When I was growing up, life was grand. I remember playing with my father in the backyard on the swing set he built. It was lots of fun! Back then, there were no blood glucose levels to worry about, no food issues, and I exercised for pleasure.
On my 6th birthday in 1977, everything changed. I remember like it was yesterday. My favorite babysitter in the whole world was coming over to watch me. She had promised me cookies, and she came through with flying colors. She walked through the door with three dozen homemade chocolate chip cookies. I was stoked! She made the best cookies ever. Ever!
My mom left, and my babysitter said, “Go for it!” and I did. Oh, those cookies were good and over the course of that day I ate almost the whole plate. I was fascinated by the number of times I urinated that day.
At dinner, I said to my mom, “Guess what? I think I broke the world record for peeing. I must have peed at least 40 times today.” Next thing I know I’m in the back of my mom’s Datsun 240z hatchback staring up into the sky and watching all the puffy clouds roll by on the way to the hospital.
I didn’t understand why all the fuss. But, I will never forget the look of intense fear in my mom’s eyes when I told her my great news. I mean, I was going to be famous, and my mom freaks out.
In the hospital, They informed me that I have diabetes, and I will have it the rest of my life. Worst of all I am told I could die if I don’t take care of it. So I take it upon myself to take control.
I wouldn’t let the nurses give me my first shot. After about a half hour of trying to persuade me to let them or my parents give me the shot, a nurse comes in and asks one of the other nurses in the room what the problem is. They talk for a moment, and the nurse who walked in asked me the right question.
Why wouldn’t I let them give me the shot? I said, “I’m going to have this the rest of my life. Right?” The nurse said yes, and I replied, “I want to give it!” It was the shot heard around the world—my world. Random nurses would come into my room and say how brave I was, and the whole hospital was talking about it.
I was the only one who was not in denial, but I was six years old, and I didn’t truly know what it meant to be a diabetic. Life and death are an abstract concept, and I never had to deal with the loss of anything, at least not until I got into the car on my way home from the hospital.
In the car, I asked about my birthday party. My mom replied not to worry and that we were still going to have it. Since I couldn’t have cake anymore, she got me a beautiful fruit basket. I cried all the way home.
Don’t feel bad for me because, regardless of age, everyone feels that way when they lose something so fundamental. Loss of one’s lifestyle is tough to handle and causes our defense mechanisms to activate and protect us from emotional harm.
It is hard to watch someone you love in pain, whether that is your child or you. Denial allows a person not to see the pain, or avoid it altogether. It suppresses the reality of a situation.
How do you avoid problems like denial? Take care of your diabetes by seeking out help. You need to be intra-dependent, meaning that you need to work with the health professionals and with your family and friends to manage your diabetes. Without that support, diabetes is painfully hard. In my next blog, we will take a deeper look at denial.
Eliot LeBow, LCSW, CDE, is a diabetes-focused psychotherapist. His private practice, located in New York City and is also available via Skype. LeBow, who has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1977, treats the many diverse cognitive, behavioral, and emotional needs of people living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
All the advice included in this blog is therapeutic in nature and should not be considered medical advice. Before making any changes to your diabetes maintenance program, please consult with your primary physician or endocrinologist.