We're Only Human
(Diabetes Forecast, May 1989)
Do you feel out of control with food? So did I. I was diagnosed with type I diabetes when I was nine. I'm 24 now. I remember feeling guilty--Had I caused this by eating too much sugar? That's what my friends said.
Mom told me I coudn't eat sugar anymore. Telling that to a nine-year-old child is like telling the sun not to shine. I started eating twice as much candy as I ever did before I was diagnosed. I would go to the drugstore at lunchtime and buy candy with all the other fourth graders and hide it in my desk at school. I could be "bad," and nobody knew--except my doctor.
"You're the worst diabetic in the clinic," she told me when my 24-hour urine results came back sky-high. (This was in the days before glycohemoglobin testing.) You're such a smart girl, you should be doing much better."
Years later, I would ask myself what that meant. Was I so smart that I shouldn't have wanted to eat candy like all the other kids? Are "smart" kids not supposed to get upset when they are told that they will have to take shots every day for the rest of their lives? Did being smart and having diabetes mean I was now supposed to be perfect?
I developed a food problem in high school. At the beginning of each school year, I would get stressed out, overeat, and gain about 10 pounds. Around January, I would calm down a little, realize that I was capable of getting straight A's, then try to become "perfect" with food as well. I would rigidly monitor everything that went into my mouth, and would forbid myself blood sugars above 180.
Every time I slipped, I would get depressed and vow to be "good" again the next day. The 10 pounds would come off, but I was never totally happy with myself.
College was much worse. I went to a very tough, competitive university where everyone had been a straight-A student in high school. I was no longer the smartest--in fact, most of my grades were below average, something I was definitely not used to and was completely unable to cope with.
I began to binge-eat constantly. I couldn't read or study without eating and would keep eating until I was stuffed. Physical hunger had nothing to do with it. I was completely out of control and hated myself for it.
Fortunately (although I didn't see it that way then), I was never able to make myself throw up all the excess food as some other women I knew were doing. Instead, I gained 40 pounds over four years in college.
I was caught in a terrible cycle--I felt bad about myself as a person. To make myself feel better, I ate. This only made me feel worse afterward, so the cycle continued.
I saw a psychologist after my disasterous sophomore year. It took a while, but he taught me to do something very simple: Replace the word "bad" with "human." Makes a big difference, doesn't it?
I realized that I had not been allowing myself to have faults--to be human. I thought that any time my blood sugar went up, I was a "bad diabetic," and maybe even deserved to have complications.
The truth is, there is not one person with diabetes who always has blood sugars in the normal range. Blood sugars will fluctuate with illness, stress, or a change in schedule; it's not humanly possible to be in control all the time, and it can be harmful to think that it is.
Also, most people--including those of us with diabetes--like the taste of candy and other sugary and fatty foods, right? I've learned to limit the amount of these foods that I eat, but I no longer feel guilty for wanting them. I'd be pretty strange if I didn't.
I've learned to do my best at sticking to my diet, exercising, and keeping my blood sugar as close to normal as possible, but to forgive myself if I slip. These things happen.
I've also learned that I haven't failed if I call my doctor when I have a problem. Diabetes is a tough disease for any person to handle, and nobody can or should do it alone. We must take control of the day-to-day management of the disease, but when problems arise, it's time to ask for help from people trained to do just that.
I no longer judge myself by how much I eat. Although I've lost the weight I gained, I've learned that I'm not "bad" if I gain a pound or if my blood sugar is high, any more than I'm "good" if I starve myself and end up having a reaction. I am who I am regardless of what the scale says, what the glucose meter says, or for that matter, what any other person says! ###
Copyright © Miriam Tucker. All rights reserved.