Dealing with the Fear of Long Term Complications
Many people with diabetes are fearful about some aspect of the condition - scared of medication, implementing new health regimes, starting new behaviours and routines, ending old ones and this is just the day to day challenge of living with a chronic health problem.
What about those fears that float and linger about the future - the possibility of developing long term complications?
These can often be the worst, but also often the least voiced. They are so intangible - we seem to know of people who develop none at all, whilst others are hugely affected by them. There can also be a sense of injustice.
So what are long term complications? Diabetic retinopathy, blindness, loss of sensation in hands and feet, kidney damage are amongst many of the possible diabetic complications. But once you know what you’re dealing with, what can you actually do about the daily worry? Here are my top four strategies for dealing with it:
Educate yourself about the actual risks of developing long term complications
Yes people with diabetes do develop long-term complications; some for seemingly no good reason - and this is, like many aspects of health; unfair.
However, newer, more refined medicines for both type 1 and type 2 are being developed all the time, along with more advanced technologies for dealing with it - continuous blood glucose monitors, insulin pumps, at home blood pressure monitors and still more to come.
The future is brighter for all of us (both with and without diabetes) as the medical field advances.
Did you know that the first insulin treatment ‘guinea pig’ in 1922 - Elizabeth Evans Hughes - lived well in to her seventies. Just imagine how far insulin has advanced since then!
Allow yourself to think about your ‘hidden’ thoughts about diabetes risks
Yes there are health risks with diabetes, but there are risks you take with your health every day. Don’t believe me? Have you ever been in a car on a busy road? Taken a flight? These are behaviours with odds that you may well not return home that day. Seem unlikely? Perhaps they are - but then people are in road traffic accidents every day.
So yes, there are risks with diabetes but living a full life also includes elements of risk taking, so do your best to keep these in perspective.
Remind yourself of the actual facts
For some, the identification of the first sign of long term complications can lead to a feeling of impending doom - with the person feeling certain that they are now going to be on a downward trajectory of ill health.
However, in many cases the opposite can be true, the diagnosis of a particular complication of diabetes can bring a fresh motivation to care well for one’s health - especially given that changes to health behaviour can seriously halt if not reverse some complications.
Remind yourself of this, perhaps with a supportive statement written in your diary or on your computer screensaver where it will remind you often - “Every time I choose to make a wise health choice I am moving further away from developing complications”.
Focus on what you can control - good diabetes self-care
One of the most effective health increasing tools you have at your disposal is a feeling of self-control.
This is because it puts you in a position of power - that you can make changes that will lead to better health outcomes.
This might be exercising more, making a healthier food swap, testing your blood glucose once more per day than you currently do, making that healthcare appointment you’ve been putting off for ages.
Although a low level of fear can be helpful, in that it can keep you motivated - knowing that you can take positive action, and that your actions do matter - is an incredibly good antidote to fear.
Use the information and support available here on the forum to help you focus on what is controllable, and your conscious and hidden fears about the long term effects of diabetes will diminish.
This is one of series of Psychology articles by Dr Jen Nash, a Clinical Psychologist who has been living with type 1 diabetes since childhood.