a man balancing a brain and some rocks on his back

My Mental Health Took a Hit

There have been many articles written about the effect diabetes has on our mental health. For me, living with my diabetes has been pretty simple in comparison to others. Although I have had my ‘down’ moments, and a few periods of burnout, I have always felt that I had control of my mental health. Recently, I found out differently.

Mental health and type 2 diabetes

The change in my mental health snuck up on me. All along when life hit me with less than happy stuff, I tried to stay positive. I felt like “Yup, I’ve got this. I have good family support. I have friends who I can lean on. I have coped well with stress in the past. I’ll get through this.” Little did I realize the cumulative effect of multiple stressors.

Diabetes has been in my life for 15 years, since November 2005. I can say in the overall picture, I have dealt with it pretty well. That's not to say I haven’t had rough times. I have, but I have always been able to do what needed to be done. If I felt like my mental health was being affected by just living with the disease, it was short term, easily coped with. But then life hit me, and my family, with way too much.

Managing additional stressful life events

In the past two years, life events sped out of control. My daughter had some significant health challenges after routine surgery. For 18 months her life was a living h*ll. I walked beside her that whole time, worried about how it was affecting her, and wondered when her life would return to normal (it has).

My dad was living with Alzheimer’s and his decline was progressing to the end of his life. I supported both dad and mom as best I could with the rest of my family. Living out of town added to that stress, the feelings of guilt over not being able to do more. Dad passed away a year ago. With that passing, I needed to cancel a big recertification exam that I use for my employment. Canceling the exam was stressful, I’d spent a year preparing for it. Due to some dumb-a** rule, I needed to jump through many hoops to be allowed to sit for the next exam date. It wasn’t enough that I had just lost my father even after I supplied the death certificate and 11 other pages of proof. Seven months and a whole lot of anger later, I managed to write that 4-hour exam.

Moving forward within the last year, we experienced a flood at our cottage that has culminated in clean up, renovation to repair, and ongoing worry about when it will happen again. Then I broke my ankle and because of it, I’ve been off work for the last 3 months. Oh and let’s not forget the shingles I developed during that same 3 months. I had been seeing my doctor every two weeks to reassess the ankle and shingles progress so that I could return to work. And then there’s the diabetes overarching all of this. I have no idea if I have control of it or not. I haven’t had much brain left to think too hard about it or to attend to it.

Talking to loved ones and medical professionals about mental health

With all of this, I knew I hadn’t been feeling like myself. I talked to my husband off and on about feeling isolated, about not being able to get out of the house, feeling frustrated with all I couldn’t do, and wanting to get back to work to the job I loved. I had a pretty big meltdown one night, lying on the bed curled up in a fetal position, sobbing. This wasn’t me and yet, it was. At a recent appointment with the doctor, I let him in on some of my frustrations of the last 2 years and my worry about what could be happening to my diabetes. I didn’t really say I wasn't coping but I think he understood. He offered some concrete strategies to get me over the mechanical things. At my last appointment, I talked more openly about where my mental health was at because it felt safe. We talked about how diabetes, my ankle, shingles, and my job on hold was affecting me at the moment. We made a plan for my return to work down the line in the New Year. I felt like I had some control back.

We all deserve a safe place to talk

Those of us living with diabetes talk about how it can affect our mental health but we don’t talk enough about what else is going on in our lives that add to that. Most people have more than diabetes stress to deal with. We need to pay more attention to how the cumulative effect of all our stressors affects our mental health beyond diabetes which is difficult enough to deal with. We cannot look at diabetes and mental health in isolation. And we need a safe place to talk about our mental health.

I’m feeling better now, more like my old self. I’m hoping my diabetes is still ok as I deal with all the other stressors left to deal with. I’ll know in a month when I see my endocrinologist.

I will no longer look at my mental health just in relation to my diabetes. It encompasses so much more.

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