How Therapy Helped Me After My Diabetes Misdiagnosis
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When Beyond Type 2 Senior Content Manager T’ara Smith was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at 25, she was studying to be a nutritionist. It was an added stress on top of the demands of a master’s degree program.
Luckily, T’ara experience in therapy had taught her she didn’t have to have all the answers or manage things alone when life got hard. This became especially important when, two years later, T’ara was rediagnosed with latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA)—which is essentially a form of type 1 diabetes that usually develops in adulthood and progresses more slowly than traditional type 1 diabetes.
Reframing preconceptions around mental health
Nonetheless, she was weighed down by the negative conceptions of mental illness and therapy that she’d absorbed throughout her life.
“I felt like I was a failure asking for help about problems that I feel like I should have been able to handle,” T’ara remembers. “Having to battle that internal belief was difficult.”
The stigma around mental health and emotional struggles is, unfortunately, still common.
At the least, many people are exposed to narrow depictions of therapy, and with them, ideas that someone who talks to a mental health provider must be in crisis or that it signals a personal failing. T’ara grew to believe talking to a counselor was a sign of weakness and, even at this first stage of adulthood, that she should already have the tools to deal with any situation that came her way.
“I come from a Caribbean background as well as a deep south background. In my family, therapy was just for people who were weak and who couldn’t handle their emotions,” T’ara says.
Eventually, she was able to reframe the thoughts of failure and inadequacy that came with acknowledging her emotional health.
“It is okay for me to not have to deal with the deep depression, anxiety and body image issues that I’ve been having for years by myself,” she told herself. “And I’m not meant to have all the answers. If there is someone that can take me out of my head a little bit, that’s always going to be a good thing for me.”
Adjusting to a diabetes diagnosis
Being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2017 while also earning her master’s degree was another big learning curve. As an avid learner, T’ara knew knowledge was powerful.
Her professional training in nutrition gave her a solid foundation in understanding the complexity of diet and blood sugar management. Similarly, her past experience working with a therapist had taught her that mental and physical health are inextricably connected.
“Diabetes is interesting because our blood sugars react as a result of something else that’s happening in our life,” T’ara explains. “People think it’s only just food and exercise, but it could be stress, it could be the relationship that you have with food and exercise—all that stuff can be helped with therapy.”
Nonetheless, diabetes is rarely easy. There will be times that you’ll feel on top of your day-to-day management needs and others where it will feel like a burden you want to avoid. Some days, real-life obligations can make even the basic tasks of diabetes management overwhelming and impossible to keep up with. Diabetes doesn’t just stop because you’re in the middle of a divorce, moving across the country, or starting a new job.
The emotional toll of living with diabetes
Shortly after graduating, T’ara moved across the country to work for Beyond Type 2 in December 2018. In her new role, T’ara found herself believing that she ought to be the perfect person with diabetes if she’s working for a diabetes organization. The pressure she put upon herself was overwhelming.
“I was already dealing with the sort of imposter syndrome that came with this role for me,” she recalls.
Her self-image was starting to affect her diabetes management––and vice versa. She was trying hard to manage her diabetes through diet and exercise alongside medication, but she wasn’t seeing any improvement in her blood sugar levels.
“I was being reminded that my blood sugars were always high and I felt like I couldn’t control my relationship with food and how I decided to eat,” T’ara remembers.
So, T’ara talked to a therapist.
“I started really opening up about how diabetes was impacting my mental health. I was feeling out of control with my diabetes and knowing that that was just a symptom of me feeling out of control of my life.”
Facing a new diagnosis
Shortly after, T’ara was told she didn’t have type 2 diabetes, but LADA—a misdiagnosis that meant she wasn’t being given the tools her body actually needed in order to improve her blood sugar levels. Reflecting on two years of treating a misdiagnosis brought up feelings of anger, frustrations and even sadness, but confiding in a therapist helped her process her feelings.
“Therapy teaches you how to celebrate the wins in your life, but also gives you the tools to prepare for the losses and the downtimes,” T’ara says. “We have those moments when managing diabetes is super hard.”
For T’ara, cognitive behavioral therapy gave her the tools her reframe negative or challenging thoughts and experiences.
When facing negative thoughts, T’ara now asks herself: Is what you’re thinking and believing about yourself true? If so, what are some examples that you’re seeing that this is true? And what are some ways that this is not true?
“The goal of this was to step outside of myself and try to see my situation as objectively as possible,” she says.
The positive impact is evident and has benefitted all areas of her life. She hopes others can see that.
“It has made me such an advocate for therapy. I love talking about it,” T’ara says. “I don’t have a problem talking about some things I’ve learned in it, because I want people to see that it’s okay to go to therapy.”
Mental health tends to be a generalized term. There are many kinds of mental health challenges and concerns. Needs can range in severity. If working with a professional will help to address your mental health needs, please seek out support.
Check out these resources on how to find mental health support:
- Mental Health Guide for Men + Boys with T1D
- Just Diagnosed with Diabetes? Why and How to Find Mental Health Support
- The T1D Guide for Mental Health Providers
- American Diabetes Association: Mental Health Provider Directory
- How Diabetes Impacts Your Mental Health
Educational content related to mental health therapy is made possible with support from BetterHelp, an active partner of Beyond Type 1 at the time of publication. Thank you to BetterHelp for offering everyone in our community two free therapy sessions. Learn more at BetterHelp.com/BeyondType1.
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