My first response when the doctor told me I had diabetes was complete and utter denial. She had to be wrong. It had to be a lab error. I was convinced that when I got some rest my blood sugar levels would go back to normal. This was actually the third phase of my denial- that something could possibly be wrong with me. Let me explain.
Denial Phase One: Ignoring my symptoms.
I didn’t think they were important enough to get checked out. The only reason I made a doctor’s appointment was because I developed sores that would not heal, and I had a fast approaching leading role in a new ballet by my director Peter Martins. It took a threat to my dancing to get me to pay attention and take action.
Denial Phase Two: Ignoring my doctor’s urgent messages.
Rather than pay attention to the word urgent above the note, “Zippora, phone your doctor” at the back stage entrance, I felt annoyed and put out. The doctors’ messages and her news would have to wait a couple of weeks until the two-week break between winter and spring seasons.
Denial Phase Three: Being in the doctor’s office, not believing anything was wrong with me.
As the doctor threw (maybe placed) four different pamphlets about the complications of diabetes in my lap all I could think about was getting back to the theater in time to get my makeup on so I could perform that evening. I couldn’t process the information about the various warnings of what might happen to me in the future. Complications from heart disease and stroke, to kidney failure, blindness, and loss of limbs, were not processing. I didn’t trust my doctor. I didn’t have time for more talk, as I had to get back to the theater. She told me to make another appointment so we could discuss the treatment plan.
I never did.
Coming Out of Denial
It would take me years to get the proper diagnosis, find a doctor I could trust and work with, and years to learn the right way to treat my diabetes and not give up on my dancing dream.
I believe one of the main reasons people don’t seek medical attention is that we don’t want to “hear” that something is wrong with us. My mother went a year ignoring a pain in her back she thought was a muscle strain which turned out to be due to the fourth (the most advanced) stage of lung cancer. She was a strong woman, but when it came to paying attention to her own well being she could be cavalier and did not want to make a big deal out of her problem. And just as I had, she never thought anything could be really wrong.
We owe it to ourselves, to care enough, to take care of our bodies.
For those of us with diabetes that means taking our insulin/medication, exercising, and eating as healthfully as possible.
A few things that have been particularly helpful for me:
- Control over my blood sugar levels. When my blood sugar levels are high I feel ravenously hungry no matter how much food I have eaten. If you have diabetes, control your sugar levels, and try to eat foods that keep your blood sugar levels stable.
- Choosing foods that nourish the body. Think of your body like a car. If you don’t put gas in, it won’t run at all. When you put poor quality cheap gas in, it will run but may stop and start. If you put high quality gas in it will be running like a Ferrari. I feel physically and emotionally better when I have eaten well and nourish my body. I know there is much advice about ways to eat. I always go back to my grandmother’s advice; eat foods as close to their natural state as possible. I choose organic foods whenever possible, healthy fats like avocado and nuts and seeds, organic meats and fish, and as many vegetables as desired!
- Having an emotional outlet for stress. I cannot stress enough how important this is. Stress can affect my blood sugar levels, and it affects my food choices. I may always be someone who eats when I am stressed and anxious, overly tired and emotional. But that doesn’t mean I cannot address the underlying causes of my stress. Sometimes I just need to set aside time in the day to just “be” and feel what is bothering me. It’s been important for me to find foods that are emotionally satiating, and don’t wreak havoc on my blood sugar levels. My advice is to identify what you crave (salt, sweet, crunchy, fatty), then find the healthiest version of that food. For example, when I crave sweet and fat, I find coconut butter will satisfy my craving. Exercise and good quality sleep are also extremely important.
- Educate yourself. When I have been both underweight, and a bit over my preferred weight, I have suffered far more sleeplessness, anxiety, and fear. By educating myself, it helped me to understand that my physiology directly influenced my emotions and my ability to make rational decisions.
It is important that we learn to value ourselves and know that even with a chronic illness, a meaningful and passionate life is there for us all.
I do believe that we can be healthy, and live a full and passionate life, even with a health condition. But we must not deny our symptoms, and we must learn to take care of what our bodies are telling us. If not for ourselves, then for those we love and who love us. I was determined to find answers because I loved dancing so much and it was being threatened. My mother came out of denial because of how much she loved her family.
We live in stressful times, with great pressures and expectations of what we should be able to accomplish. According to the National Institutes of Health, one-third of adults with diabetes are unaware they have it. Countless others are walking around with undiagnosed illnesses. In most cases early detection of a health issue can make a radical difference in ones quality of life. If you are feeling symptoms of any kind, don’t assume it’s merely stress. Find out what is going on, educate yourself as best you can, and then take care of your body and your heart!
Author: The Sugarless Plum, Ballerina Dreams
Former soloist NYC ballet