Autoimmune Disease Sucks…And You Can Handle It

I’m currently reading the book Diabetes Sucks And You Can Handle It by Dr. Mark Heyman, a psychologist who lives with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D). For those of you who don’t know, T1D is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system destroys the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. 

Although I don’t have type 1 diabetes myself, I started reading the book because I work for a continuous glucose monitoring company, which produces medical devices for those with diabetes to help them monitor their glucose levels. Reading about diabetes has given me some insight on what it’s like to live with this challenging chronic illness.

As I was reading Dr. Heyman’s book, I realized that there are a lot of similarities between living with T1D and other autoimmune conditions, like Sjogren’s Syndrome and Hidradenitis Suppurativa, which I live with. Being diagnosed with any kind of chronic health condition can be overwhelming, especially at first. You may think, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ or other unhelpful thoughts. Even after the initial shock of your diagnosis wears off, there is the ongoing challenge of having to live your ‘new normal’ of life with a disease. It can also impact your ability to do the work and activities that you love.

Dr. Heyman says that the first step to living well with diabetes is to first acknowledge that IT SUCKS. This may seem counterintuitive…after all, if you’re struggling with living with an illness, thinking about how much it sucks would only make things worse, right? But Dr. Heyman says that oftentimes, those with T1D try to ignore their disease, or to think positive thoughts only – this just doesn’t work. You can’t ignore your health problems as if that’ll make them going away. And trying to force yourself to only think positively is basically the definition of toxic positivity.

As Dr. Heyman explains, the best way to live well with diabetes is to acknowledge that although it sucks, you can handle it. Here is a brief excerpt from the boook:

You can handle T1D because you have T1D. I know this sounds like circular logic, but it isn’t. Diabetes is demanding. It requires a lot from you. And you are doing it. You may not be perfect, and it may not feel like you’re doing a great job at handling it. Feeling overwhelmed, and burned out are not signs that you can’t handle T1D. The fact that you’re still living your life and want to keep improving is strong evidence that you can handle the challenging parts of diabetes because that is exactly what you’ve been doing since being diagnosed.

I have never met anyone with T1D who isn’t stronger in some way because of diabetes. You know that managing this condition day in and day out means always being on your toes. You have to make important decisions about your health, pivot your strategy regularly, and keep going, no matter what. You are already doing this.

Sometimes it may feel like you’re not doing a perfect job, and of course, there is always room for improvement. But the reality is T1D has made you stronger. You have to be resilient to survive with diabetes. The fact that you live with T1D proves you are strong. I hope you see it too.

I found this passage to be pretty relatable as someone managing multiple chronic illnesses. You may sometimes feel overburdened by your disease, but at the same time, you are made stronger by the challenges it has put you through. Maybe you’ve also become more conscientious of your health than before you were diagnosed, or it’s led you to re-prioritize your life to make space for only the things that you truly love and care about. Seeing it through this perspective doesn’t mean ignoring how hard it is to live with a disease. Instead, it’s about acknowledging how strong YOU have become in the process of managing life with a disease.

Let us know in the comments below…how has living life with a chronic illness made you stronger or more resilient?

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