Thinking differently about diabetes - make friends with your pancreas

One of the biggest psychological barriers to the enormous task of diabetes self-care is the relationship we have with diabetes itself. I want to challenge you and give you a fresh perspective. Hopefully this will impact positively on your self-care.

Nearly everyone with diabetes will at some point say 'I hate diabetes'. It makes sense as a statement, doesn't it? This awful disorder that gets in the way of life and living, that interferes with every aspect of a social life. This is the point I want to challenge - hating diabetes doesn't really make any sense at all. Especially as some people get stuck in the hate - and a toxic relationship with their diabetes condition emerges, but the only loser is the individual.

Challenge 1: Hate doesn't help

By hating diabetes, aren't we actually saying we hate our pancreas? Does that really make sense? Do we really want to hate an organ in our body? This feeling is really important because when we hate something, we tend to behave in negative ways towards it. We may act resentfully towards our diabetes, engaging in minimal self-care, or we may spitefully ignore the problem altogether - with potentially life-threatening impact on self-care or increasing risk of long-term damage.

Hating diabetes is faulty logic. By hating diabetes we are putting ourselves at war with our own body - that doesn't make sense. By hating diabetes we most often end up resenting every signal our body sends that our pancreas is struggling to cope. By making diabetes a separate 'thing' we lose our compassion for our own body and illness - ignoring the fact that we have a poorly pancreas that needs our help.

Challenge 2: Making friends with our pancreas

If you 'hate diabetes' you need to change the script. We need to have compassion for poorly pancreas and in turn for ourselves and our body. If you think it is wrong for someone to be bullied, why are you effectively bullying your own pancreas? Having compassion is about acting with kindness, understanding, concern and tender-heartedness.

A different, compassionate, script that can improve your relationship with diabetes can include:

'I have a poorly pancreas that needs my help.'

'A high reading is a signal of how much my pancreas is struggling today and how much it needs my help right now.'

'Education and advice from the doctors is to help me understand my pancreas better, so I can understand the signals it's sending and the help it needs.'

'My monitor/pump is an interpreter - helping my pancreas tell me how things are going.'

By having a compassionate relationship self-care can get easier. We can save a lot of energy by simply taking out resentment and stopping a vicious cycle of ignoring a condition that isn't going to go away.

Finally, here is one last alternative script that might help:

'I'm doing the best I can do right now; me and my pancreas are a team. We don't always get on, but we'll get there.'

TOP TIP: Write these statements on slips of paper and carry them around with you. Or put them on sticky notes and tag around the house. This will help you get into a habit of positive self-talk about your diabetes and it makes it easier to remember the new way of thinking.

Dr Jo Nicholson is a qualified clinical psychologist with many years' experience of working in the NHS.

Copyright © Dr Jo Nicholson. All rights reserved


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