I wrote in early April how I managed diabetes while exercising because for awhile I’ve felt like I pretty much understood how I should do it. I have been running for about a year and a half, and even though things aren’t always perfect, I felt comfortable that I knew what I was doing. But because diabetes likes to keep you on your toes, all of that changed a few weeks ago.
Suddenly everything I thought I knew about running with diabetes went out the window. No matter what I did, I either went low less than two miles into the run, or I would finish over 350 mg/dl feeling awful.
On Friday afternoon, I had a particularly bad run. I had spent the morning talking with my CDE, and she gave me some suggestions for what to do. I tried to follow them, but I either didn’t do it quite right or it was just “one of those runs.” Once again, I went low in the middle. I was angry. I already struggle with running because of my weight, and diabetes just added another obstacle. I felt like I was fighting two battles, and both enemies were working together to defeat me.
Out of frustration, I tweeted, “Being a fat T1D training for a half marathon might be the actual worst. I’m not quitting on principle, but I’ve never been more frustrated.”
As expected, I got a lot of responses.
Most of the comments I received were people telling me not to give up. Telling me to keep going and that I could do it. There were people who gave me suggestions and tips about how to manage my diabetes while running. Or they asked me questions about what I was or wasn’t doing. There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with anything that anyone said to me.
But it just wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
It’s something that I’ve noticed in myself over the years. Years ago, someone in a support group told me that I too quickly tried to fix people’s problems when they were venting in the group, rather than just listen. I defended myself, saying that it was my nature to provide suggestions and feedback based on what I was hearing. It’s just who I am.
But now being on the flip-side, I can see how sometimes receiving suggestions isn’t what a person needs. How the now ubiquitous mantra “You can do this!” is sometimes not the best answer. Not that it’s not true — we can do this — but sometimes that’s besides the point. I think the first thing that those of us frustrated and burned out with diabetes is validation.
A few years ago, I saw a therapist. I had resisted for a long time because I didn’t really believe that this therapist could help me. I don’t think I’m alone in that feeling, but I eventually went. I shared with her what was going on, even though I had no idea what she could do to solve the problem. And she responded not with some Pinterest-worthy quote about how everything happens for a reason or keep on keepin’ on. She said that it sound like what I was going through was really horrible. She validated what I was feeling as being normal and okay. I don’t think anything had made me feel better than hearing that it was okay to be upset.
It’s not that advice or cheer-leading is always bad. But I think we have to look a little more carefully at what the person might actually want. In my particular message, I didn’t ask a question. I didn’t say, “I’m struggling with going low during my runs. What should I do?” I didn’t even hint that I might want to abandon my plan to train for a half-marathon. Messages about not giving up and that I could figure it out made me feel like I wasn’t being listened to. I didn’t say anything about quitting my plan or feeling like I couldn’t do it. I was just tired of all the work it took in order to do this.
Of course, I’m continually having to try to bite my tongue because I am the worst offender at this. A couple days after my own experience, I saw a Facebook post from a woman who decided to go back to shots after having difficulties with her pump. Immediately I wrote — and later regretted — that I hated being on shots being of the inflexibility of it. Several other women also wrote that they had tried shots and didn’t like it, although there were a few people who said that they had good experiences on shots. It didn’t occur to me until later that this girl might think that I was devaluing her decision, telling her that she was wrong, and that I want her to conform to my life with diabetes. Perhaps all she really wanted was for someone to say, “I hope it works out for you!”
It’s not that people aren’t incredibly well-intentioned. But sometimes I wonder if we’re really listening to what people are saying. In my case, I was frustrated that I even needed to work at this whole running and diabetes thing. Running is hard enough as it is! I was struggling, upset and angry, and the support I received was in the form of more questions to answer and more things to try. I was exhausted.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t share our experiences or suggestions. Before we jump in with our two cents about what people could try, we first need to acknowledge and validate their feelings.
“Yes, you’re right. It really does suck.”