Yesterday, Mia Freedman wrote a beautiful piece about grief and how people often don’t know how to deal with it. She also wrote about how we deal with grief as time passes and the tragic episode moves further and further into the past.

It got me thinking to diabetes. When I was diagnosed a lot of what I was told was pretty matter-of-fact. ‘You eat this, you check your sugars, you inject insulin’ and ‘If you don’t you’ll get this (insert graphic picture or graphic description of any complication)’. It was all very off-you-go-and-deal-with-it-now-you-have-the-facts.

There was no talk about how I might actually feel.

About three years after I was diagnosed, I developed some other short-term health problems that may or may not have had anything to do with diabetes. They did have quite a lot to do with physical pain and during this period, I learnt that I don’t handle constant pain very well. I spent 6 weeks in hospital as the source of the pain was identified and treated. Long story short – it was a really dark time for me.

My very clever endo, who had her hand in my care during this period, referred me to a psychiatrist. She said that she thought it would be a good idea for me to have someone to speak with. I remember the first time I saw him. I was still in hospital and in he walked. I was in bed doing one of the stupid exercises that was supposed to help me manage the pain, but really just annoyed me.

He sat down and we had a chat. He wanted to know about the pain and why I was feeling so low. We talked about how I’d managed to deal with a diagnosis of a life-long chronic health condition, yet was struggling to deal with something that was going to have an end-point even if at that moment I couldn’t think past the pain.

I started seeing him each week and it was after about a month that he said to me ‘you know, it’s okay to grieve about having been diagnosed with diabetes.’ I can remember that moment with such clarity. I looked at him and felt unable to breathe. I started to focus on my rapidly increasing heart rate and gulped air into my lungs. And burst into tears. As I caught my breath and my heart beat returned to normal I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted.

Grieving because we are diagnosed with diabetes should be acknowledged as part of the process of discovering our new life. It’s not being pitiful or pessimistic. Or thinking that life will only be depressing and not worth living. It’s not about being morose or tragic or hopeless. It’s about acknowledging that life will be different to how it was. There was a life before diabetes. I imagine for young kids with diabetes, it’s their parents who will remember this time and grieve what a diagnosis of diabetes means for their child.

I remember my life before diabetes. Less and less of that is clear and I can’t remember a time where I wasn’t haunted by the thoughts of what diabetes could possibly do to me as I grow older. My ‘what-I’m-scared-off’ is all tied up with diabetes.

No, we don’t get over it. We do, perhaps, get ‘used’ to it and stop thinking so much about life before. We do start to do new things to help us manage as best we can, and soon they stop being ‘different’ and ‘scary’ and just become routine. The well thought out changes we make to our lifestyle become second nature and we stop considering them as new.

Diabetes as a reality isn’t all terrible; it isn’t all bad news. Life with diabetes can be everything that you had ever imagined – just with the caveat of diabetes being there. Grieving about it is okay, especially at the time of diagnosis. I’ve learnt that there will be times that I grieve again – never as strongly as the time in the doctor’s office when I was given permission to let the grief come to the surface, but still, there are times when I do catch my breath and think ‘remember when….’

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