Yesterday I attended a virtual conference on diabetes complications called the Diabetes Hope Conference. It’s an interesting title, because of all the words I associate with complications, hope isn’t really the first one I think of. Or the second. Or even the tenth. Maybe the twentieth?
One of the points that was emphasized by the panelists, which include folks like George Simmons, Karen Graffeo, Manny Hernandez and Kerri Sparling, was the importance of sharing our experiences with diabetes complications. To be completely honest, I really don’t think about diabetes complications.
Diabetes complications are not what motivate me to manage my diabetes. I was not raised to fear complications, although it wasn’t like they were completely without mention. I manage my diabetes because it makes me feel better. I don’t like having constantly high or low blood sugars. They make me feel nauseated and gross. I have to pee all the time, I become a royal bee-yotch, and in general I feel like those are the times when diabetes rules my life. I manage my diabetes so that diabetes doesn’t manage me.
But I have dealt with a diabetes complication, albeit minimally and almost to the point where I barely mention it. In 2010, when I was working at a public relations agency and living in New York City, I started developing a mild case of peripheral diabetic neuropathy. I call it mild because it really only affected me first thing in the morning. I would wake up, put my feet on the hardwood floor, and wince as I walked over hot coals to the bathroom.
Obviously I wasn’t really walking over hot coals.
I think it was mostly the effects of poor circulation, and by the time I got my legs moving, my feet were fine. I didn’t have any open wounds and I could feel everything just fine. No numbness or lingering burning or tingling. It was just in the morning. But it was painful enough that I wanted it to go away.
At the time, I was working on our Pfizer account, and Lyrica was one of the brands I monitored. Lyrica is recommended for treating diabetic peripheral neuropathy, but I knew from monitoring diabetes message boards that the side effects weren’t that great. Monitoring the conversation, however, taught me that another alternative is a supplement called alpha lipoic acid. So I started taking it every day and I’d say within a few months, my symptoms improved. I eventually stopped taking it, and I have not noticed any tingling since then.
Maybe I’m cured. Maybe I never really had it. All I know was that the conversation surrounding diabetes complications helped me discover something that helped me feel better. Which is exactly why we do what we do here in the Diabetes Online Community. We try to help each other feel better.
Another point that came up during the conference was diabetes guilt. Guilt is a powerful, ever-present emotion when managing diabetes. Whether it’s a single high blood sugar or a retinopathy scan that shows some bleeding, our lives are a constant flux of guilt, shame and humiliation. One of the reasons that I have a hard time sharing stories about my blood sugars, whether low or high, is because I find it embarrassing. I know it’s normal, but it’s embarrassing too.
It’s kind of like poop. You know everyone does it, but dear Lord, please don’t make me talk about it.
One of the things that I was reflecting on today was a life philosophy that my father shared with me. He likes to say, “There is no right or wrong, only varying degrees of success.”
Applying that to diabetes, I think that all of us in our own ways are managing diabetes successfully. Perhaps some appear to be doing so more successfully, but no one is failing at managing their diabetes. There is just varying degrees of successful management.
Even those who have complications are not failing at their diabetes. First of all, some of us are simply more susceptible to complications, despite management. But simply knowing that you have a complication and are working on treating it or reversing it is a form of success. It shows that you are aware of your health, that managing your condition is now a priority. Those are things to be proud of.
I don’t think about diabetes complications. I think about how I want to live my life. I think about the things that I want to do, like travel the world, become a mother and run a marathon, and what the best way to do those things are. I think about how I want to feel. Confident. Healthy. Strong. I don’t think about complications because I don’t manage my diabetes to prevent complications. I manage my diabetes so that I can live my life.
If I have a complication in the future, I don’t want to look back on my life and believe I should tried harder. I don’t want to feel like a failure. In a way, I suppose I have removed myself from complications. I won’t be ruled by fear or guilt. I won’t be motivated by threats or what-ifs.
I am motivated by my dreams and goals, by my heroes and role models, and by my self-respect and self-awareness.
In other words, I am motivated by hope.
I guess that word isn’t so far from complications as I thought.