July 15, 2007

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

Sometimes people ask me why I spend so much time reading, researching, and writing about Diabetes, which is, after all, a disease. I've given this some thought, and come to an interesting realization.

I focus on diabetes because it is the only physical condition I have where it is possible for me to made a difference in my health with what I do.

I was diagnosed with two chronic conditions before diabetes. Both had in common that there was nothing I could do to relieve the symptoms or influence the way that the disorder progressed. I pretty much had to wake up each morning and pray that it was a "good day" instead of a bad one. If it was a bad day, I had to just get through it. If it was a good day, I had to hope the pain and disability would end sooner rather than later. I learned a lot about mental techniques for pain control and about doing what I could with what I have left. But if I wasn't in crisis I did not dwell on these conditions. I did what I could to forget I had them until they worsened again.

So when I finally was diagnosed with diabetes, what a thrill it was to discover that I had finally gotten a diagnosis where I could do something. If my blood sugar was high, I could change what I ate and bring it down. If that didn't work, there were drugs that might help. If they didn't help, there was insulin which, dosed properly, always works.

I did not have to just sit around hoping something bad wouldn't happen. I could keep it from happening!

If you have to have a chronic disorder, what a good one to have!

With my other conditions, if I spent any time reading about them, I'd end up feeling worse. One book even told me that people with one of my conditions frequently committed suicide. When I ventured into online support boards, invariably there would be people posting who were in more pain than I was, or who had had heroic surgeries that didn't work, or who had developed mental illness dealing with intolerable symptoms. I considered joining a support group for one of these other diagnoses years ago but the woman who ran the group scared me so much during our initial phone call when she described how her symptoms had kept her housebound for a decade, that I never went to a meeting.

With diabetes, support groups are full of people who have eliminated symptoms and figured out how to live reasonably normal lives.

With the other conditions, I'd hope some doctor somewhere would come up with some treatment that might work for me. And over the years, I've noticed that the treatments that were prescribed decades ago--including two surgeries I was strongly urged to have, but refused--have been discredited.

With diabetes I learned that doctors were often way behind the patients in understanding what the most recent research was finding about causes and cure. Even better, I learned there that there was even a very powerful treatment--limiting carbs in my diet--that didn't require a doctor's prescription at all.

So over time, I found I was spending a lot of time thinking about diabetes even when it was not dominating my life in other ways. When I do research, instead of finding more cause for dispair, I find more cause for hope. And I love that I can write about something I've experienced or turned up in my research and have perfect strangers write to me that reading what I wrote gave them not only hope, but actual techniques to use that they are finding will work for them.

So far from being a morbid fascination with disease, my time spent on diabetes is time spent on changing one of the very few things that I can. And it definitely takes my mind off the many other things in life I cannot change.