First, take a deep breath. It’s been nearly a century since a diagnosis of diabetes meant death. Today, it’s a chronic disease that is inherently treatable. Still, receiving the news that you have it can be devastating. Most people go through five grief stages when they get their diabetes diagnosis. This is perfectly normal. But knowing what those stages are and how to handle them can be your best tool in dealing with and managing your disease. Let’s take a look at them now.
This Isn’t Happening to Me
Forget denial. Blood tests rarely lie. “But I feel fine,” you’re thinking. “How can I possibly be sick?” Consider yourself lucky. Your doctor caught your diabetes before it got bad enough to make its presence known with symptoms like frequent urination, excessive thirst, and weight loss.
That means the high blood sugar levels you’ve been walking around with aren’t high enough to cause those symptoms. But don’t be fooled. If they stay as high as they are for a long time, they will cause serious complications that can affect your eyes, kidneys, and the nerves in your legs.
I’m So Darn Mad!
It’s ok to get angry. Scream at your diabetes; tell it how much you hate it, how much you wish it would go away. But don’t let the anger take you over. It takes a lot of energy to be angry, and you’re going to need that energy to manage your disease.
This anger will probably always be with you in one form or another, such as frustration with your treatment program, restrictions on what you can eat, the constant need to exercise, the drugs you have to take. When that occurs, take a few minutes to feel and acknowledge that anger; then remind yourself of the possible alternatives—blindness, kidney failure and dialysis, heart disease, strokes, amputations, and an earlier death—and continue the program that will stop these complications from occurring.
Let’s Make a Deal
You might be tempted to bargain your good behavior for a cure. Although eating better, losing weight, walking every day, and working less can definitely improve your condition, it most often won’t make diabetes go away. Losing enough weight if you’re overweight or obese can make it disappear, but this is usually temporary. Unfortunately diabetes is a chronic disease and, to date, there is no cure and no way to make it go away entirely.
But I’m So Sad
It’s quite common to be sad when you’re diagnosed with diabetes. You are grieving the loss of your old life, your old self. But when that sadness begins interfering with your daily life, you need to be concerned. People with diabetes sometimes are diagnosed with depression—in fact, several studies suggest that having diabetes doubles one’s risk of depression.
Don’t take depression lightly. It is a dangerous disease that can sometimes be fatal. Studies find that people with diabetes who are also depressed don’t have very good control over their blood sugar levels and are more likely to have high levels of blood sugar. This, in turn, can increase one’s risk of complications. The good news is this: treating depression leads to better control of blood sugar levels, thus reducing the risk of complications.
Accepting the Reality
At some point, you should move into acceptance of your disease. However, there is no timeline for reaching this point; it could take weeks or years. Some people never accept their disease, refusing to move out of the denial or anger phase. Don’t let that be you. The longer you wait to start treating your diabetes, the greater your chances will be of developing complications. It is possible to live a full and healthy life with diabetes, and you can regain some control over your health. The first step to control: tell the people in your life about your diagnosis. For more information about how to do this, see our Quick Guide, Coping With a Diabetes Diagnosis: Telling Your Friends and Family.
Now that you’ve moved through the stages of your diabetes diagnosis, you should be feeling pretty good. But just remember that diabetes is a lifetime disease, and nothing in our lives remains the same forever. There will be times that you’ll cycle back through the five stages of denial, anger, sadness, bargaining, and acceptance. Don’t worry—this is normal, too. Just use the coping tools we’ve discussed and focus on maintaining your blood sugar levels throughout the day. The weeks and months and years will take care of themselves.