Diabetes and Fear
Fear! It’s something I’ve been dealing with all my life. When I was 4 years old and in recovery from a tonsillectomy I woke up in a dark ward, alone and desperately needing to pee. I screamed for help but no one came. I was terrified. Was anyone going to comfort me? Would I wet the bed? Eventually a nurse turned up, showed me how to use a bedpan and I calmed down. Something I distinctly remember about that moment was how it felt to be afraid. It was uncomfortable, draining and made me shake all over. I had no words to define the feeling, but I knew it wasn’t nice.
Meeting my fear has never been easy. But slowly over time I’m getting better at taming the beast, especially now that I live with type 1 diabetes.
My initial response to my diagnosis was to deny that I had diabetes. The theory being: what doesn’t exist can’t hurt me. It took time and courage to realize that the only thing standing in the way of me accepting my condition was fear.
Fear of hypoglycemia, fear of ketoacidosis. Fear of insulin. Fear of forgetting to take insulin. Fear of food, fear of what other people think about what I eat. Fear of getting fat or losing too much weight. Fear of complications. Fear of losing my livelihood. Fear of losing my relationships. And the biggest fear? Fear of dying. We all grapple with that one, diabetes or not.
The thing that’s helped me the most in facing my fears is yoga.
Yoga is a word used to describe the nature of the human being as whole and complete.
When I first heard this—picture me sitting on a cold concrete floor on an ashram in India at the feet of a learned Indian teacher—I really thought it was all about me as the individual. How can I be whole and complete when my pancreas is dead in the water?
The answer was simple. Our nature is already whole and complete. Who we are as human beings, is inseparably part of the totality we call creation. Just like a broken flower is also inseparably part of creation.
My teacher in India was really cool. When I asked him how to approach my fear of living with diabetes he reminded me that the body is subject to the forces of time. We are born into a timeless creation. Regardless of when we are born and what we do with our lives the creation continues. The only thing getting me into trouble is that I take what I have to be myself. I have a name but I can never be the name, I can never be my condition either.
Once I was diagnosed with diabetes I naturally assumed that the disease was me. I can never be what I have. I can never be diabetes.
Understanding that diabetes is something I have has helped me enormously. Sometimes I think of it like wearing a pair of jeans. The right pair of jeans can give me style but obviously my jeans aren’t me. Diabetes can alter my behavior, affect the way I respond to life and like a pair of too tight jeans, can feel super uncomfortable. But no matter what’s going on I know I don’t need a stylish pair of jeans to live a happy life.
When it comes to dealing with diabetes, day in and day out, I try and remember that the challenges aren’t me either. Instead, they are happening in my presence. I have the power to react or not. It’s normal to feel fear, but if I get lost in the fear, it’s a self-perpetuating nightmare. More stress, more fear and on and on it goes.
Besides having a mental understanding of what I’m dealing with when it comes to my relationship to diabetes, my yoga practice brings me back down to earth.
When I’m freaking out about that not so perfect number on my meter, I bring my mind to my breath and slowly count the length of the inhalation and exhalation. I remind myself that I am not the number on my meter. I have to be careful that I don’t deny what I see; the number is relevant, but getting all worked up about it isn’t going to solve the problem. Slow measured breathing soothes my mind and gives me perspective.
The same goes for the physical yoga practice. Calming and restorative postures are brilliant for calming the nervous system. Lying in positions which stretch the fascia (the sheath that surrounds the muscles and connective tissues in the body) release tension and anxiety.
Focusing my mind on my breath while practicing yoga means my mind is no longer preoccupied with fear. It’s completely immersed in the flow. Reminding me that wherever I place my attention that’s where the energy goes. When my fears threaten to overwhelm me—I have a choice. I can focus on them and watch them expand or I can place my attention elsewhere. It’s that simple.
Ultimately facing my fears hasn’t been so much about overcoming them but meeting them head on. It might be something simple like upping my insulin dose in small increments over days rather than just going for broke, asking a question in the beyond type 1 community app to feel more confident with splitting my dose or even using my creativity to get the difficult feelings out of my system.
And besides all that, the following three things work really well too.
Accept that it is what it is.
And allow grace to take care of the rest.