T1 Talk: Emotion isn't a dirty word
Welcome back to T1 Talk, a blog series created by Frank and I about life as young Aussies with T1, on opposite sides of the country. This is Part 2 of our latest topic on management of food, exercise and emotions in relation to T1. You can find Part 1 over on Frank's blog here.
Here we discuss a topic many of us avoid: feelings. Let's shine some light on the emotional impact of T1.
We’ve discussed many different aspects of management across the blog series. Managing T1 is not an easy task. How do you manage the emotional impact of the condition?
Bec: Initially, I handled my diagnosis like this:
I would have told you I handled it well and just got on with life. I thought I was fine. I was someone who sought perfection and basically got it for a while with my diabetes care. But with time, increasing life demands and some really shocking years I’ve fallen down. So not processing stuff? I completely get that. Right now I’m starting to realise I do have emotions about my diabetes diagnosis and management, I just buried them for 7 years.
I didn’t really get into peer support until much much later. Believe it or not I find it really hard to talk about the emotional impact of diabetes! Who would have thought I’d now be a mental health advocate too…
I see a psychologist who specialises in chronic illness, particularly diabetes, which is incredibly helpful. Plus I’m well supported by my family and friends, who quite frankly are saints for putting up with me.
When I’m doing better I go on walks, play piano, turn off my phone and use helpful strategies like that to take my mind off things. But sometimes my solution is to stay in bed and binge watch Netflix (my current addiction is Lost which I completely blame you for).
And hey, it’s also nice to have a t1 blogger friend to offer advice and support. Even if he does have a strange fascination with a certain coat hanger landmark…
Frank: In the time I’ve known you, I have always thought you were very well equipped in being able to identify your needs and find support where emotional and mental health are concerned. But more importantly, you’re watching Lost! What season are you up to? I’m secretly hoping for a Netflix revival to completely re-do that awful final season. And hey, I like to think that the bridge and I are a package.
I don’t remember actually processing my diagnosis all that much in the beginning. I dived straight back into uni, work and planning my 18th birthday. The emotions came later on.
I was relatively isolated. I didn’t feel very confident with my condition, nor did I share a lot with the people around me. I had a wonderful support team at the diabetes clinic, but they simply did not have enough time for me. I was weaned away from diabetes education and pushed towards self management sooner than I was ready. The perfect recipe for a rollercoaster of emotions, and no outlet to channel them.
Finding peer support online in 2015 helped me to feel less isolated with type 1. I became a regular in weekly OzDOC chats, and immersed myself into diabetes blogs and websites. Seeing diabetes in a more normalised way helped me to develop confidence in my condition and open up the dialogue again. I got back in touch with my diabetes team, and spoke up for what I wanted. This support has since extended into the offline world as well, both at home and at diabetes conferences interstate.
Having a solid support system has definitely had a positive impact on my diabetes and emotional wellbeing. Of course I’m still prone to emotions today, particularly when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the demands of my diabetes. The first thing I tend to do is log out of social media and switch off my phone. I try to set aside time for myself, perhaps by getting a good night’s sleep, going for a walk or watching a good TV show.
Bec: Thank you! I’ve gotten better over the years. I needed a solid push at 16 but once I accepted that perhaps daily panic isn’t quite normal, I was well on my way to working on it. Now I feel far more equipped to ask for help, and thankfully am much better off than I was as a teen. To address your more important question, I’m on season 4 of Lost and already getting the sense that the show is going downhill. But I can’t stop. Too addictive!
I’m so glad peer support was helpful for you. That frustration can have such a huge impact on everything you do and I think you’ve taken some fantastic steps toward managing your diabetes the way YOU want to. That’s in spite of a health system pushing you toward very early independent management! You have some great strategies there.
Thing is, we’re always going to be prone to emotions. It’s ridiculous to think that people are robotic and can keep them in boxes. I think that’s an important point to make particularly for men. It’s perfectly acceptable to have feelings. It’s what makes us human.
Keeping that in mind, what would you tell your previous self at diagnosis?
Bec: I was a stubborn, anxiety fuelled 14 year old, so I doubt I’d pay the slightest bit of attention to any advice. But I wish I did, because all the advice I can give is to let yourself feel. No one expects you to be perfect except you. So lay off! Have a life outside of diabetes and studying and do the stupid things teenagers are supposed to do. You’re 14, not 30. Live a little.
Frank: Is there any teenager that isn’t stubborn? I would just tell my stubborn self to get online. Create a Twitter account, join diabetes groups on Facebook, read blogs and diabetes websites. I would have felt supported so much sooner, and saved myself a great deal of frustration. Oh, and don’t be afraid to speak up for what you want.
Diabetes (of all varieties) is complex and can have impacts on multiple areas of our lives. How do you manage these run on effects? We'd love to hear your strategies!
If you or a loved one need support or simply someone to talk to check out these resources:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: https://www.beyondblue.org.au
And as Frank mentioned, OzDOC is a great way to access some peer support and a good chat. Follow #OzDOC 8pm AEST every Tuesday on Twitter.