You know the diabetes program. Food and exercise, medications, glucose checks, stress reduction. But have you thought about where love fits into your diabetes management?
You might want to consider it. Love rewards all the work that’s involved in living with diabetes. Yeah, pleasure is good, too, if you can get it, but love lasts longer and goes deeper. It’s what will get you through the night when you’re afraid and up in the morning for a walk when you’re tired.
Of course, a dog will do that too, come to think of it. But what is a pet dog if not a four-legged bundle of love?
I’ve been reading a book by the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader. He defines love as compassion and caring for others, feeling a sense of connection with individual people and with the whole world.
A simpler answer to “What is love?” comes from spiritual advisor Eileen Lighthawk. She says, “Love is unconditional acceptance.” If you can fully accept someone the way he is, you are loving him.
In Buddhism, feelings of love and compassion start with love for yourself. Then you can spread it to the people immediately around you, a practice called “Metta meditation.” Metta meditation goes on from there, but for this blog, let’s stick to this definition.
How do you fully accept yourself? Can you accept yourself with diabetes? Can you have compassion for the self you are, the genes you were born with, the family that raised you, living in a chemically toxic environment filled with unhealthy foods? Do you have compassion for the self that sometimes copes with stress in unhealthy ways?
Realize that you do exactly what others would do, given the ways the world has made you and the influences you have now. You are worthy of love and compassion just as others are. Can you forgive yourself for your mistakes and commit to taking better care of yourself in the future? Can you do this on a daily basis?
Now think about the people around you, especially your intimate partner, if you have one. Can you love him, not in an adoring, put-on-a-pedestal way, but accepting him as he really is?
Our lives improve as we do that. For many of us, having a good relationship with our partner makes a big difference in diabetes outcomes. Research shows that stressful marriages result in worse self-management and higher glucose levels.
So, having realized that a good love relationship is good for you, how do you strengthen yours?
• Listening is an underused and unappreciated practice. If you can spend some minutes just listening to your partner without interrupting or disagreeing, he will feel more loved. You will feel closer. You may start to accept him as he is, our working definition of love.
• Touch is vital to love. Bodies can communicate more directly than words can. Try to get some hugs every day. Try giving affectionate touches and strokes whenever you can. When your partner touches you, try to stop your mental buzz and appreciate how good it feels.
• Sex is a powerful love-builder, but diabetes interferes with sex in several ways. You may have experienced the effects of high or low blood sugars, symptoms such as fatigue, complications like erectile dysfunction or lack of lubrication, loss of sexual desire, and the effects of diabetes medications.
These can all be overcome with changes in management, medication, and behavior. Often, it helps to realize that sex means more than intercourse. There are dozens of other things you can do, some of which you can read about here.
If you really lack desire, you could be checked for the cause of that. Even if you can’t regain sexual desire or don’t want to, any skin-to-skin contact is a healing form of love.
• If you don’t have a partner, what then? You can be happy without a partner; you can have love without a partner. If you want one, though, there are some ideas that help, although most of them depend on loving yourself first.
When you accept that you are OK as you are, that you are lovable as you are, you will attract other people. It’s harder to find partners when you have diabetes, but it’s very possible.
In talking with potential partners, don’t make diabetes the center of your personality, but don’t feel like you have to hide it, either. If you’re OK with it, they will be OK. And if they’re not, who needs them?
Go where you can meet people, whether that’s work, a volunteer activity, a social event, or a diabetes support group. Whoever you meet, try to accept them as they are. You might find yourself being loved in return.
And, just to go back to the beginning of this piece, you might consider getting a dog. Dogs not only love you, they also attract lovable people. They may stop to admire your pet and stay to admire you, too. Cats are good too.
Here’s wishing more love for all of us.
The next time you assume that stress and sleep aren’t really that important for diabetes management, think again, say Scott Coulter. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to read more.