I was the original “diabetes diva” before being a diva was cool! I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes before it was called that. It was 1975 and I had all the classic symptoms: excessive thirst, excessive urination, excessive fatigue, and weight loss (without trying). My diagnosis was “juvenile diabetes.” I was insulted by that diagnosis because I was in college and didn’t appreciate being called “juvenile.” Prior to my diagnosis, I actually dated two young men (not at the same time) who had diabetes, but they never explained what was involved in diabetes management. It was like belonging to a club that was a big secret. My uncle (not blood-related) also had diabetes. He was the best example of what not to do. Everybody told me, “Don’t be like Uncle Henry!” Like my two boyfriends, my uncle never discussed his diabetes with me or gave me any advice. Other than my family’s words of warning, I was on my own.
I accepted my diagnosis without much emotional drama. My mother, a college professor, had a student in one of her classes who was ill (not the same symptoms as me) and went for medical tests at the same time as I did. When her student’s diagnosis came back as a brain tumor, I was grateful to have a chronic illness that I could live with. My brother, who was very wise, congratulated me on my diagnosis, explaining that he knew I would always take care of myself. He was right! But, self-care in those days was bereft of all our modern technology. I was lucky to use disposable syringes (and not have to sterilize my needles). Blood sugar meters had not yet been invented nor was carbohydrate counting. The biggest regimen advancement of the day was taking insulin twice a day. When my regimen was adjusted to “multiple daily injections” four times a day, some people felt sorry for me that my diabetes had gotten “worse” requiring the additional injections. I was not like my uncle and two previous boyfriends who kept silent. I was always explaining to people about the improvements in diabetes management. I called myself the “Johnny Appleseed” of diabetes education and saw myself as an unofficial diabetes educator.
Diabetes and psychology
I had no idea when I studied psychology as an undergraduate student, and later as a graduate student (earning two Master’s degrees: one in Applied Behavior Analysis and the other in school psychology, and then my PhD in clinical psychology) that my two worlds – diabetes and psychology – would one day collide together. After my children were old enough to be a little more independent, I went back to pursue my career goal of having a private practice. I had no idea what my focus should be. Again, my very wise brother was helpful. He asked me a simple question: “If you could choose to do anything, what would you like to do?” My answer was easy: I would like to work with people with diabetes. His reply, “Then, go for it!” was all the encouragement I needed. At first, I started working, part-time, at my local hospital’s Counseling Center. Every patient with diabetes was assigned to be seen by me. (I also saw patients without diabetes too.) As time went on, I was invited to make presentations to various Diabetes Support Groups. In 2007, I was invited to present the Keynote Address to my local JDRF’s 1st Annual Educational Seminar “Living with Diabetes.” Also in 2007, I was the recipient of the LillyforLife Achievement Award in the category of “Professional Hero”, which included a check for $1500 to be donated to a charity of my choice.
Lions Clubs International
That charity which I supported then (as well as currently) is Lions Clubs International. Lions Clubs is an international organization whose members provide help at all levels of need from local community support to global disaster relief. Lions Clubs accepted the challenge, made by Helen Keller in 1925, to become the “Knights of the Blind in the crusade against darkness.” The Lions accepted her challenge and our work has included sight programs aimed at preventable blindness. Since people with diabetes are at risk of losing sight due to diabetic retinopathy, Lions are involved with programs for diabetes awareness, education, prevention and research. Throughout my years of involvement with Lions, I was elected to serve on the board of the Nassau County Lions Diabetes Foundation, Inc. for two two-year terms, served as co-chair for our fundraising project Lions Strides Walk, which raised money for diabetes awareness and education, and currently serve as secretary for my local club. In 2010, I was honored to be the recipient of the “Melvin Jones Fellowship Award” – a Lions award for dedication to humanitarian service.
Diabetes is a blessing in disguise
I’ve written many articles (in print and online), as well as made numerous presentations, about diabetes topics, always from the psychological perspective. In 2011, I published my first book: “MY SWEET LIFE: Successful Women with Diabetes.” The book is a collection of 24 life stories (including mine), each chapter written by a highly respected and successful woman with diabetes. The diverse group of women share their heartwarming stories and insights about finding balance between their personal, professional, and spiritual lives. One year later, I published my second book: “MY SWEET LIFE: Successful Men with Diabetes.” Again, the second book is a collection of 25 life stories written by a diverse group of successful men with diabetes. The men’s stories are filled with honesty, humor, drive and determination that are inspiring. The theme which runs through both diabetes self-help books is that “diabetes is a blessing in disguise.” Had it not been for my diabetes, I don’t know if I would have made this the focus of my career. Had it not been for my diabetes, I don’t know if I would have chosen to live a healthy lifestyle. I believe that diabetes was my destiny’s plan. I understand the ups and downs of living with diabetes (quite literally). I love what I do and feel that I am uniquely qualified to treat the emotional issues of people with diabetes.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy and a spiritual approach
Known as “Dr. Bev” in my private practice, I focus on strongly endorsing and empowering the lives of people with diabetes. I’ve described the approach I take as “T L C Therapy: Talk, Listen, Counsel” which was published in the AADE (American Association of Diabetes Educators) journal In Practice (in September 2014). T L C Therapy can be broken down as follows — Talk: teaching patients about diabetes and its management; Listen: supporting patients and validating their feelings when they speak; Counsel: utilizing Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) to help my patients develop healthy coping strategies so they can achieve the goal of diabetes acceptance. As a clinical psychologist, I have seen my patients go through various stages of emotional adjustment, such as denial, anger, bargaining, and depression/diabetes distress. It should be noted that not all people go through those stages, nor do they necessarily occur in the same order. Learning how to recognize what is not within your power to change – your diagnosis – and learning to recognize what is within your power to change – your thoughts and your actions – can help you accept your diabetes. People with diabetes can learn how to survive with diabetes, but more importantly, how to thrive with diabetes.
In addition to Cognitive Behavior Therapy, I also include a spiritual approach to the therapy I provide. As I said earlier, I believe that diabetes can be viewed as a blessing in disguise. I am a big fan of the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
A belief in God is not required to benefit from this approach. What is needed is an open mind and a positive attitude about life. If you interested in further information about me and the work that I do, please visit my web site at: www.AskDrBev.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @AskDrBev.
In conclusion, here’s some helpful thoughts to keep in mind:
- “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” – Eckhart Tolle
- “Remember, happiness doesn’t depend upon who you are or what you have, it depends solely upon what you think.” – Dale Carnegie
- “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Max Planck
- “Choosing to be positive and having a grateful attitude is going to determine how you’re going to live your life.” – Joel Osteen
- “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” – Maya Angelou
- “Change your thoughts and you change your world.” – Norman Vincent Peale
- “Your illness does not define you. Your strength and courage does.” – Anonymous
- “A bad attitude is like a flat tire – you don’t get anywhere until you change it.” – Anonymous