shape your emotions, this could affect your blood sugars even more”, said Dr. Heyman. By using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy "Dr. Bev" (as she is known), helps her patients not feel the burden of living with diabetes and rather make the transition of accepting what is. According to Dr. Bev, “We look at thoughts and actions and focus on changing negative emotions such as, hopelessness, anxiety, depression, helplessness, and turn them around with effective techniques.” She also declared that it takes a while to examine and challenge all thoughts that are maintaining a behavior that is not helpful, but with adaptive thoughts and action changes the patient starts feeling more positive and empowered.

Fear is usually the main cause of the negative emotions. Fear of complications, situations they might not be able to handle or even needles, but as Dr. William Polonsky from the Behavioral Diabetes Institute says, “Diabetes is the cause of……. nothing”. Poorly managed diabetes is commonly the cause of complications, but as long as the patient maintains a healthy diet, stays active, and watches overall health, there shouldn’t be any.

“Diabetes can be a blessing in disguise”, is a message that Dr. Bev shares in her books. And she knows that for many, at first glance this could be hard to understand; how can a chronic condition be a blessing? But if you think about it, positive outcomes can result from adversity and the challenges which you overcome to succeed. Surround yourself with people who care and who are going through the same situation; Dr. Heyman said, “Social media and the Internet are great for understanding that there are people out there experiencing the same things that you are experiencing, and all of us sharing our thoughts and feelings about the disease is a great source of support”.

For someone like me who doesn’t live with diabetes personally it’s difficult to understand what a patient goes through. And it could get easy for me to misunderstand and as much good intentions I might have, I could probably make a mistake and say or behave in a way that I shouldn’t. A clear mistake is when I used the word “diabetic" during the interview with Dr. Adler and she informed me and said that I should be referring to diabetes a patient as “Person with Diabetes” or PWD. No harm done here, just a good lesson. However it is a good example of the basic and most important support techniques for family members of a PWD that both Dr. Bev and Dr. Heyman pointed out and that is - to get informed and to educated about what Diabetes is and does.

A person with diabetes should be surrounded by a well structured -and educated- support system to better manage their condition. My guest experts shared valuable information that I gathered for myself -as a relative of type 2 patients-, and for my readers; truly valid and important to keep in mind and for PWDs to share with their friends and family.

Dr. Bev talked about the finger-wagging “Diabetes Police” and how counterproductive it is for a PWD to have an “officer” in their life. Friends and family who make a PWD feel like a "diabetes criminal" mean well but don’t have the right approach. They will ask questions like “Should you be eating that?”, “What happened to your blood sugar levels?”, etc. The best support a loved one can provide is to express you are there for them if they need you. Back off, sometimes if they just need space. Let them know you're present and available to support them, so they will feel accompanied in this journey. Dr. Bev gave useful tips on this topic, “Offer your support and company if they’re afraid to go to the doctor. If the patient doesn’t know which food is best, get them a specialized cookbook or even nutrition counseling. Above all, help them take control”. To this police metaphor Dr Heyman added that it is a rule-based system and agreed that patients should take charge. “Diabetes is a self managed disease and it is critical for the PWD to know they can count on their support system, whether it is family and friends or even an online community”, he said.

Dr. Heyman also shared the “Diabetes Etiquette” created and used at the Behavioral Diabetes Institute. A great piece of information to have and share with everyone who might not be familiar to this condition.

Above all it is really important to know that while the disease is part of you, it doesn’t define who you are. The great importance of taking the reins of the disease is to be able to live a full and successful life, complication free! To know that you are not alone, and that many people want to see you do great!

The awareness of this social aspect of diabetes needs to grow among the community and among specialists. It is highly relevant that doctors integrate that social support to their practice; some do, but certainly not all. Experts who attend chronic diseases need to educate themselves and offer the emotional support.

I would like to thank Dr. Beverly S. Adler and Dr. Mark Heyman for being my guides into a world I knew little. Please feel free to get the word out there and comment on this and share any other information similar to create a support net for all PWDs out there!

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”. She is currently working on her third book. 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, read one of his blog entries here.

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Dr. Beverly S. Adler @AskDrBev

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Related Read: Living with Diabetes and Dealing with Emotions Part 1