Afraid of Diabetes

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Does diabetes scare you? I know multiple sclerosis (MS) scares me. Both diseases can progress and cripple our lives. How does fear of diabetes affect your life, and more important, what do you do about it?

In May, Quinn Phillips wrote here about the scare tactics used by the American Diabetes Association and others trying to raise money or prevent diabetes. Many readers agreed with Quinn that being scared was not helpful for most people.

“Scare tactics are in my opinion a waste of time,” commented Jim Snell. “Finding positive/reassuring and corrective tactics seem far more productive in my mind.” Most psychologists would agree. Fear can motivate, but without a doable alternative, it can be paralyzing.

Too much fear promotes denial. Allez, a commenter on Quinn’s article, wrote about her husband, “Scare tactics might just push him to realizing that his tingling feet and wounds that won’t heal are going to lead to an amputation, if he doesn’t start doing something. Don’t know if it’ll help. It hasn’t yet, and he’s seen some pretty scary commercials lately.”

And that is typically what too much fear does to you. Small amounts of fear might energize you and get you to pay attention, but the threat has to seem manageable. If there’s nothing you can do, and the future looks too awful, you will tend to give up and try to enjoy the time you have left.

Of course, some fear of diabetes is justified. The complications of diabetes are truly scary. So are the effects it can have on your family and your finances.

Fears are stressful, and stress isn’t good for MS or diabetes. Fear increases insulin resistance and blood pressure and interferes with the body’s natural healing systems. It makes it harder to enjoy life.

I have some self-confidence, so even though there is no good medical treatment for MS, I have never given up on doing the best I can for myself. I wouldn’t say fear motivated me. For me, it was more the challenge of understanding my condition and finding ways to fight back and have the best life I could have.

Over the last 30 years, some fears have come true. I need to use a wheelchair to leave the building now. I have fatigue and pain and other symptoms many people with diabetes probably share. I make a lot less money than I used to make as a gainfully employed nurse. It has been hard on my wife and family, I’m sure.

It’s still scary — it could get a lot worse. But I now believe it could get better, which is key (if it’s true, which I think it is). That’s why it’s important to understand that diabetes can get better, too. You may decide not to pursue getting better, even if you know you can. But if you believe you can’t, you certainly won’t try.

Of course, there are a lot of other things to be scared of besides health problems. Every time we look at media, we can be frightened out of our wits. You look at environmental news and it’s all global warming and oil spills, threatening our survival. You look at war news and our government is fighting some place you never heard of. You look at politics or the economy and see all kinds of threats to our freedom and well-being. You look at your bank account and worry about paying bills and your children’s future.

In my opinion, some of these fears are realistic. Others are being pushed on us to keep us scared and quiet.

All of that is stressful. So is chronic illness. So what do we do about it? I think we take the best care of ourselves that we can, and look for ways to address just one other threat. Some things, like global warming, put me into despair, so I don’t think about it much. For things I feel less hopeless about, I try to speak up, write letters, maybe contribute some money or volunteer at a food bank or something.

For any threat, all we can do is the best we can, and just doing that will reduce our stress and make us feel better about our lives. At least, that’s been my experience. What do you think?

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