Shock, Shots, and Trauma

Thirty-seven years, 13,514 days, 324,335 hours or 19,460,100 minutes ago I was diagnosed with diabetes. In that time, I have experienced four hospitalizations, including diagnosis, and three hypoglycemic reactions; the last one was over 25 years ago.

My last trip to the hospital included a very scary moment where everything changed for me. It wasn’t waking up in a cold hospital room with an IV attached to my arm, the hallucinations or delusions that came with a severe low blood sugar; the moment that changed everything involved my roommate.

He picked me up from the hospital and had a black eye. I later found out that the person who gave it to him was I. He wasn’t angry with me, but I was both angry and embarrassed. A week later my friend told me “don’t sweat it! I am just happy you are better, but, I wish you would take better care of yourself.”  From then on I paid more attention to my diabetes and had worked very hard to prevent that from happening again. Just this week I was thinking back to my friend and how traumatic that experience was.

One of my specialties is trauma and its impact on the cognition of a person living with diabetes. The psychotherapist in me couldn’t help but question if that kind of event were the only or even primary source of trauma for a person living with diabetes. My experience working with individuals living with diabetes and my personal experiences has brought me to a unique answer.

The answer is somewhat surprising. A lack of attention to the answer has led many people with diabetes, to Diabetes Burnout. It is not necessarily the big stuff but the little day-to-day trauma that causes the most anxiety, stress, and problems.

These mini-traumas build up over time, taking a silent toll on the emotional well-being of the individual living with diabetes. Sources can range from being late to work due to a low blood sugar reaction to accidently saying or doing something stupid when blood sugars are high that you later have to apologize.

Every day I help people build coping strategies and skills to manage the day-to-day Mini-Trauma. Interestingly enough, I don’t follow all the advice and direction I give to my clients. Wondering why?

It’s Personal!
As all people are uniquely different, special in their ways, so is the way they cope. Some individuals may use meditation to reduce the stress that is incurred from the mini-traumas, while others may play bocce ball or paint. Regardless of the type of coping skills used to manage life with diabetes, to be healthy, you need several ways to handle the trauma.

For example, one of my clients uses techniques learned in psychotherapy with a mix of playing guitar, tennis, and yoga. In therapy, this client has learned how to utilize self-talk to manage their emotional reactions when blood sugars are low or high. They have also have created a toolbox of useful coping tools and stratagems, ranging from breathing techniques to time management skills.

We are all different and required different ways to cope. Be kind to yourself, managing diabetes is a tough job and unforgiving. That is why it is important for you to be forgiving of you. Avoid self-blaming and when your blood sugar veers off course, remember comprehensive management doesn’t equal perfect numbers.

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.

For more information go to his website or Facebook Page or set up a free 30-minute phone consultation to see if talk therapy is right for you.

Medical Disclaimer:
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.

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