Coping with Diagnosis

Dealing with the news

First Reaction You have just been told by your doctor that you have diabetes. Relax, like the doctor said, there is no cause for alarm. Millions of diabetics all over the world are living a full, healthy life, even as you read this. However, there is no place for complacency. The first reactions usually are:

Denial: Denial is that voice inside repeating: "Not me." Most people go through denial when they are first diagnosed with diabetes. "I don't believe it. There must be some mistake," they say. That first reaction is not the real problem. In fact, it's so common that some doctors think it's part of the process of accepting the diagnosis.

Depression: Feeling down once in a while is normal. But some people feel sadness that just won't go away. Life seems hopeless. Feeling this way most of the day for two weeks or more is a sign of serious depression.

At any given time, most people with diabetes do not have depression. But studies show that people with diabetes have a greater risk of depression than people without diabetes. There are no easy answers about why this is true.

Anger: Diabetes is the perfect breeding ground for anger. Anger can start at diagnosis with the question, "Why me?" You may dwell on how unfair diabetes is : "I'm so angry at this disease! I don't want to treat it. I don't want to control it. I hate it!"

One reason diabetes and anger so often go hand in hand is that diabetes can make you feel threatened. Life with diabetes can seem full of dangers - insulin reactions or complications. When you fear these threats, anger often surges to your defense.

While it's true that out-of-control anger can cause more harm than good, that's only part of the story. Anger can also help you assert and protect yourself. You can learn to use your anger. You can even put it to work for better diabetes care.

Change never comes easy and no one is perfect

For those who have been diagnosed with diabetes in mid-life, it is just plain hard to change your lifestyle overnight. You’re being asked to eat differently, exercise when you may not have before, and take medications that are new to you. Hard, yes… impossible, no. Ask yourself one question… How important is your life to you and those you love?

Remember that no one is perfect. If you stray from your diet or medications, don't use that as an excuse to just not try. One bad day does not have to turn into a week, month or more. Put that day behind you and start with the next one. Before long, you can make good control a regular habit.

Family Reaction

The feelings that occur at the diagnosis of diabetes are common with the onset of any serious childhood condition. They are present in some form in all families who have a child with diabetes. If families do not deal with the way they feel at the time of diagnosis, the feelings may linger and cause problems for many years.

Confusion or shock: Some parents/families feel like giving up when diabetes is diagnosed. They feel there is no hope and that this is the end of everything. The child that they thought was "perfect" will now be "different". The child will never be the same. This time of sadness is similar to the process of mourning. The family mourns the loss of the individual’s health. These feelings are very natural. Diabetes may be the worst thing that has happened to the family. If the family learns as much as possible about the cause and the management of diabetes, and talks about their feelings, everyone will do much better.

Denial is often expressed in feelings such as, "This can't happen to me," or "This can't be happening to my child; there must be a mistake." As a result, a family may want to seek second opinions from other doctors, hoping to be told that their child doesn't have diabetes. This denial may make the child's and family's struggle to adjust to the diagnosis much longer and more difficult. It may even interfere with medical treatment. Family members may not want to talk about the diabetes. If this happens, the child may feel alone and the family members may not be able to help each other through a very stressful time. Sometimes parents try to hide their feelings to be strong" for the child. Doing this may cause the child to feel that the parents don't care.

Sadness is a feeling that can be felt by any family member. Any member may cry, feel depressed, or feel hopeless. Anger is a feeling many families have. They may vent the anger toward the doctors, nurses, God, a husband or wife, the child who has diabetes, other family members, or even themselves. The person with diabetes often feels, "Why me?" He or she may feel anger toward other healthy family members. Such anger, although it seems to have no reason, is a very normal feeling.

Fear may be felt by all the family members. The parents may fear the extra responsibilities or the extra expenses associated with diabetes. Parents also fear not being able to manage the diabetes and doubt their abilities. Brothers and sisters may fear they might have or might get diabetes, too. The child with diabetes may fear such things as injections, hospitalizations, or death.

Guilt is a feeling common to most parents. Often they feel that they "gave" the child diabetes. This idea should not even occur to parents as autoimmunity (self-allergy), virus infections, and other unknown factors also are important in causing diabetes. We do not completely understand why someone develops diabetes. There is no proven way at this time to prevent it. Earlier diagnosis after the beginning of symptoms would not have prevented the diabetes from developing or changed the way diabetes is treated. One mother felt that because there was diabetes in her family, and not in her husband's, he must be blaming her for their child's diabetes. After months of worry and concern, she finally shared her feelings with her husband, He had not felt that way at all. Some young children feel that their diabetes is a punishment for bad behavior. Some family members may feel that "eating too much sugar" caused the child's diabetes. It didn't! These ideas can cause unnecessary guilt for everyone.

Adaptation or Adjustment to the diagnosis of diabetes takes a long time. Often one parent will have stronger or more obvious feelings than the other parent. It helps to talk and to share feelings within the family and with members of the diabetes team. As the child and family live with diabetes, they become more used to it.