36 years ago in the hospital, I had just turned six years old and was diagnosed that same day with Juvenile diabetes. The doctor was nice! After being diagnosed, I learned that I could die. I put up a good front in those days.
It looked like I accepted the diagnosis and dealt with the pending change well. Looks can be deceiving as I was still a 6-year-old child. Not understanding the changes that I needed to make, I left the hospital scared but confident I could handle what was coming. Once again I was only six years old at the time.
I acted fearlessly in the face of an illness that could kill me at any time. I was vigilant and learned what the doctor told me. I was ahead of my time, for my age, and I was the talk of the hospital. I’d hear nurses in the hallway, “I can’t believe he gave himself his first shot! He’s only six years old” “He refused to let anyone give it to him, brave kid.”
Change is difficult at any age, but when you don’t understand the need for change it can be torturous. I needed to modify the way I looked at food, play time and being spontaneous. Everything needed to be planned; from what I ate to how I played.
I decided to fight the change. I spent the next several years doing whatever I wanted to do. I not only ate candy with my friends, but I would go much, much farther than that. I would eat sugar filled treats every chance I could get.
I rode my bike over 5 miles each way to a little convenience store every week and would load up with all sorts of candies and chocolates. It didn’t matter the weather. I would make that trek for many years.
I learned to lie about anything and to anyone while concealing what I was doing. I lied to myself! I needed help, but didn’t even know how, why or whom to ask.
The consequence was great! Blood sugars were always out of range. I constantly felt sick both physically and emotionally. I want to emphasize; I almost let the illness take my life from me. The disease was not the problem! I was!!!
Luckily, my mom noticed a few years later that I was depressed and sent me to a child psychologist, and in therapy, I learned the importance of change and self-care. With my therapist’s guidance, I learned what was preventing my happiness and blocking me from making the necessary modifications. I started to follow the rules that are in place for my wellbeing. I began to feel better! Much better!
It is not about how long you will live or preventing a future complication; it is about being happy in the here and now.
I would not be the man I am today without the struggle, and I am grateful I was able to accept diabetes. I am thankful for my therapist for helping me on that journey and the understanding that diabetes was not my fault. At the end with my therapist’s help, diabetes helped me learn dedication, persistence, drive and compassion of others.
Many years later, I am a Diabetes-Focused Psychotherapist and Certified Diabetes Educator; helping people with diabetes learn about their illness as well as feel emotionally and physically better.
The world is always in a state of change, and if you don’t learn to change with it, you will constantly be struggling. Managing change is important. If you are struggling, it’s important to seek out help from a Mental Health Professional or Certified Diabetes Educator.
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.