Grief and Diabetes
Stages of Diabetic Grief:
Dealing with life can be tough enough for emotionally strong people, but being diagnosed with diabetes changes the ball game completely, and sends you on a never-ending emotional rollercoaster ride.
Most people think that grief only applies to losing a person. But when you are diagnosed with diabetes, your world stops and the person you were before ‘dies’. The same stages of grief that apply to losing a person, mainly anger; denial; bargaining; depression and acceptance, apply to diabetic grief, but we have a few extra for good measure. The stages begin at the moment of diagnosis and never quite end, thus the diabetes loop begins and we continue to cycle through the stages on our new journey.
The first stage: Shock
First, there is denial and shock. You hear the doctor say that you have diabetes, and your mind stops.
‘It’s not possible. I don’t even eat that much sugar.’
That’s the shock part.
The second stage: Denial
Then you think, ‘Well, I will just inject for a bit till I feel better and it will be okay.’
This is denial. But unfortunately diabetes and the need for good control leave little room for denial to live.
The third stage: Anger
Anger quickly follows the denial, but this stage is hard to overcome, and you never fully let go of the anger. You get angry at yourself for not going to the doctor sooner and getting checked. You get angry when your blood sugar levels are high or low, and this leads to stress which will increase your levels. Of course in the anger phase, we all ask ‘why me?’ and ‘what did I do to deserve this?’ So we open the door to the bargaining and depression stages.
The fourth stage: Bargaining
As diabetics, we become expert bargainers, even though all our bargains are one sided. We bargain with our medical team that if we do things a little differently, our results will change, but mostly we bargain with ourselves. This is dangerous. We bargain that since our levels are good, we will eat now and skip a dose, and it will be fine. But each bargain we make can lead us closer to the depression stage. When our bargains fail, and they do, we get depressed and loop back to anger.
The fifth stage: Depression
Depression is something that most diabetics battle with. We get depressed when our blood sugar levels are bad, and we have not done anything wrong. Mostly, we get depressed when our routine and bargains fail us. For example, when we think we have everything under control and our levels are good, that bad day hits and we have to start all over again.
The sixth stage: Anxiety and fear
With the normal stages of grief, the next one would be acceptance. With diabetes, however, there are two extra stages. After depression come anxiety and fear. As diabetics, we tend to become very anxious and fearful people. Since diabetes is an unrelenting disease with constant management and a constant cycle of injecting, carb counting and weighing of food and reading of labels, it does not allow for any days off. It’s no wonder we have anxiety and fear! We never know what will happen from one day to the next, therefore it also makes it harder to move to the acceptance stage.
The seventh stage: Acceptance
Acceptance is something that even the most veteran diabetic struggles with. It’s the one thing we all want, and yet we rarely achieve. We all live in hope of a cure that will end our rollercoaster ride, and stop our management routine. There is a difference between acceptance and compliance. What can look like acceptance is in fact compliance. We need to acknowledge that compliance is good and normal, but we also need to acknowledge the fact that we will possibly never gain full acceptance of our condition. That is why we always live with a bit of hope.
The daily rollercoaster
Grief is something very common in everyday life, but in the diabetic life, it’s harder to overcome. We are on a constant rollercoaster ride that we have no control over, and never asked to get on. We are always wishing for a cure.
Even nine years after my diagnosis, I still find myself replaying these steps in no certain order. Unfortunately, there is no diabetic nirvana. It is a daily rollercoaster ride of emotions. The trick is to try not to get stuck in a specific stage, and realise that with diabetes, it is an ever-evolving process through the stages of grief.
We need to be ready for whatever comes our way. We need to keep in mind that the body reacts to emotional trauma and excitement by triggering a chemical reaction that will make the blood sugar rise, and also remember that with grief and life, it is normal to have bad days and we must try and enjoy the good days and not linger on the bad days.