April 10, 2015

Thanks, Diabetes!

Robin bicep curlAn Optimist’s Outlook

Okay, I’ll be honest: Living with diabetes is not an easy ride. Even beyond physical limitations and constant medical adjustments, it’s tough. I could probably fill a page with complaints about the associated frustrations, blood tests, fatigue, etc. But that being said, diabetes has helped me out a lot too. In reviewing the last thirty years, I’m actually grateful for the positive impact it’s had on my life. I appreciate that it has given me more opportunities for emotional resilience, physical strength, and overall health.

So I’d just like to say, “Thanks, diabetes!”

How Diabetes Guides My Self-Confidence and Endurance

When I was a kid, my friends seemed awe struck whenever I did a blood test.  “Look, she’s doing it!” “Cool.” “Can I see?” “Wow, you’re brave.” “Does it hurt?” Pricking my own finger without flinching won me admiration and respect from my peers. I knew they were impressed, and it boosted my self-esteem.

“I’m a tough kid,” I thought. “Blood tests don’t scare me!”

I remember being in a doctor’s office when I was nine. A nurse approached me hesitantly, holding a syringe between her fingers.  I could see her anticipating that I might start screaming and bolt for the door. “I have diabetes,” I told her, calmly. “I give myself shots all the time.” I recognized with self-satisfaction that other children were rarely as collected as I was in these situations. I tingled with pride, and the nurse breathed a sigh of relief.

As I got older, having diabetes helped me recognize more of my own capabilities. Managing glucose levels during my high school years was extremely challenging.  But despite frequent confusion and dizziness, I was determined to do my best. And even though it was a daily struggle to control my blood sugar, I still did reasonably well.  I felt that my good grades indicated my success on a deeper level than just academic comprehension. They demonstrated that I had succeeded in meeting the demands of both diabetes in addition to the challenging coursework.

As a young adult, my glucose levels were constantly spiking. It was a roller coaster. I remember many times when I would simply cancel plans, cry, and take a nap. At one point though, I realized that I needed to develop strategies to keep going.

Walking into a high-stakes job interview and panel presentation, I discovered that my blood sugar was over 400. I felt drained, fatigued, and depleted. But I knew that cancelling was not an option. So I took some deep breaths, wiped my face, and walked in.

When I was later offered the job, at a significantly higher salary than my previous position, I was elated. That experience has become a reference point for me. It helped me recognize my own ability to persevere. I’ve learned to remind myself, “I’m a strong, diabetes-tested individual. I can do this!”

How Diabetes Inspires My Fitness Routines

Around New Year’s resolution time each winter, I notice an influx of new faces at the gym. While we all strive to stay committed to our fitness goals, I personally get an added incentive in keeping active throughout the year. Thanks to diabetes.

I’ve noticed that most gym-goers tend to have long-term goals: building muscle, gaining flexibility, losing weight, etc. But they rarely see results fast enough to stay motivated, beyond January. Three days a week of weight lifting, stretching, or cardio activities for an entire month, with no visible results? I probably wouldn’t stick around either!

But lucky for me, diabetes demonstrates more immediate results. And this makes it easier to stay on track. Twenty minutes of cardio exercise is generally enough to see an effect in my blood sugar. And with a consistent weekly fitness routine, my glucose patterns become more predictable.

In my college years, I was delighted to find that by jumping on the treadmill before lunch, I was able to maintain closer control throughout my afternoon classes. My friends gave up trying to invite me to brunch on weekends, because they knew it conflicted with my fitness routine. I remember a lady that worked at the gym remarking, “You are religious about your workouts!”

“Well, yeah.” I could have told her. “I’ve got diabetes to motivate me.”

This dedication to staying active has been reflected in both my diabetes management and my health in general.

How Diabetes Supports My General Health

Diabetes forces me to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I’m certainly not always in the mood to slow down, plan ahead, and behave responsibly. I just know that diabetes won’t take a back seat if I stop taking care of myself.

So I’ve grown accustomed to monitoring glucose levels, eating well, taking desserts/alcohol in moderation, and exercising regularly. Without diabetes, I probably wouldn’t be so careful. And I remind myself that the way I stay healthy would be great for everybody.  It’s just that not everybody has diabetes to remind them to do it. But I do!

Every day, diabetes prompts me to pay attention to my body and respect my physical needs. I try to take it easy when I’m sick, eat meals on time, stay active, and sleep well. Because I know how badly stress affects my blood sugar, I’ve also developed strategies to minimize anxiety and tension.  In general, I believe that I’m a lot healthier because of diabetes.


Diabetes has guided me to being a stronger and more resilient person in many ways. The challenges that it’s put me through have helped me learn more about myself and have pushed me to overcome boundaries. These experiences have made me more self-confident and self-assured. Diabetes continuously renews my dedication to staying active and sticking to my fitness routines. It reminds me to eat well and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Through living with diabetes, I’ve learned to respect my physical limitations and to celebrate my accomplishments.

Thanks, diabetes!