Diabetes and Mental Health

I was diagnosed with diabetes the summer before my sophomore year of high school. The initial treatment plan? “Take 2.5 mg of Glyburide daily and restrict sugar intake.” Because it was 1987 and glucometers weren’t available yet for home use, I was sent home with Tes-Tape® and instructions to test my urine about once a week or “whenever I felt like my blood sugar might be running high.”

For those who don’t know, Tes-Tape® was a roll of litmus paper. You’d tear off an inch or so, pee on it, watch for a change in color, then compare the color to swatches on the back of the container. The darker the the paper, the greater the concentration of glucose in your urine. (For kidneys to spill glucose, your serum glucose level has exceed 180mg/DL, high enough to be causing damage. And by the time it shows up in your urine, it’s likely been that way for several hours.) So, any color at all on the test strip indicated some degree of bad news (with no strategy for correction).

Tes-Tape

Image courtesy of perlebioscience.com

I carried the Tes-Tape® with me every day at school, zipped in an interior pocket of my backpack. I was supposed to have it with me, so I did. But I never, ever, would have used it while at school. (If you’ve ever had to pee on a narrow, inch-long strip of paper, you get it – it’s messy!) So, no, I didn’t test my urine in a high-school bathroom stall. And I didn’t talk about diabetes much at school. None of my friends had diabetes. None of my friends’ friends had diabetes. No teenager I had ever heard of had diabetes. And, like many teenagers, I just wanted to be perceived as normal.

Over Spring break that year I visited my friend in upstate New York. At some point during the trip, her aunt asked me, “I hear you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, how is that going for you?” I answered that it was OK, but that it was kind of drag not to be able to eat everything my friends ate. She listened, and offered this perspective:

Had I ever considered how movie stars ate? She went on to describe that movie stars – who lived lives of luxury and could eat anything they chose, elected to limit their intake of sugar because it was bad for their bodies, bad for their complexions, and contributed to premature aging. She wondered, had I given that any thought?

I had not, and it got my attention. What I heard was not so much the promise of everlasting beauty, but the message that I fit diabetes into a broader, more appealing framework, as long as everything was aligned. I didn’t have to decide that I was deprived of sugar; I could simply bypass it in favor of something better, like ripe, seasonal fruit. I remember this conversation often when I reach for a luscious pear instead of, say, a sugary doughnut. “What would Jennifer Anniston do?” I think.

This post was written for Diabetes Blog Week.
The Prompt:
How does diabetes affect you or your loved one mentally or emotionally?  Any tips, positive phrases, mantras, or ideas to share on getting out of a diabetes funk?

To read more posts on this topic, click here.

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