Three steps to coping with a chronic illness or disability

by | Oct 4, 2017 | Blog, Dealingwithyourdiabetes | 0 comments

If it were only that easy – right?  Just three little things to do and life would get better.  What a miracle that would be!  Well, miracles can happen and “better” is always possible in some fashion if you believe it.  The steps are a bit obvious but each requires some work and change on your part.   I will discuss them quite a bit in future posts, but I have found these were the keys to turning things around.

Step One:  Acceptance

For me, this was the hardest part – Coming to terms that there was no going back, no do-overs, and no way off this freight train.   I literally had to grieve my previous life and experience the stages of grief.  The 5 stages of grief were introduced in the late 60’s by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, in her book.   I learned about these stages in nursing school and saw them from the bedside throughout my career.  You typically think of grief as something that happens after a death of a loved one, but it is just as appropriate with any major life change.    The stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.  As you progress through the stages you will experience different emotions and your perspective will change.  You may find that you skip over a step or go back and forth between them and some even blend together.   The key is to experience them, acknowledge them, feel them and deal with them because to get to acceptance, you must go through them.

For me, Denial showed up within seconds of being told I had diabetes with thoughts like “This must be a mistake.” “I want a second opinion.” “This is temporary.” “I only need pills, not insulin.”  As a nurse, I knew better.  If those lab values were anyone else’s I would understand the bigger picture, but at the time I wasn’t having any of it.  Anger showed up not long after as I raged at those closest to me as well as myself.  “How did I let this happen??”Who did I inherit this from?” “What ER patient gave this to me??”  I am sure I spouted off a few expletives, told people to MYOB and pushed people away.  I don’t really recall Bargaining very much, I think I spent a good amount of time bouncing between Anger and Depression.   Depression reared its ugly head after unsuccessful attempts at trying to be the perfect diabetic (FYI – it doesn’t exist).  My perfectionist tendencies deemed every blood test that wasn’t perfect a failure.  I hate to fail.  When I couldn’t do it perfectly, I abandoned all attempts to do it at all.  That never ended well, and I would try perfection again.  What a vicious cycle!

I just couldn’t escape the problem.  But God works in mysterious ways and through some very fortuitous events, I ended up in the office of a great counselor.  She not only helped me negotiate my grieving emotions but introduced me to an inward journey to myself.  Much more on that later…..

If you are facing an issue that has changed your world, I strongly suggest seeing a counselor or doing grief counseling.  It was THE single most important thing I did to redirect my steps on a happier path.   I have seen many patients try to go it alone, and I have seen just as many get stuck in anger, denial, and depression.  I don’t have studies to back this up, but I’d be willing to bet money there is a strong correlation between the two groups.  Once stuck in depression it isn’t uncommon for providers to prescribe medication.  In my humble opinion, it is better to work through those emotional issues and be done with them, then medicate them away indefinitely.  Grieving is a natural response to a painful situation.  It is your body’s way of coping with extreme loss and making sense of it.   It may be painful to dig up some of your inner issues, but that pain is far shorter than not doing it and being depressed for years to come.  (disclaimer – I do acknowledge there are cases where anti-depressants are warranted and necessary to address mental health issues.  I am not saying medication is not useful for many situations).

Step Two: Education

Since this is your disease/disability/situation, you need to become the expert on YOU.  The unknown is one of the most fearsome things to mankind.  To avoid danger, our minds try to anticipate what may lurk in the shadows and assume the worst case scenarios.  Very helpful if you are trapped in the dark with a snake, but may cause unneeded anxiety when it comes to your health.  Instead of making mountains out of molehills, creating horrible fantasies or worse yet, abdicating responsibility to someone else, YOU take responsibility for You.  Read up, ask questions and connect with others who are informed.   Keep logs of how you feel, your test results, your numbers, your accomplishments.  Notice trends, take notes, be curious.  Write down lists of questions for your providers, email them, ask for clarification if you don’t understand.  Get on the web, go to the library, join a support group.  Eliminate as much unknown as you can.  Knowledge is power and your life literally depends on it!  Even if what you find is bad news, the truth provides a feeling of relief.

A word of caution while on your quest for knowledge.  You will have everyone and their uncle telling you about their experiences and offering advice.   For some reason, many of these folks also want to freak you out and tell you the worst thing that ever happened to them or their kin.  Usually at the worst possible time.   My advice?  Don’t react.  Don’t try to explain how their example doesn’t apply to you.  “My brother-in-law’s second cousin had diabetes for 3 weeks and went blind!”  Just smile politely, nod, maybe ask a few questions if it seems valid and then research on your own.

In the beginning, it may seem overwhelming, but please keep at it.  Just like starting a new job or taking a new class it seems impossible in the beginning, but soon enough you’ll be speaking the new lingo and understanding more and more.  Step 2 is a lot more fun than step 1, but it never ends.  I continue to learn new information about my disease as medicine advances.  And that is a good thing!

Step Three: Choosing

Because you don’t have a choice about your chronic situation, it can feel like you are an unfortunate victim of life.    Victimization is defined as the action of singling someone out for cruel or unjust treatment.  Certainly, it isn’t fair or just that a particular malady has inflicted anyone, but if you focus on that you miss out on the choices you do have.  Speaking of “fair”, I’ll just put this out there now “Life isn’t fair”.  There is a time for that sentiment, but you should really try and let it go.  Comparing yourself to others never helps anyone. You weren’t meant to live their life – so focus on living yours.  That is where choosing comes in.  Choice takes us out of victim mode.  Choice is the one thing you will always have and it is always uniquely yours.  It defines your time on this planet.  I don’t have a choice about taking insulin, well I suppose I actually do, but I don’t like that outcome, but I do have a choice about what I eat, when I test, what vacations I take, what clothes I wear, what music I listen to, what kind of pillow I like,  where I go on my walks, what I chose to say or not to say, and on and on.   Every minute of every day I can choose.

Spend a LOT of time enjoying your choices.  Notice what choices you make.  Ponder why you made it.  Make a choice on purpose.  Choosing gives you power.  Choosing lights up your God light.  Choosing makes life a lot more fun!


So I challenge you (you know who you are), to make a choice today that feels good to you and then enjoy it!  Maybe it is calling a counselor for some much-needed relief, maybe it is research on the internet to figure out more about your “thing”, maybe it is choosing to change your mind.    You won’t regret it as long as it is what YOU want.



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