It’s Day Three of Diabetes Blog Week, and today the topic is all about respecting mental health. We’re asked to write about What Brings Me Down, i.e. what specifically can make dealing with diabetes an emotional issue for you and/or your loved one(s), and how do you cope?
Clearly, the combo of D-management tasks and psycho-social challenges can be taxing. It’s no wonder the studies tell us PWDs are more prone to depression and mental health issues, and our community is keenly aware that this issue needs attention.
Take the latest You Can Do This Project video as an example, as it’s all about mental health. Be sure to check it out!
It’s all very timely right now with May being Mental Health Month…
We’ve addressed our own perspectives, especially Mike who’s bravely shared his own accounts of going through bouts of depression. Today, we asked veteran type 1 blogger Scott Strange of Strangely Diabetic to share his own story about mental health and diabetes. He’s one of our D-Community’s strongest advocates on this topic, and was actually the person who inspired today’s D-Blog Week prompt.
A Guest Post by Scott Strange
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1970. That was a long time ago and the long-term prognosis at that time was not pretty. I literally grew up expecting to die by the time I got to college. I don’t remember anyone telling me that it’s more of a general impression of the time. Despite the fact that it is 44 years later and that I have no complications, I write this today as a failure.
I failed to die.
You’re probably wondering, “What? I don’t think that means what you think it means, Scott.” Well, let me explain why it means exactly what I think it means…
As noted, the prognosis for type 1 in 1970 was all bad. Blindness, organ failure, amputation, death. Every family member, friend, and random guy on the street had some personal horror story of how diabetes had killed his mom, grandfather, aunt, brother, third cousin… you name ‘em, diabetes killed ‘em. As a seven-year-old, I heard all these stories, even when the grownups didn’t think I was listening. There is simply no way to truly shield a child from learning that diabetes can kill them.
It was a different time: my parents grew up during the Great Depression and I was raised to be aware that sometimes life is hard and you just have to deal with it the best you can. If I needed help, I could get it, but by the time I was 10 or 11, I was managing my own diabetes. People just didn’t talk about illnesses the way we do today. The concept of peer support existed, as I can remember going to a couple of group sessions with other kids, but no one, myself included, had any idea how important that peer support truly is. What I had back then was an implicit knowledge that I could get help rather than an explicit display of that support. My parents weren’t equipped any better than I was to handle a life-long chronic condition and the baggage that comes with it. This and family history, combined with a few other factors, made me almost the perfect storm for depression.
I tended to be very emotionally guarded as I grew up, not wanting to give bullies any more ammo. I became all most totally self-reliant, and isolated, by the time I was a teen. That’s one hell of a burden for a kid, especially when I was expecting myself to be able to handle it all just fine. Depression started to rear its head as I got into high school.
I believe that my depression was to be expected, if not unavoidable.
For the next few decades, I got by doing as little as possible to manage my condition. I kept expecting to die and that “fact” had become a cornerstone Truth for me. To cope with the repeated failure of survival, I developed a “Why bother? I’m going to die anyway” attitude about my diabetes management and most other things in life. Have you heard the term “suicide by cop“? Looking back, I wonder if I wasn’t trying for “suicide by diabetes.” Of course, that didn’t work and made me an even bigger failure. It became a cycle that just fed upon itself. I had no one to talk to, no one who got it except myself. And I was the worst possible person to let inside my head.
There came a time when it seemed like insulin had just stopped working and I made a rare appointment with an endo, the first time I had seen one in a decade (again, Why Bother?). But for some reason, I decided to go. She wanted to get me on a pump ASAP, so I started researching insulin pumps. To me, the internet had only been a source for news. Diabetes-focused sites such as the ‘Mine were only news for me — I simply didn’t use them to connect with people. And the fact of the matter was that I had come to prefer isolation.
Looking for info on insulin pumps provided a vast wellspring of resources, and I found more info that I knew what to do with. But I also found something even more important, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. It was something that I didn’t even realize I needed, let alone know it was out there for me to use. I had been forced to be so self-reliant for so long that I had no concept of the need for peer support, it was a totally alien concept. Slowly, but surely, I began to form some contact with other people, others who understood.
Then I decided to take the dive into insulin pumping. It was quite the leap of faith for me. Going from MDI and rarely checking my glucose to letting a machine keep me alive and all the testing required was a polar shift. I was suddenly awash in data and, as I continued to explore the DOC, I was awash in stories. Stories of other people facing the challenges I face. Some of those stories were happy, uplifting.
Others… were not.
But even those other, not-so-happy stories, somehow provided amazing support by other people. Their bravery and openness in sharing their own stories with others out there who “get it” seemed so empowering, it made me want to try it. So I started replying to posts, asking questions, and sharing my experiences. When people heard that I was diagnosed so long ago, most thought I had worked hard at maintaining such good control to still be here and not have complications. The truth was that it all was a random roll of the genetic dice.
But as I delved deeper and deeper into the DOC, I found myself oddly attracted to these “other” stories, and guilt started to blanket my mind.
Fed by depression and stories of how so many people had worked so hard to stay healthy and how complications and sometimes even death had come anyway, my depression deepened and suicide became the answer on one particular Saturday.
Somehow, I managed to intervene in my own plans. As comforting as those plans were, I realized that I would do anything so my children would never have to ask, “Why would daddy rather be dead than be with me?”
Talk therapy is a lot of hard, uncomfortable work. I’ve gone through a lot of it in the last few years, and it’s made me realize that while I was actually ashamed of having survived for so long, it is not my fault that I have and it is also not my fault that others haven’t.
Over the last few years, I’ve had ups and downs and I think depression will always be a part of my life. The coping skills I’ve learned, not only from therapy, but also from my friends in the DOC, have probably helped save my life. This community is such a source of support and don’t think I could do this without you all.
Thanks for being so brave, Scott, to bare all about the depression and survivor’s guilt you’ve battled. We think your 40+ years with type 1 is a success and not a failure. Keep on living strong, my friend!