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  • Writer's pictureSheri Colberg, PhD

Count Your Blessings with Diabetes

If you feel that having diabetes is a curse, maybe it’s time to rethink that. As a person living with type 1 diabetes for over 55 years myself (from the young age of 4), I have to say that having this chronic disease has made me a better person overall in so many ways. As we celebrate the holidays, it’s time to count your blessings with diabetes.

#1: Having diabetes can lead you to have better health.

Being healthier with diabetes than without it? How is that even possible since it’s a chronic disease? It’s easy. Having a healthful lifestyle—including improving diet, physical activity, stress management, and sleep—takes some effort. Diabetes makes you more aware of the potential for bad health if you don’t properly care for yourself, which may be all the motivation you need to make better lifestyle choices. For me, having diabetes has always given me an excuse to prioritize what I need to do to maintain and improve my health. Use diabetes as your reason to schedule physical activity into your daily life and eat foods closer to their natural state. Not only will your blood glucose be easier to manage, but you may find you’ve also prevented many other health problems like cancer, obesity, and chronic inflammation.

#2: Having diabetes helps keep your life in perspective.

Having grown up with diabetes for as long as I can remember, you would think it would just be my way of life—and that’s true to a certain extent. I had the unique experience of developing it back in 1968 before there were home blood glucose meters or continuous glucose monitoring. Minimal information was available on how to manage your blood glucose and health with diabetes and even fewer tools. As a result, I truly believed I was going to die from diabetes complications before graduating from high school. That obviously didn’t happen, but I have always had a heightened sense of my own mortality and a greater awareness of how important it is to maintain good health however you can. I saw my maternal grandmother go through all the cardiovascular complications associated with type 2 diabetes for the final 8 years of her life: major heart attack, debilitating strokes, and partial leg amputations. She may have remained alive during those difficult final years, but it was hardly a life worth living. After seeing what she went through, I decided that “healthspan” matters more than how long you live. Diabetes helps me keep life’s inevitable stressors in perspective (that is, don’t sweat the small stuff—and it’s almost all small stuff), and I am grateful for every day I am alive and well.

#3: Diabetes is a manageable chronic disease, and some people can even reverse it.

I only found out recently that my maternal grandpa’s uncle (after whom my grandfather was named) and that uncle’s two pre-teenaged sons all died from type 1 diabetes between 1905 and 1910 before the discovery of insulin in 1921. Insulin is by no means a diabetes cure, but I am immensely grateful to have access to it and live a long and productive life instead of dying at a young age like my ancestors did pre-insulin. Nowadays, we know so much more about the causes of various types of diabetes and how to best manage it. For people with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes, their condition is even potentially reversible with appropriate lifestyle improvements. There are so many worse illnesses that are more assuredly fatal than diabetes, and I consider myself lucky to only have diabetes.

#4: Managing your diabetes nowadays is easier to do than ever before.

Emotionally, I had to deal with having diabetes all over again once I got my first blood glucose meter after going the first 18 years without one. I thought I was doing okay managing it until I was actually found out my blood glucose levels. Having access to the right tools can make all the difference, which is why I think it’s so much easier to manage diabetes nowadays. I happily stick my finger or wear a device on my skin that monitors glucose because it’s so much better than not knowing what your levels are (and then worrying incessantly about how to prevent complications when you don’t have the tools to do it). Many newer medications can target various aspects of glucose management and even some really trendy ones (like Ozempic and Mounjaro, also marketed as Wegovy and Zepbound for those without diabetes) can help you lose weight. It’s not just all about insulin anymore, even for those forced to take it (that is, anyone with type 1 diabetes). Some of these medications that were targeted at type 2 diabetes can also be used by people with type 1.

So, decide to change your thinking and choose to see your diabetes as a blessing rather than a curse. Just doing that will help manage your stress and lower your blood glucose levels!

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