Diabetes is a metabolic condition related to the hormone insulin and how it regulates blood sugars in the body. Blood sugar which is not regulated can damage a person’s nerves, eyes, kidneys, and other organs. This is a serious medical condition which requires a person’s attention and energy to be able to maintain healthy functioning with respect to food intake, exercise, and mental health.
Symptoms of untreated or undiagnosed diabetes are; extreme thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, loss of consciousness, nerve damage, visual disturbances, low or high blood pressure, and an increased risk of infections and stroke. If you think you might have diabetes especially if other family members have the condition, please consult a medical doctor.
As with any other serious medical condition, upon diagnosis, the person begins a complex process of accepting that they have the condition and all the consequences it brings. Managing blood sugar levels involves paying special attention to one’s food intake as instructed by a dietitian (measuring carbohydrate intake may help), monitoring blood sugar levels (using a glucometer) throughout the day, being physically active (which makes the body more sensitive to insulin), and taking care of one’s mental health. While I’d like to emphasize the importance of a healthy diet, physical activity, and monitoring blood sugar levels, in this blog I’ll elaborate upon the mental processing of this condition, which also has a crucial role in how diabetes affects the individual.
It is difficult for us to accept that we have such a condition, we feel limited, like life is unfair, and our relationship with our body becomes difficult. Since our bodies are an extension of our minds, this mental distress also affects us physically.
It is essential for individuals diagnosed with diabetes to consider their mental and emotional processes just as much as the physical aspects of the condition. Since diabetes requires a significant amount of energy for daily care, one is likely to feel tired and frustrated with it and so may resort to certain unhealthy habits like not checking blood sugar or eating food that the body will find difficult to digest. While it’s important for the individual to take on responsibility for their well-being, they also need a network of people who understand, accept and support them. An individual who is diagnosed with diabetes will have to explain the consequences of their condition to people throughout their lifetime, and it is normal for the person to be hesitant or reluctant to explain this due to feeling vulnerable, less than, or different from others. Some individuals with diabetes also experience anxiety related to finding a romantic partner who understands and supports them in the daily care of this condition. One may also struggle to find a workplace which accepts an employee who needs to take more sick-days due to the condition.
These mental and emotional processes are likely to be underestimated, only until serious repercussions on the individual’s physical health start to emerge. Individuals may be resistant to changing self-sabotaging behaviour (such as binge eating when stressed) because change is difficult and requires that the person is supported and willing enough to do so. I encourage you to reach out for help if you are struggling with this condition which is quite common to Maltese people – one in every ten Maltese adults has diabetes (National Diabetes Strategy, 2016).
Diabetes Type 1 is an autoimmune disease since the body starts attacking cells in the pancreas which make insulin. Symptoms appear more quickly than in type 2. This is treated with an intake of insulin to regulate blood sugars.
Diabetes Type 2 is the more common type of diabetes. In this case, the body is unable to make enough insulin, or insulin that works properly, to sufficiently regulate blood sugars. Type 2 diabetes may be more difficult to recognize because symptoms emerge gradually, however it can be managed in different ways (food, exercise, or medication).
Amber Tabone practices Gestalt Psychotherapy with individuals and couples at Willingness. While currently reading for a Master’s in Psychotherapy, she has developed an interest in working with relationships, gender, and sexuality thanks to her experience with families and domestic violence issues.
Diabetes: A National Public Health Priority (2016), VA, Malta. https://deputyprimeminister.gov.mt/en/Documents/National-Health-Strategies/NDSEN.pdf