Living with T1D is difficult because it is a chronic condition like no other. The constant daily management, targets, tests, restrictions, and stigmas around the condition can grind you down.
But you are not alone in this. Over 60% of people with diabetes experience daily mental health problems due to their diabetes. It's normal to feel stressed and low about living with type one diabetes, and it's not your fault.
The first step on the path to emotional wellbeing is recognition. If you can identify and isolate specific problems, you will be more able to fix them and improve your wellbeing. Once you understand each issue, you can also find the most appropriate support.
What might these specific issues be?
Because so many of us experience mental health problems with our T1D, we can look at common themes and questions that crop up.
Often, people worry about:
- How it will affect the rest of their lives
- Whether others will treat them differently
- Having a hypo or serious event while out
- How many sleepless nights will I have? How might this affect me?
- Can I still go out with friends and venues?
- Will my employer look down on it?
- What foods can I eat? What can't I eat?
- How is this going to affect my relationships?
- Will I be able to have a family?
And so much more. First off, there are free resources across the internet to answer each of these questions. These include articles, support groups, and much more - but your nursing team should be able to help with all of them.
So what's our strategy for improving our mental wellbeing?
It's great to know what to look for, but it doesn't change anything. We need to make a plan with measurable steps to improve our mental wellbeing. Until we've taken action, it's silly to expect something to change on its own.
- Write down the specific issues that are affecting your mental wellbeing.
- Issue by issue, what would help? A support group? Facebook groups? Counseling? Joining a gym? Making a T1D friend on Instagram? Having someone to talk to?
- Now, you have a list of problems and a list of solutions to explore.
- Now, rank your list, putting the most urgent issues first.
- Only focus on one at a time; go for that solution.
Here is an example by us below, which we have used for ourselves in times of distress.
Things I struggle with:
- Feeling alone
- Not knowing what I can eat
- Not knowing if I need a pump or not
Solutions to these:
- I need to be "not alone," so I need human contact - I can get this from Instagram, find local support groups, and find an online forum. Ultimately, I need to send messages out as people are not going to just come to me out of the blue.
- Not knowing what I can eat - I need to read articles or talk to other diabetics about what they eat. I should research diabetes recipes, find diabetes food accounts on Instagram, talk to random diabetics about what they like to eat. Unless I go out and find new information by myself, I will not know what to eat and what not to eat.
- Not knowing if I need a pump or not - Who would know this? My Endocrinologist. I need to book an appointment with my endocrinologist.
The above is in note form but illustrates the journey you need to go on.
What information do I need? Who has that? Contact them.
But even this is exhausting.
This is where type 1 diabetes becomes a condition like no other. The stress of ongoing blood glucose control has a causal influence on our mental wellbeing. This is where dangerous conditions like depression and burnout come into play.
These are long-term conditions and not isolated or one-off daily incidents. If you've had the below symptoms for two weeks or more, you may be affected by depression or diabetes burnout:
- Feeling sad on more days than not
- Feeling unmotivated and uninterested in things that you would typically enjoy, on more days than not
- Staying at home more and isolating yourself more than you usually would
- Self-criticism and unhelpful thoughts, telling yourself you are a failure and are not good enough
- Feels of overwhelm and despair on more days than not
- Feeling drained and tired on more days than not
Depression is a vast topic, but if you are experiencing the above, you should seek solutions to improve your mental wellbeing. There are many resources and charities for this, like Mind. The diabetes community will support you if you can reach out to them. You can also message Type One Style to chat about anything, and we're always here to help.
It's crucial that you seek help early before dangerous habits come into play. Chronically depressed people with diabetes can let go of their diabetes management and experience health complications, which makes things much worse in the long run. It's a brutal cycle.
Ultimately, you still need to plan to look after your mental wellbeing. Use your Dexcom G6, Freestyle Libre, or other blood glucose data to help you make rational decisions and avoid emotional reactions, such as the commonly termed and dangerous "rage bolus."
You must talk to people about how you are feeling, and you must remember that we and other T1Ds care about you, even though we haven't met you. We're all going through this together, and we are stronger when we come together as a community.
Don't suffer alone. Make a plan. Actively reach out to other T1Ds. Tell other T1Ds about this, and pass the help on. Even if it's nine at night, message us on Instagram @typeonestyle - if we're there, we will help you.