Hey All -- if you've got questions about life with diabetes, then you've come to the right place. That would be our weekly diabetes advice column, Ask D'Mine, hosted by veteran type 1 and diabetes author Wil Dubois.
Pass the cranberries! Thanksgiving Dinner is just around the corner. In today’s column, Wil tackles a question about navigating this feast experience with diabetes tossed into the mix. Thankfulness is certainly a priority, but it can be tough to muster for the pancreatically-challenged... here's what Wil has to say about that.
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Rose, type 1 from Colorado, writes: Thanksgiving sucks! My life has been a struggle since I was diagnosed five years ago, I find nothing to be thankful for, and I hate having a holiday that rubs my nose in it. To make matters worse, my husband insists that I prepare all his traditional favorites for him and the kids on Thanksgiving Day. He knows these high-carb foods are bad for me and are a no win: Either I’ll be angry watching everyone else stuff their faces, or I’ll cave in and make a wreck of my blood sugar. I don’t think that it’s fair to me. I’m the sick one. I just hate this holiday above all others. Am I the only one that feels this way? What do you think, Wil?
[email protected] D’Mine answers: Well, I’m thankful that you wrote to me to share your feelings. So there’s that. Are you the only one who feels the way you do? That would be statistically impossible. There are so many people on the planet that there must be at least one other person who shares your feelings.
But are you asking if it’s a common way to feel? Well... I’d say yes and no. I think most of us carry at least a small grudge against our diabetes, and certainly most of us find Thanksgiving to be at least a bit of a challenge—but I think the intensity of your anger is unusual.
Of course, your letter really deals with two separate, but related issues, doesn’t it? The issue of thankfulness, or a lack thereof, and the issue of what I’ll call family dynamics on holidays. Let’s start with the easy one first: Thankfulness.
OK. So you have nothing to be thankful for. How tragic. But is that really true? Now your feelings are yours, of course. They are as real as the trees on the hill and the rocks in the road, and they are the windows from your world into your soul. I can’t change them, but I have a secret to share with you. This disease of ours plays funny tricks on us. Sometimes it fogs that window over, and keeps us from seeing as clearly as we should. I noticed that you said that you’re the sick one. That tells me a lot about how you view yourself, and your diabetes.
You do know, don’t you, that you can have diabetes and not be sick? There are lots of us out in the world who have diabetes—who struggle with diabetes even—but are not “sick.” We don’t allow ourselves to be made sick by diabetes. Because really, diabetes can’t make you sick, unless you let it. Unless you choose to be victimized by it.
Being victimized by diabetes is a process that takes place in our own minds and souls, not in our bodies. Back when I worked in the healthcare trenches I saw a lot of people who let their illnesses define who they were. They got so wrapped up in their conditions—be it diabetes, or asthma, or arthritis, or PTSD, or heart disease—that they lost their souls to their healthcare. They ceased to be people and became full-time patients. I worry that you might join that sad zombie army.
If you want to prevent that, consider starting each day by looking in the mirror and saying: “I am a person who happens to have diabetes. Boy, that sucks. But it does not define me.” Then go on to list the other things that define you. For me, I might say something like, “I’m a good father, a good son, a good husband, and a good friend. I’m a writer and a teacher. I define me. My diabetes does not. It’s just along for the ride, and I am the driver.”
But back to things to be thankful for. Do I dare try to point out some things to you that might be worthy of thankfulness?
Do you think that your children would be better off if you were dead? Because if this were 100 years ago, there would be no insulin and you’d be six feet under on Halloween rather than sulking at the dinner table on Thanksgiving. I could be wrong, but it sounds like something you could be thankful for, if you wanted it to be.
You have a husband. Unless he’s a lying, cheating, abusive, dog-kicking bastard; that’s probably a good thing. Loneliness is a bigger killer than diabetes. I could be wrong, but it sounds like something you could be thankful for, if you wanted to be.
You have children. I’ll be first to admit that parenthood can be a bigger challenge than diabetes, but it’s the best damn job I ever had. I could be wrong, but that sounds like something else you could be thankful for, if you wanted to.
You are struggling with Thanksgiving because you live in the USA. It’s a uniquely American holiday that started out with the locals being nice to the new invaders (in hindsight, the natives might have fared better had they let the pilgrims starve). So that means you’re not living in a cardboard shack in some third-world country. I could be wrong, but it sounds like yet another you could be thankful for, if you were so inclined.
All right, enough of that. My point is that no matter how dark our lives seem, if we really sit down and analyze it, all of us can find something to be thankful for. And that’s one nice thing about this holiday. It forces most of us to think about what we have that we should be thankful for.
Now let’s talk about that meal. Traditions are where the rubber meets the road in relationships. You say your hubby insists on a traditional T-day meal. And yet, somehow, reading between the lines, something about how you wrote suggests to me that he’s more on board with your diet the rest of the time. If that’s true, you owe it to him to be a good sport on the occasional holiday. Those foods, this way of celebrating, may well serve as a tie to his own past. They may be bringing back happy memories of his own childhood that he wants to pass on to his children.
And speaking of your kids, you’ve got a unique problem as an adult diagnosed person. You are asking your children to change their traditions too, the ones you originally introduced them to, if you bail on the traditional meal.
I’m quite sure many will disagree with me on this, so go ahead and flame away, but I think there are some days (like Thanksgiving) where we PWDs just need to go along with the crowd and muddle through the best we can.
My general survival advice to PWDs on T-day is to attempt to partake lightly—rather than angrily sitting it out or going on a carb bender—and bolus heavily. Hey, you are a type 1. You’ve got great tools for a dietary indiscretion. You’ve got your fast-acting insulin and your meter. You’re in a much better situation than our type 2 cousins on pills, who find food holidays nearly unconquerable.
Hmmmm… I could be wrong, but that sounds like another thing you could be thankful for. If you wanted to be.
This is not a medical advice column. We are PWDs freely and openly sharing the wisdom of our collected experiences — our been-there-done-that knowledge from the trenches. But we are not MDs, RNs, NPs, PAs, CDEs, or partridges in pear trees. Bottom line: we are only a small part of your total prescription. You still need the professional advice, treatment, and care of a licensed medical professional.