Diabetes: Dealing With Feelings

Are you asking yourself, "Why me?" Getting used to living with diabetes can be a challenge, and that's true whether you've just been diagnosed or you've lived with diabetes for a while.

If You've Just Been Diagnosed

When people are first diagnosed with diabetes, they might be nervous about getting shots or medical tests and scared about how diabetes will affect their future health.

In the beginning, almost everyone thinks that they will never be able to do the blood sugar testing or insulin injections they need to stay healthy. But after working with doctors and learning more about diabetes, these things start feeling like less of a big deal. Over time, shots and checks can become like brushing teeth or taking a shower — just another daily routine you do to stay healthy. Eventually, some people even start to feel pretty good about the fact that they can do all the things they need to do to manage their diabetes on their own.

It's perfectly normal for people with diabetes to feel sad, angry, confused, upset, alone, embarrassed, and even jealous. It's common to think things like:

"I feel embarrassed giving myself shots in front of people. One day I had to give myself an insulin shot in the bathroom at the train station and this guy looked at me like I was doing drugs. That felt humiliating."

"Why do I have to go through this when my friends don't have to follow a meal plan, test their blood sugar levels, or have shots all the time?"

"I worry that I'm a burden on my family. I feel guilty that my dad has drive me to doctor's appointments and pay for it all."

"I get angry at my mom. I know she worries about me, but she's always nagging me about what I eat and stuff. My kid sister has it easy."

"Sometimes I feel like I must have done something bad to deserve this."

Dealing With Your Feelings

Here are a few things you can do to cope with the emotional side of diabetes:

Open up to people you trust. If you feel sad, mad, embarrassed, or worried, talk about it with a close friend, parent, or doctor. It might be hard at first to open up, and you may have trouble finding the words to talk about it. Try to name your feelings and say what's got you feeling that way. Many times, just telling someone who will listen and understand your feelings can lighten a difficult emotion and help it to pass. Make it a regular habit to talk about what you're going through with someone close to you. As time goes on, be sure to notice and talk about the positive feelings, too. With time, you may notice that you're feeling more calm and confident, or that you're proud of what you're learning to do.

Get more support if you need it. If you're having a really tough time, or if you think you may be depressed, let an adult know. (Some signs that it might be depression are you're sleeping or eating all the time or not at all, or you feel sad or angry for long periods.) Sometimes people need the added support and care of a counselor or a mental health professional. Your doctor, parent, or another trusted adult can put you in touch with a counselor or other mental health professional who works with teens that have diabetes. Get all the support you need and deserve.

Learn how to take care of yourself. When you take good care of yourself and manage your diabetes, you will probably get sick less often, need fewer extra shots or tests, and be able to do the same activities as everyone else. When you can participate and feel well enough to get exercise (which is a great mood booster), you'll feel better, too.

If you're ready to take charge of tracking your blood sugar levels, adjusting and taking your insulin injections, and taking responsibility for preparing your meals and snacks, talk to your parents and doctor about how you can start making these changes. Again, taking charge of these practical tasks can give you more of a sense of control and power over diabetes. You might begin to feel proud — even amazed — that you're doing things you didn't think you'd be able to do.

Tell your teachers about your diabetes. Telling your teachers that you have diabetes can make things a little easier for you at school — for example, you might tell your teacher that you need to check your blood sugar level or have a snack at a certain time each day. That way you can just leave class without drawing extra attention to yourself. By knowing you have diabetes, your teacher also can be on the lookout for symptoms of diabetes problems and can call for medical help if you need it.

If you're not sure how to bring it up on your own or don't know what to say, ask your doctor to give you a note that covers the basics for your teacher. That can get the conversation started.

Get organized. There can be a lot to keep track of if you have diabetes. How much insulin did you take this morning? What did you eat at school? Did you pack your medicines? Getting organized can help you feel less worried about how diabetes will affect your health. Every night before going to school or work, check to make sure you have the snacks and medicines you'll need for the next day. You'll begin to feel prepared and in charge.

Focus on your strengths. It's easy to get lost in all the negative ways diabetes affects your world. If you feel like it's taking over your life, it can help to write down your strengths — and the stuff you love. Who are you? Are you a reader, a hockey player, a music lover, a math whiz, a spelling champ? Are you a son or daughter, a sister or brother, a grandchild, student, friend, babysitter? Are you a future astronomer, teacher, doctor, or poet? Diabetes is really only a small part of who you are. Keep track of your dreams and hopes, and find time for the people and things you enjoy.

Stick to the plan. Many people with diabetes get sick of dealing with it once in a while. And sometimes people who have learned to manage their illness feel so healthy and strong that they wonder whether they need to keep following their diabetes management plan. For example, you might wonder whether you can skip a meal when you're at the mall or check your blood sugar after the game instead of before. But skipping medicines, veering off the meal plan, or not checking your blood sugar can have disastrous results if you have diabetes. If you feel like throwing in the towel, talk to your doctor. Together you can find solutions that fit your life and help you stay healthy, too.

Take your time. Your feelings about diabetes will change over time — today you might feel worried about the future and different from your friends, but next year you might wonder why you were so upset. As you learn to manage diabetes on your own and take a more active role in your health, you may find it's a little easier dealing with the ups and downs.

Your Family's Feelings

Just as you can get emotional about your diabetes, so can parents and other family members. Seeing a parent get upset can be hard. It can help to remind yourself that the diabetes is not your fault, nor is it your parents' fault. Just as you feel upset from time to time, it's natural for your parents to feel that way, too.

When a parent or other family member is worried, it may show up in strange ways. For example, a parent may get angry at a doctor. Or your mom or dad may constantly ask how you feel, whether you're eating right, and whether you've taken your medication. Sure, you understand that they are doing this because they love you. But it can help to explain how this makes you feel. Find a good time to talk about it calmly and openly. Sometimes family counseling or joining a family support group can help families work through the emotional ups and downs of dealing with diabetes.

Other family members like grandparents, aunts, and uncles may also want to know if you're feeling OK — and all this attention can feel like prying or nosiness, especially when you just want to be treated like everyone else. If you're close to the person, you may be able to talk to him or her about how you feel. If not, you may just have to let it go and realize that your relative is trying to show concern; even if it's done clumsily, it's an expression of caring.

You may envy a brother or sister who doesn't have diabetes, but your sibling may feel envious of you because of the extra attention you're getting. Again, it can help to talk about this openly — and recognize that your sibling's feelings might show up in strange ways, such as anger at you.

Your Friends

It's up to you whether you tell friends or classmates about your diabetes. For some people, opening up can help them feel less embarrassed. They don't have to worry what friends think when they see them doing things to take care of the diabetes — like checking blood sugar levels or wearing an insulin pump.

If you choose to tell your friends, be prepared for them to ask questions about what having diabetes means and how it makes you feel. Some of their questions may seem silly or funny to you (check out Erika's story to see some of the questions her friends asked her about diabetes). But ultimately, friends who know about your health problem can be a source of support as you deal with your feelings about diabetes. Having friends who are willing to listen when you're depressed, angry, and frustrated — even if they don't have diabetes themselves — can definitely help you feel better.

It's wise to be aware of how friends and family feel, but your first priority is dealing with your own emotions. The teen years can be an emotionally tough time to start with — hormones can put anyone's emotions on a roller-coaster — without adding a health condition to the mix.

It's only human to let off some steam if you're going through a difficult adjustment — like dealing with diabetes — and the strong feelings that go with it. But if you find your emotions are getting the best of you, if you're feeling really down or really angry, or if you're having a tough time managing your health routines, let your doctor know. Together you can work out a plan for getting you situation under control.

It can take a long time to deal with having diabetes and there's no set adjustment period — some people accept it and adapt quickly whereas others need more time. One thing's for sure, though: Even people who have lived with the condition for a while can still experience strong emotions, such as fear or sadness, from time to time or when faced with new situations. It's normal to feel overwhelmed occasionally.

Positive emotions can be part of the adjustment process, too. Don't be surprised if, as you adapt to your diabetes, you find yourself feeling proud, confident, determined, hopeful, interested, relieved, relaxed, loved, supported, strong — and yes, even happy.

In time, you can become an expert at recognizing and dealing with your emotions, and doing your part to care for your health. In fact, having diabetes might even teach you ways to cope with and adjust to life's challenges in a way that many teens can't.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2010

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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