Are You a Fighter?

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What do you need to live well with diabetes, or any chronic illness? Knowledge and support are crucial. But fighting spirit is just as important. Not to give up, not to let others take control of your life and health.

Are you a fighter? Do you welcome challenges, even enjoy them? Some people are comfortable going into a doctor’s office and saying “No,” or asking for a second opinion. Others go along with what a health professional tells them, even if they have doubts.

Some people take medicines without knowing why they were prescribed or what the side effects are. They might not even be able to pronounce the names. Others ask pharmacists, friends, educators, or search the Internet until they know more about their meds than their doctor knows.

We’re not all fighters, for sure. I never liked conflict, so I’m usually “nice” to people, even ones who don’t deserve it. Instead of fighting, I try to stay away from those people if I can. But maybe that’s not a healthy attitude. I have to recognize that conflict won’t kill me, but avoiding it all the time might.

One place where conflict comes up is around drugs. Doctors usually want you to take more than you would like. Fortunately, I never had physicians who tried to push drugs on me. With multiple sclerosis (MS — “my” illness), drugs don’t do that much good anyway, so it hasn’t been that hard to say no. I tried them; they didn’t help; I stopped.

But diabetes is different. There are so many approved medicines, with new ones coming out all the time. Some of them really can benefit you, at least temporarily. The difference in quality of life between good control and bad control is so great that people feel pressured to try any things that might help them, even if they don’t work.

Fighting spirit isn’t just important in working with doctors. It’s your attitude toward the whole situation of living with diabetes. Can you take your share of responsibility when things go wrong, without blaming yourself for a disease that is likely environmentally caused?

Do you trust yourself to sort out all the conflicting information you get from experts, professionals, and the Internet? This is especially difficult and important when it comes to diet. What should your attitude to carbs be? Eat as little as possible, eat a bunch, eat low glycemic index, or what?

My point isn’t so much about the correct diet, but whether you trust yourself to understand what is best for you. Because if you don’t, you are trusting your doctor or educator with your life.

Fighting spirit helps with lifestyle change too. Changing diet or exercise is a major challenge for many people. But some go for it and some shy away.

I just reread a blog entry by Amy Campbell from 2006 about how Type 2 inevitably gets worse. That’s the kind of expert opinion that can weigh you down, and as research has shown in the six years since she wrote it, it’s not necessarily true. When confronted with this type of belief, some say, “Thanks for your opinion, but I don’t think that applies to me.” Others feel hopeless. What about you?

Or when, in spite of everything you have done, you get a bad lab result or a new symptom. Some will say, “OK, something went wrong. Let me figure out what it is and correct it or get help with it.” Others might want to give up.

Studies have shown that fighting spirit is associated with longer survival in cancer. We know it’s important when you’re stuck in a swamp and you need to crawl past the alligators to get out. (Diabetes is sometimes like that, don’t you think?)

We’re not all fighters. If your parents were pushovers, you won’t have role models for standing up for yourself. If you were taught to always be nice and not to make trouble, you will go along with the authority figures in your life. You won’t do anything that will cause trouble or inconvenience for your family or friends, even if it’s important for your health. (“Please let’s have pizza and spaghetti tonight! Please, please.” “Well, OK, if you want.”)

Or if people’s social situation has meant that there were few fights they could win, they may have learned to avoid them at all costs. Is that you? If so, can you change that attitude?

There are a lot of things one could fight in this life, and you can’t fight all of them. You have to pick your battles. The best ones are those you can win. I truly think that with a fighting spirit and enough support, the fight to have a healthy, enjoyable life with diabetes, and maybe even get better, is one that you can win.

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