Do you ever feel guilty about your diabetes? About the choices you make and the food you eat, for example? Bridget McNulty shares some thoughts about diabetes guilt.
Diabetes is such a strange condition, isn’t it? On the surface, it looks like it’s all about food and medication and exercise: a purely physical condition. But just below that surface there are all kinds of emotions rolling around… Today, I want to talk about diabetes guilt.
What is diabetes guilt?
I’m not a psychologist, so I’m not professionally able to define diabetes guilt. But for the last 16 years, I have spent every day with diabetes and I think that makes me an expert of sorts. I define diabetes guilt as the feeling that we ‘should’ be able to make the right decisions every day. And by right decisions, I mean the healthy, balanced, textbook decisions. Choose the salad over the chips. Don’t eat dessert. Manage your portion control.
Of course, any human will know that it’s impossible to make the sensible decision every single day – especially when we’re not talking about a short period of time but the rest of our lives. Why, then, do we hold ourselves to these impossible standards? That’s the interesting part, I think. That’s diabetes guilt.
The other side of diabetes guilt
On the other side, there’s the very strong argument that quality of life trumps perfect blood glucose. I am all for this argument! If it makes me miserable to follow all the rules, but I have amazing blood glucose, is that worth it? I don’t think so.
I want to be able to eat a slice of birthday cake at my child’s birthday party. I want to be able to go out for dinner and order what I feel like, not what the invisible rule book dictates. And I want to live a full, rich, happy (healthy!) life. It’s the healthy side that keeps me in check, right? I know that if I consistently make the delicious but unhealthy choice, my blood sugar is going to become unmananageable. It’s going to take so much of my time to get off the diabetes rollercoaster that it won’t be worth it.
So there’s a balancing game here: enough attention so it doesn’t make me feel unwell, not so much attention that it sucks all the joy out of life.
Passing and failing at diabetes
I think this is made much more difficult by the fact that we are constantly being presented with numbers that show whether we’re ‘passing or failing’ at diabetes. Every blood glucose test (test!) is a number. Our HbA1c is a percentage. We look at time in target, and how ‘well’ we’re doing.
Some of this is language related, and I do think that makes a difference. (Remember Language Matters?) Saying you’re checking your blood glucose instead of testing helps. Referring to blood glucose numbers rather than results helps. This article on how to reframe high and low blood glucose for better mental health has really helped me.
I’m saying this for myself as well as anyone else, of course. Along with the rest of South Africa, I ate a lot of delicious food over the festive season. I did my best but it was wonderful not to be as disciplined as usual. And now I’m trying to wrestle myself back into doing what I know is best for me, and my diabetes, without feeling guilty about it.
None of us expect people without diabetes to be disciplined and careful about what they eat 100% of the time, so why should we be able to do it?
What do you think about diabetes guilt?
Diabetes guilt is a reality for many of us. But that doesn’t mean it’s helpful. We are all humans, first and foremost, and people with diabetes second. We can do our best – whatever that looks like today – and that’s really all we can do.
What about you? Is diabetes guilt a big thing for you, or are you able to recognise how hard you’re trying? Comment below or let us know on Facebook. Let’s talk about it!
What to read next?
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What is diabetes burnout?: The feeling that it’s too exhausting / frustrating / unpredictable / impossible to manage your diabetes. Diabetes burnout is common in people with diabetes both Type 1 and Type 2.
How to help during diabetes burnout: Diabetes burnout is unavoidable, when you’re living with diabetes. But how can you help during diabetes burnout? What can you offer someone you love who is struggling?