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Diabetes and Mental Health

I was diagnosed with diabetes the summer before my sophomore year of high school. The initial treatment plan? “Take 2.5 mg of Glyburide daily and restrict sugar intake.” Because it was 1987 and glucometers weren’t available yet for home use, the doctor sent me home with Tes-Tape® and instructions to test my urine once a week or “whenever I felt like my blood sugar might be running high.”

For those who don't know, Tes-Tape® was just litmus paper. You’d tear an inch-long strip off the roll, pee on it, observe the change in color, then compare the color to swatches on the back of the container. The darker the the paper, the greater the urine glucose concentration. As a refresher: for kidneys to spill glucose, serum glucose level has exceed 180mg/DL, high enough to be causing damage. And by the time it shows up in urine, it's likely been that way for several hours. So, any color at all on the test strip indicated some degree of bad news (with no strategy for correction).

Tes-Tape
Image courtesy of perlebioscience.com

I dutifully carried the Tes-Tape® to school every day at school, zipped in an interior pocket of my backpack. But here's the thing: peeing on a narrow, inch-long strip of paper is messy! So, no, I didn't test my urine in my high-school bathroom stall. In fact, I never, ever, would have used it at school. None of my friends had diabetes. None of my friends' friends had diabetes. No teenager I had ever heard of had diabetes.  And, like many teenagers, I just wanted to be like everyone else.

Over Spring break that year I visited my friend in upstate New York. At some point during the trip, her aunt asked me, “I understand you recently found out you have diabetes. How is that going for you?” I replied that it was OK, but admitted that it was a drag not to be able to eat everything my friends ate.

She listened, and then offered a fresh perspective: Had I ever considered how movie stars ate? She went on to describe that movie stars - who lived lives of luxury and ate as they pleased - elected to limit their sugar intake. Movie stars knew sugar was bad for them. It was bad for their bodies, bad for their complexions, and it contributed to premature aging.

I had not considered this, and it got my attention. Sure, she was appealing - very effectively - to my teenage vanity. But I also understood in that moment that I could create a positive framework for diabetes. Instead of feeling deprived of sugar, I could choose to bypass it in favor of something better. Say, ripe, seasonal fruit.

I remember this conversation often when I reach for a luscious July peach instead of a sugary doughnut. "What would Jennifer Anniston do?" I think to myself.

This post is part of Diabetes Blog Week.
The Prompt:
How does diabetes affect you or your loved one mentally or emotionally?  Any tips, positive phrases, mantras, or ideas to share on getting out of a diabetes funk?

To read more posts on this topic, click here.

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