Moving Past Denial with Type 2 Diabetes
You might think one of the first steps after a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis is learning how to lower your blood sugar levels, but there’s a step everyone deals with first.
Acceptance or denial.
If you’re struggling with denial over your new diagnosis, you are not alone. Accepting a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes is challenging for a couple of reasons that don’t come with many other diseases.
Let’s take a closer look at why denial is a common challenge in Type 2 diabetes and what you can do to move past it.
Diabetes denial is fueled by the stigma of diabetes
“There are several factors behind diabetes denial in people with Type 2 diabetes,” explains Mark Heyman, PhD, diabetes psychologist, certified diabetes educator with Beyond Type 1, and diabetes podcast host. Heyman also lives with Type 1 diabetes.
The first and biggest factors fueling denial are often:
“If people do not acknowledge they have diabetes, then it makes it easier to avoid having those difficult emotions,” adds Heyman.
With mainstream media’s inaccurate portrayal of Type 2 diabetes, it comes as no surprise that living with it means you feel an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt. Too often portrayed as the result of eating one too many doughnuts, your diagnosis is far more complicated if we look at the real science behind beta-cell dysfunction and insulin resistance in Type 2 diabetes.
Living with Type 2 diabetes means facing constant ignorant judgement, not only from friends and family, but from your healthcare team, too.
The physical consequences of denial: complications
“Another factor is that many people with Type 2 diabetes don’t experience any symptoms,” adds Heyman. “This makes it difficult to believe that something is wrong. It’s easy to think, ‘Well, I feel fine, so there is no problem.’”
The earliest complications of Type 2 diabetes and chronically high blood sugars are silent. For years, your eyes, fingers, toes, kidneys, and more, can be damaged little by little until the bigger symptoms develop.
Steps for moving past diabetes denial
Accepting this diagnosis isn’t going to happen overnight if you find yourself stuck in a phase of denial, but remind yourself that that’s all it is: a phase. You can change it by doing just one thing different today than you did yesterday.
Step 1: Write down what you’re feeling.
Are you scared? Sad? Embarrassed? Whatever it is, write it down, think about it. Simply getting those feelings and thoughts out of your head and onto paper can be extremely helpful in moving on.
And then, ask yourself: how is that feeling affecting your life right now? And how will it affect your future if you let it determine how you handle your diagnosis?
It’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to feel or ashamed of your diagnosis. Your feelings matter. But then what? It’s possible to feel a tough emotion and move forward at the same time.
Step 2: Do a little reading on living with diabetes.
By reading stories about other people living with this disease, you might change a few beliefs you had in your own mind about Type 2 diabetes.
Take a minute to find stories about other people living with Type 2 diabetes to realize you’re not alone and you have a full life ahead of you — especially if you accept the diagnosis and begin to manage it.
Speaking of management, reading about what real life with Type 2 diabetes really looks like can help you get a better idea of why it’s important to embrace your diagnosis.
“Take some time to learn about diabetes and how it’s managed,” adds Heyman. “This could help you understand that even though you feel fine, there is still damage being done to your body.”
Step 3: Reach out to your healthcare team.
Next, schedule a diabetes eye exam to get a better grasp on how your high blood sugars may be affecting your health. The earliest stages of diabetes-related eye diseases often carry no symptoms, but the sooner you catch them, the sooner you can stop them from worsening and protect your vision.
This step can be scary, but it’s important to truly understand just how much you can prevent the scariest things about diabetes — blindness and amputations — by taking care of yourself. These complications are not guaranteed, they are mostly the result of chronically high blood sugars.
Work with your healthcare team to get your blood sugars down so you can live a full, healthy life with this disease.
Step 4: Choose one small change you can make that will help your diabetes.
You certainly don’t have to change your entire diet or run 5 miles every day. In fact, a few small new habits can go a long way. Remember to make sure your “one small change” is clear and specific.
Here are some examples to help you think of your own:
- Cutting your soda intake down from 4 cans a day to 1 can a day
- Going for a 30-minute walk on Monday/Wednesday/Friday
- Dancing to your favorite playlist for 15 minutes in the morning before you start your day
- Incorporating more vegetables into your lunch
- Eating only one “helping” of dinner instead going back for seconds
“People often get stuck in a rut of denial, which makes it hard for them to try new things,” adds Heyman. “Be intentional about behaving in a new way and see how it feels. It is usually much easier than people think it’s going to be.”
Accepting a new diagnosis — whether it’s diabetes or cancer or depression — is always going to be scary. Denial is a normal part of the process, and you don’t need to stay there forever. Move through it, reach out for help to family, friends, and your healthcare team, and remember that you’re definitely not alone!
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