Monday, July 18, 2011

Therapy and Diabetes

As a person with diabetes, I work so hard every day at what I think of as “medical therapy” - things like dosing my insulin properly, counting my carbs, getting exercise in (or at least thinking about getting exercise in) and more.  But I don’t always think much about “mental therapy” - things to help with the burden and emotional turbulence diabetes can cause.  Two sessions at Friends for Life helped me realize it is okay to start paying more attention to the emotional side of diabetes.

Wednesday morning, Pete and I signed up for a Diabetes Art session with  my fabulous friend Lee Ann Thill of The Butter Compartment.  I’ll admit to being a bit nervous, as I always am when charged with creating art because I just don’t feel I’m all that artistic.  (Before you bring up the knitting, I need to point out that knitting from a pattern doesn't involve a lot of creativity - it is simply following directions step by step, which really suits my personality!)  My hope going into the session was that at some point, inspiration would strike like it did for Diabetes Art Day and I'd end up with something I was happy with.

Our assignment was to create a positive and happy self portrait.  In the end, my creation bore a striking resemblance to my Diabetes Art Day project.  I was pleased with my portrait, even if I do seem to be only capable of creating one type of d-art.

Click to enlarge.
 Pete’s art made me so proud of him and a little bit sad, all at once.  His self portrait was all about providing me with support.  (Although it is unclear if he is the life-boat in the picture or the person steering the boat.  Either way, I supposed I’m the dog!)

Click to enlarge.
 I’m very touched by some of the things he included - like the “no d-police” drawing, the syringe with “do not blunder” next to it, and the word “comfort”.  I know it sounds goofy, but when I look at the picture, I don’t see Pete as the boat, the sailor or the dog.  Instead, he is the bright sunshine sending its rays down on my diabetes life.

A session on Friday afternoon provided therapy in a different way.  For the last session of the conference, I chose to attend “Managing Transitions as Adults” with Jill Weissberg-Benchell.  As it turns out, we attendees had a lot more on our minds than transitions, and Jill was fabulous enough to suggest very quickly that we pull our chairs into a circle and just discuss anything about diabetes that we have trouble coping with.  I surprised myself by blurting out some pretty heavy stuff that weights on me, but that I’ve always tried hard to keep buried deep inside - and then bursting into tears.  I will say I wasn’t the only one dealing with heavy stuff or shedding tears.  Although it was somewhat comforting to know I’m not alone in these feelings, it also makes me angry.  In my experience, all of the emphasis is put on the physical side of diabetes while the emotional side is completely ignored.  I see tons of information about putting together a trusted medical team to help manage diabetes, but very little about finding a good counselor or mental health professional to help work through the emotional toll our chronic illness can take on us.  For me, it’s always instilled a “fear of the unknown” that has kept me from finding a professional to talk everything over with.  Instead, I try to put on a happy and positive face for the world, even when inside I'm feeling the exact opposite.  After sharing that session and interacting with  the other attendees and with Jill, I’m feeling much more receptive towards finding someone to help me work through the diabetes emotions that weigh so heavily on me at times.

If you’ve taken part in any kind of therapy to help cope with the emotions of diabetes, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  If you’d rather not share in the comments section, I welcome you to email me.


  1. well done.

    You can view my "therapy" artwork here:

  2. I have not worked with a therapist but - I'm so proud of you for a)making that decision and b)telling us about your decision.
    Also - when I knit or used to knit, it was creative, in that my dropped stitches and goofs always made anything I tried to knit look very, very strange.

  3. I have not but I need to. I loved your art Karen and Pete's too.

  4. Girl -
    i'm all for therapy! I found it to not only be incredibly helpful with both my diabetes and my life, but it also made me realize and give myself some credit.
    As PWDS, we have so much to do and want to please everyone in the process. We always are saying we are sorry, whether it's regarding a less then perfect blood sugar, or if we need a helping hand.
    We become our own worst critic!
    We PWDs are strong, and by strong I mean that we are like Atlas - We carry the weight of the our diabetes world on our shoulders. Finding someone who helps us not only balance that weight, while giving ourselves some much needed kudos and allowing us to see ourselves as others do - Which pretty damn fabulous!!
    Kelly K

  5. So true that the emotional side of D isn't paid the attention it deserves.
    Something I must be aware of as Bean gets older...and something I need to tune into for myself as well.

  6. This is a big one. I know I need help... blogging is my therapy and the ppl I have became close to lift me up always. But Justin... I am torn on how to proceed with him. I know things have to bother him more than he lets on. He's just really quiet about it, ya know. Glad you shared... helps this mama get a feel for what I need to do to help him.

  7. I began to go to therapy in January...due to job loss. The topic of my diabetes was never brought up. I know better, but nine years after being diagnosed with type 2 I still keep it in the background of my life. Sure, I watch my diet (gluten free has really made a difference in my blood sugar levels) but I really don't give it the emotional thought I should...except to feel sad because I have it. I appreciate your writing about it and maybe this will stick with me and I will take more time to feel this disease instead of just trying to manage it. Thanks!

  8. You make such a good point about the emotional aspect of D being ignored, or even pushed deep down and hidden.

    I have to tell you though, that YOU helped me with my emotional therapy by creating D-Blog week. After that, I feel open to post whatever I feel on my blog, if someone doesn't want to hear it, they simply need not read the blog. It helps me work through things and the support I get from others is so valuable to me. THANK YOU for helping me come out of my D-shell and feel freer and more happy than I have in about 16yrs with D. I hope you will also feel free to post your worries as well as your triumphs here....we are here for you!!! :)

  9. ((hugs))
    Love you, doll! Tons.

    I did counseling years ago but not diabetes related. For now my therapy is my friends, the DOC... just sharing, getting it Out of my system.

    Talking it out Does help me, a Lot. Having so many people who "get it" around makes a Huge difference.

  10. First, thank you so much for coming to the diabetes art group. I was in a tizzy that day, but I want to say how happy I was that you and Pete joined. It meant a lot to me to see some familiar faces that day, especially from my T1 adult family :)

    My thoughts about therapy are obviously biased. Medication has eased my depression over the years, but it's been therapy that has led to healing and personal growth that I wouldn't have had otherwise. I don't know if art therapy (or dance/movement or music therapies) is something you might consider, but one-to-one therapy with an art therapist could be something you'd like, combining some of what you found helpful in the session with Jill with some of what you found helpful in the art session. No matter what kind of mental health service you choose though, I applaud you for contemplating this and sharing it here.

    If you have any specific questions about the process of finding someone you like or anything of that nature, you know you can always ask :)

  11. oh man, your art was great! i especially love pete's and your view that he was the sun shining down. LOVE THAT!

    and thanks for sharing your thoughts about therapy. i think if you find someone you click with it can be very valuable.

  12. First, I LOVE your art! :)

    I think therapy would be wonderful! The emotions of D are at times much harder than the medical parts. And that is saying something. I think it would be nice if everyone had access - caregivers and pwd's. I worry about Sweetpea's emotional health as she grows every bit as much as her physical health.

  13. How brave and wonderful you are my friend. Therapy is my friend......
    Love your self portrait.....

    Meow from Rozzy and Radar and all 6 kittens...

  14. Karen, you make such wonderful points. The mental side of dealing with D isn't discussed much, following along with mental issues in general. I think that therapy, in whatever form works for you, is a must. As Lora said, blogging has been hugely theraputic for me. One concern that I can see when seeking out a therapist is finding someone who understands diabetes. It's one thing for someone to tell you "do this to help with that" but if they understand what it's like to be a PWD it would be so much more valuable. Good luck!


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