One thing I have learned in my almost 50 years of life, is that everyone feels pain, and most importantly, that is ok. We are all living through lives filled with a multitude of experiences, feelings, thoughts. Pain is an important part of living. Physical pain serves as a warning, to look out for danger or to get a problem fixed. Imagine if you could not feel pain as you put your hand into a fire? Imagine what would happen to your body if you did not feel the snap of a bone and just kept on walking….
Emotional pain also serves a purpose. It allows you time to reflect, to process events and things that have happened to you. Feelings allow you to care about other people and yourself; to care about the world and what happens. Feelings make sure things get done, they encourage you to act, drive you to love, ensure you stay connected. They give you perspective. They enrich your life and create meaning. A person devoid of feelings would be living a life disconnected from the world. Yet sometimes, everything is not ok.
Emotions are a wonderful thing, but can be seen as something you must control. In fact many children are told to “settle down”, “stop being so silly”, “keep quiet” “don’t cry, don’t shout, don’t laugh so much”…we are given messages that we must stay in control of our feelings – this varies between boys and girls as well. I was always loud, passionate, open, deeply feeling and demonstrative of my emotions. I was lucky to have parents who celebrated this, but the school system did not always. I would constantly come up against teachers who wanted to quieten me, and in my adulthood, some people have judged me based on their own lack of ability and experiences of handling and sharing their strong emotions. On the flipside, I watched as my quiet, deeply sensitive, emotional and talented friend, who happened to be a boy finding his way as someone who loved other boys, and living in a narrow minded, small country town, go through living hell as he became a man, losing his way emotionally due to the lack of understanding about who he was.
Later, when I was young adult, I experienced the overwhelming sadness of depression due to my diabetes and living in a violent relationship for a couple of years. But this was never recognised, even by me, until it became deeper following the birth of my first child; followed by an experience of post traumatic stress from the very difficult child protection work I did for over a decade. This led to deep depression and panic attacks/generalised anxiety. This was one of the hardest periods of my life. At that time it was also one of the most joyful. I had met my now husband and we had moved in together with my then 2 year old son. We were engaged and embarking on our lives together. How could you experience the deepest sorrow and fear of your life, whilst experiencing such great joy and hope for your future? That is indeed the complexity of emotions, and in fact it was my feelings about my family, my complete love for them and the empathy I felt for them, that prevented me from leaving, despite reaching the point where I contemplated this. I stayed and went through these extraordinarily difficult feelings that threatened to destroy me, because of love.
Life with diabetes is filled with emotions. From the moment you discover you have it, to sitting on a bed, sobbing as a child about to inject themselves for the first time, to realising the shocking range of effects diabetes may have on your body, to the even harder discovery that the relentless, daily management tasks can never be dropped else these shocking effects happen; and then if they do, it will have been your fault….Being a “hidden” condition, others may not know or understand what you are going through, and it can be a lonely place to be, sitting on that outcrop that is diabetes.
Yet it is in those deeply felt, deeply difficult emotions, that you learn to understand your condition. As you move from a life before diabetes, to a life with diabetes, these feelings help you to make sense of this new world, the one in which you must embrace diabetes, or suffer more. Just like in any relationship, emotions shift, and sometimes you experience anger, jealousy, sadness – this becomes part of your relationship with your diabetes too. Some days you may even embrace it for some of the positive things it has brought to your life.
All emotions are important, and if you have never experienced the tough ones, how could you know about the glorious nature of the ones we all seek? If you know what it is like to feel sorrow, anxiety, anger – then you can also know when these things have settled, and when you experience the absolute, physical joy of a moment of wonder or happiness, you recognise it and you know how much that matters.
However, when emotions get out of balance, when profound sadness, hopelessness, fear, anxiety, take over your world; when you can not see any way out but to leave, then everything is not ok. I saw something on Facebook the other day in response to the outpouring of sadness about the death of Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell – it was about how when someone is so sad, so deeply profoundly lost that they may consider suicide, that your “door is always open” and the “kettle is always on” – one of those inane Facebook posts that go around, in an attempt to make people feel they are doing something about an issue. The post talked about how this is just ridiculous and not helpful because people who are lost in the devastation of emotions that is potential suicide are not going to come to you – you must go to them, you must go to them.
The best way to ensure your feelings and those of the ones you love are seen, heard, understood – is to ask each other. Connect with people who you can openly share your feelings with. If you notice someone is not ok, not themselves, seemingly unbalanced, overly sad, disconnected or unable to relate as they usually would – ask them how they are – go to them. If they say all is ok but you know it is not – tell them you can see that everything is not ok and offer your hand.
For yourself, knowing how and where to reach out to when you feel this way is vitally important. If you can identify early, that you are slipping into a place where everything is not ok, there is a much better chance of moving through this time to a happier place. Experiencing daily frustration, moments of anger, stress or distress, are par for the course in a life with diabetes. Reaching the point where you hang up your boots and no longer want to play the game, is damaging to your health. Make sure you have built those relationships with people, where emotions, all of them, can be openly shared, so you can reach out, grasp hands and catch each other if you fall.
For more on diabetes burn out and depression, head here for my online learning module and come join our community on Facebook for support and connections