What Has Diabetes Taught You?

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I’ve been living with chronic illness for 30 years. I’ve learned a lot from the experience, and I bet you have learned from diabetes. What has diabetes taught you that could benefit other people, even those who are “healthy” now?

You can learn a lot from illness. When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), I was going in several directions at once. MS made me focus. I was pushing myself past my limits. MS made me slow down. I learned about accepting help from others, about speaking up for my own needs. These lessons have made me happier and more productive.

Diabetes teaches different lessons. Self-discipline is the one that comes to mind — eating, monitoring even when you don’t want to. Being careful about everything you eat and do. (Not that you do it all the time, but way more than most people without diabetes.)

The need to educate yourself and not let others decide your management for you is another one. Many find they do better on a diet different from what their doctor recommends. The ones who learn to go their own way do better. Does that mindset help you in other ways?

Illness has a spiritual dimension. It forces us to look at what’s really important in our lives and to give up things that aren’t working. But most of us don’t want to learn the lessons of illness. Our bodies have to keep upping the stakes until we finally give in and try to change. I salute those of you who responded to diabetes and made good changes without waiting years for complications to wake you up.

Illness has taught me so many other things. A big one is about death. We all know we are not here forever, but we choose to live as though we had a thousand years to go. We don’t, and illness makes you look at that reality. What are you going to do with your life, illness asks, and why aren’t you doing it now?

Living within our limits is another powerful teaching that many healthy people haven’t accepted yet. You can’t do it all or have it all, so what’s important? What is rewarding, what brings you joy? If you don’t accept that you have limits, you might never make that choice and never get around to the parts of life you really love.

I wrote a book about this stuff called The Art of Getting Well, but the lessons keep coming. One of them is that my happiness and quality of life are pretty much up to me. I can decide how to respond to what life brings and make myself happy or miserable.

Another lesson is that it’s NOT about me. The universe just goes on like it does; I don’t have to worry about it, take the blame or the credit. It’s all a lot bigger than I am. It’s not your fault either. Take it easy.

I could go on, but I would like to know what you have learned. Especially, what are the things you know that your healthier friends don’t? How did you learn them and how have they helped? What lessons are you working on now? What do you still need to learn?

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