Nothing Like Experience To Ease Diabetes Anxiety

A little over five months ago, when the doctor told me I had Type 1 diabetes, somewhere in my head I began a mental list of “Things Eric Can Worry About.” And how quickly that list grew.

Rational and irrational, born out of ignorance, born out of reading too much, heightened by unfamiliarity and inexperience, and exacerbated by the “Why me?” soundtrack playing in the background—throughout the first several weeks of living with diabetes, the catalog of both legitimate concerns and trivial items bouncing around my brain became longer and longer. Worrying about one thing meant worrying about another.

Of course, anxiety breeds anxiety. It feeds off minutiae. At least, that’s what happens to me when my head gets cluttered with too much too fast. Dealing with diabetes, my diabetes, was new and scary. And, so, those major items on my list, such as achieving a lower blood glucose level, lowering my HbA1c, taking a statin to prevent high cholesterol, learning carbohydrate contents of foods—I thought those would take up all of my time. I assumed diabetes would take precedence over everything else.

On the contrary. Management soon became, well, not “routine,” but I found it much less difficult than I’d initially feared. I settled into a self-management groove within a few months. However, most big-ticket items on my diabetic worry list were pretty intangible: numbers on a page, numbers on a monitor, numbers thrown at me by my doctor; it was a pill I needed to take in the evening, or a clear liquid that disappears into my body, or the promise of prevention—by doing x and y and z, I would lower my chances of developing complications years later.

Often, the results of effective self-management won’t show up for months, or years. Or, actually, they don’t appear at all: You won’t develop retinopathy; you won’t show signs of neuropathy; you don’t have a heart attack. Which is wonderful. But while eating healthy today, exercising today, and taking meds today contributes to my overall physical and emotional well-being at the present, when I was diagnosed it didn’t give me the level of satisfaction I wanted—and most likely needed—as I came to grips with diabetes.

That’s why, in those first few months, I fixated on and worried about so many of the little things I felt I could control. I stressed over how to carry the monitor and test strips with me, how to arrange supplies on the diabetes shelf in the bathroom, how to be discreet at meals when checking blood glucose, how to inject insulin without making it obvious. I worried about the temperature in the fridge (insulin pens in the door, in the butter compartment), or that I’d touched the test strip and messed up the reading, taken my medicine an hour too late, injected my basal insulin too early, or missed a blood glucose test by an hour. The world might come crashing down if I was 15 or 20 carbs off in my count. And preventable situations were the worst. What if I was stuck in traffic, carbless? What if I went low while standing up in a friend’s wedding? I became anxious about running out of test strips, needles, lancets. And I lay awake for hours before I started on an insulin pump, wondering how to dress with that tubing, how to sleep, exercise, take a shower, change the site, and on and on.

Today, only a few short months later, while I’m not worry-free, I have scratched most of these items off of my mental list.

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Eric Lagergren: Eric Lagergren was born in 1974 but didn’t give much thought to diabetes until March 2007, when he was diagnosed with Type 1. He now gives quite a bit of thought to the condition, and to help him better understand his life as a person with diabetes, he writes about it. Eric is the senior editor for the Testing Division at the University of Michigan’s English Language Institute in Ann Arbor. (Eric Lagergren is not a medical professional.)

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