How would you know if you had a mental health issue if those closest to you don’t see it and those that do, don’t bring it to your attention? You most likely wouldn’t know and wouldn’t understand how it negatively impacts your ability to manage your diabetes.
The other day I read a new research article stating that 22% of people living with diabetes also have mental health issues; Depression, Bipolar disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder and the like. After reading this article I questioned how accurate the 22% was, after all, those were people who were diagnosed and didn’t include people who were never diagnosed.
The reality is that there are many more people who don’t get diagnosed, who never received the much-needed help growing up and have struggled for years and still struggle. You might be asking yourself why is this so important and why should you care?
Well, life with diabetes is extremely difficult, and I speak from experience, maybe too much experience. I was diagnosed in 1977 with juvenile diabetes. (Type I) Life was difficult, and it was easy to blame all of my issues on diabetes.
I was convinced that this was life and there was nothing that could be done to help me. Every day was a struggle, but I kept pushing forward. While in psychotherapy I came to understand that I was depressed and it wasn’t all diabetes related. Just knowing that depression also played a role in the negative aspects of my life, helped reduce my anger towards my diabetes.
“Then something miraculous happened when I was 30 years old!”
I was going back to school for my masters in social work to become a psychotherapist, but I knew I need extra time for tests, just in case my blood sugars went low before or during a test. Because I was diagnosed with a learning disability in my youth, I decided to get reevaluated by a neuropsychiatrist to hedge my bets. Sometimes, it is difficult to get schools to accept that people living with diabetes might require accommodations, compared to a learning disability.
I made sure my blood sugars were in range during the testing. During the evaluation, I thought I was doing okay, and that worried me. I needed that extra time but thought what if life is just plain difficult and maybe I didn’t actually have a learning disability after all I managed to be successful despite having diabetes and depression. When I got to the reading part of the test, the doctor came in and asked how I was doing. I told him that I was halfway through the story. He said to me there was no need for me to continue reading.
I can only imagine the look on my face when he told me that time had lapsed 10 minutes ago. He asked me several questions that I also ask my clients during the diagnosis part of the initial assessment at the start of therapy. The one that stuck out the most and always seems to be a constant issue for many of my clients, but not all, was, “When reading did you need to reread the same sentence?” I said yes, and he followed up with, “How many times before you can remember what you read?” I had no real clue, but I just said, “Many.”
He said that I was misdiagnosed, “Actually, this was not a diagnosis during your first testing as a child. You have Attention Deficit Disorder, Inattentive Type.” He told me that this was good news. At the time I didn’t think so, but I do now.
He recommended a psychiatrist, and I said I am already on enough medications, “I don’t want to take more medications! I don’t even take aspirin for a headache.” I do now and WOW, what a difference an aspirin makes.
Thanks to the right combination of medications, I feel much better, and I don’t struggle with or stress out about my diabetes nearly as much. I hated reading and writing prior to going on medicine but, now I love writing and have written over a hundred articles and blogs on the impact of diabetes on all aspects of life. I was at the top of my class in the Masters of Social Work Program at Fordham University; a huge change from undergrad. Psychotherapy and medications helped me resolve a problem I didn’t know I had.
When we live with a problem like depression or other mental health issues it is difficult to see it because it is all we know. I never realized how much harder managing diabetes was until I received help. I don’t need to continue going to a psychotherapist but find it is an excellent source of support when living with diabetes.
It is essential to have an open mind and try new things because you never know how something might help you, even if you don’t believe you have a problem. I didn’t and the past 17 years have been the most productive and happiest of my life.
My name is Eliot LeBow, LCSW, CDE, and I am a diabetes-focused psychotherapist, who has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1977. If you don’t have a mental health provider with an understanding of diabetes, I have spent many years helping people living with diabetes resolve issues like this in my New York Office and Online.
All the advice included in this blog is therapeutic in nature and should not be considered medical advice. Prior to making any changes to your diabetes maintenance program, please consult with your primary physician or endocrinologist.