If you have just been diagnosed with diabetes then you are probably in a state of emotional turmoil. This is a perfectly natural reaction – diabetes is a serious condition and it will be with you for the rest of your life. Accepting that you have diabetes, and learning to live with it, will take time.
What’s covered on this page
- Emotional rollercoaster – Why me?
- Separating fact from fiction
- Accepting the reality of the situation
- Where to from here?
- Self care – your responsibility
- What you need to know about diabetes NOW
- What you will need to learn to learn about diabetes
Most people go through a whirlwind of emotions when coming to terms with diabetes. If you are riding the emotional rollercoaster then it may help if you can identify your feelings.
Initially, you may be shocked that you have been diagnosed with a serious condition, especially if you had not noticed any obvious symptoms. Alternatively, you might be relieved that you have finally found out what has been causing you to feel so unwell recently. Although it is no one’s fault that you have developed diabetes, you might be inclined to feel angry, or even guilty. Many people grieve for their former health and this can lead to feelings of overwhelming sadness or depression. In addition, diagnosis of a chronic (lifelong) disease, such as diabetes, is often accompanied by feelings of anxiety and a fear of what the future may hold.
Recognising your feelings will help you to come to terms with the situation. You are fully entitled to feel the way you do; there is no reason to try to hide or deny your feelings. The emotional response to your diagnosis will gradually become less painful as you get used to the idea of having diabetes. However, you will probably retain some of your feelings towards the condition. This is OK! You do not have to dispense completely with feelings of anger or sadness – but it will help if you can accept them as part of the package.
Most people go through the “Why me?” stage. It is natural to question why this should happen to you and not someone else. It is equally natural to look for someone to blame.
Separating fact from fiction
In coming to terms with the situation you will need to know exactly what you are dealing with. You might have some preconceived ideas about people with diabetes that are based more on myths than on reality. For example:
- ‘They’ must have something wrong with their blood
- ‘They’ are always sick
- ‘They’ can’t lead a normal life
- ‘They’ can’t do anything energetic
- ‘They’ have to eat special “diabetic” foods
- ‘They’ can’t eat chocolate or anything sweet
- ‘It’ must be bad if ‘they’ have injections
You might also have heard some of the horror stories that focus on long-term complications at their very worst. For example:
- Diabetes results in blindness
- Diabetes causes kidney failure
- Diabetes results in gangrene and amputation of the legs
These really are worst-case scenarios. There is no reason why you should suffer such complications if you take care of yourself and your diabetes.
What is the harsh reality then?
You have diabetes and it won’t go away.
Accepting the reality of the situation
You have diabetes and it won’t go away.
Facing up to the reality of diabetes takes a good deal of courage, especially since the future is often clouded with uncertainty. You may need to make permanent changes to the way that you live your life and you might feel that your whole identity as a person is being threatened.
You may have diabetes but you are still ‘YOU’!
Where to from here?
Having come to terms with the fact that you have diabetes and that some aspects of your life may change as a result, one of the most important things for you to do will be to learn about the condition and how it is managed.
First of all you should find out what type of diabetes you have, how it will be treated and who will be providing your diabetes healthcare. Then you will need to learn about your role in the day-to-day management of your diabetes (see below). There is a lot to learn, but you do not have to learn it all at once. And remember, Diabetes Info NZ is here to help you.
Self care – your responsibility
Diabetes is unusual in that your input can directly influence your future health. Your doctor will prescribe treated for your diabetes and other members of the healthcare team will advise you on many aspects of managing the disease. But it is your self-care that will ultimately make the difference.
Here, we introduce the concept of diabetes self-care and outline the daily responsibilities that you will need to consider. You can learn more about each individual component of self-care in the other sections of Diabetes Insight.
Diabetes self-care involves fitting the prescribed treatment plan into your daily life, monitoring your blood glucose levels on a regular basis, and making minor adjustments where necessary in order to achieve good control.
In a nutshell, YOUR role is to ensure that YOUR treatment plan works for YOU. You can do this by following the treatment plan, monitoring your blood glucose levels and communicating with the healthcare team.
Components of your self care
- Taking medication as prescribed – safely, regularly and at the right times
- Adopting a healthy lifestyle
- Considering your food choices
- Paying attention to your level of physical activity
- Committing to regular self-monitoring of blood glucose
- Using the results of your blood glucose tests to make adjustments to your treatment plan under the guidance of the healthcare team
- Learning more about YOUR diabetes and how it affects YOU
In addition, there are a number of other healthcare practices that you should adopt, including the following:
- Developing good foot care habits
- Following sick day management guidelines during periods of illness
- Acting responsibly and trying to avoid acute complications such as very high or low blood glucose levels
- Knowing when and how to contact the healthcare team for help
- Developing coping skills
If you are a smoker then you should consider taking steps to give up. You already know that smoking can seriously damage your health. You should be aware that the risks to your health are now greatly increased because you have diabetes. You can’t escape from the diabetes but you CAN stop smoking. YOUR Diabetes YOUR Life! may help you if you need help making changes to long standing habits.
Knowledge is power
The more knowledge you acquire about diabetes, and what works best for your individual circumstances, the more power you will have to achieve good control.
Although diabetes cannot be cured at present, it can be controlled but the person with diabetes needs to be constantly alert and aware of what affects them and their diabetes.
You must learn to take control of your diabetes on a day-to-day basis. This will be easier, the more you learn about your diabetes.
Read pamphlets and books about diabetes provided by your healthcare team or diabetes association.
Utilise the healthcare system
The healthcare system is there for your benefit so make sure that you get the most out of it. Attend your clinic appointments and keep in regular contact with your healthcare team. Never be afraid to raise questions or concerns that you may have. Have your questions prepared beforehand and repeat them if the answer is unclear to you.
Your healthcare team will be able to assist you with the management of your diabetes; they will also help to keep you up to date with the latest medications, information and technology.
It will get easier!
Although you may be feeling rather daunted by the prospect of looking after your diabetes, you will soon find that your diabetes self-care has become a natural part of your daily – performing a blood glucose test will become second nature to you, just like cleaning your teeth.
What you need to know about diabetes NOW
- Diabetes is for life
- It must be taken seriously, no matter what type you have
- It is possible that you will develop further health problems later on in life – this is more likely if you choose to ignore the fact that you have diabetes, or find it difficult to accept your diagnosis
What you will need to do:
- You will almost certainly have to make some adjustments to your lifestyle – consider food intake, exercise levels, smoking and drinking habits
- You will need to do finger-prick blood glucose tests on a regular (daily) basis
Find out from your doctor:
- What type of diabetes you have
- What treatment you will need
- If medication is prescribed then how much of what should you take when
- Who will be looking after your diabetes (hospital or local GP surgery or both)
- Who you should contact if you are worried about anything
- Who you should contact in an emergency
Essential information for people just diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes
- Your body no longer produces insulin
- You will need to have insulin injections
- Too much insulin can cause low blood glucose levels (hypoglycaemia) and this should usually be treated with glucose and a snack
- Exercise can also cause hypoglycaemia
- Missed or delayed meals can cause hypoglycaemia
- Not taking enough insulin can lead to ‘diabetic ketoacidosis’ (DKA) which is dangerous and potentially fatal
Essential information for people just diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes
- Your body naturally produces some insulin but not enough
- Your body does not use insulin properly
- If you are overweight, weight loss will help to control your diabetes
- Regular exercise will help to control your diabetes
- The sooner you can get your blood glucose levels under control the better the chances that your body will continue to produce some insulin
- You must take medication as prescribed by your doctor
- Even if you have not been prescribed any medication for your diabetes, you must take your condition seriously – you are at risk of developing serious health problems if you do not.
What you will need to learn about diabetes
You will need to learn as much as you can about diabetes. The more you know, the easier it will be to look after your diabetes and to successfully fit it into your life. Much of what you will need to know can be found within this website. However some things can only be learned from experience.
There are certain key areas that you will need to consider:
(These are not listed in any particular order of importance)
- Yourself – how you will fit diabetes into YOUR life
- Your particular type of diabetes
- Your particular treatment
- What affects your blood glucose levels
- Your health care in the long-term – making the most of your healthcare team
- Your self-care skills
- Your coping skills
- Setting goals
- Adopting a healthy lifestyle
- Adopting healthy eating
The following are more specific aspects of diabetes that you should learn about:
- Why it is important to control blood glucose levels
- How to control blood glucose levels through proper eating, physical activity, tablets, and/or insulin
- How to monitor your control with blood or urine tests (self-monitoring) and how to use the results
- Signs of high and low blood glucose levels; how to treat them, and how to prevent them
- What to do when you are ill
- Prevention and treatment of long-term complications, including possible damage to eyes, nerves, kidneys, feet, the heart and circulation
- What are the risk factors for complications
- How to deal with lifestyle variations, such as exercise, travelling, and social activities (including alcohol consumption)
- How to handle possible problems with employment, insurance, and driving licenses
Remember, you cannot possibly be expected to learn everything all at once. Pace yourself; you will be learning about diabetes for the rest of your life. Educate your friends and family
It will be of enormous help to you if your friends and family can also learn about your condition. It is likely that those close to you will want to help you and it will be easier for them to help if they understand where you are coming from.
Developing coping skills that will help you to deal with stress, depression and other such problems associated with having a long-term or ‘chronic’ illness are an important aspect of self-care.
It is very important that you have a source of emotional support to help you deal with the diagnosis and coming changes to your life that diabetes may enforce. When you have an idea of what your particular emotional needs are you should try to build up a network of people who you can turn to in order to fulfil these needs. They may be able to provide a shoulder to cry on, or just be content to sit and listen while you offload your worries and concerns.
Many people benefit from talking to others with diabetes. Find out about your local Diabetes New Zealand society, or any other local groups that will be able to offer support and friendship.
There are heaps of Facebook pages and groups for people with diabetes in NZ. Or you might consider joining our own Facebook Diabetes Community here at DIABETES INFO NZ.