How to accept a diabetes diagnosis

Registered counsellor, Bernadine Rust, offers guidance on how to accept a diabetes diagnosis.

“Behind every chronic illness is just a person trying to find their way in the world.” – Glenn Schweitzer

Being diagnosed with a chronic disease, such as diabetes mellitus, may be experienced as a life crisis. Within a few seconds your whole world changes. Suddenly there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ life anymore.

Diabetes can be a frustrating and a scary diagnosis, regardless of the ‘type’ you are diagnosed with. Although it doesn’t have to be a death sentence, you will have to make life changes.

As the mind and body directly influence one another, a person’s quality of life may depend on their ability to learn to adapt and cope with life changes, which in turn builds resilience.

By adopting a practical and solution-focused approach, you may be able to focus on things you can control or change, which in turn may aid in better managing anxiety and stress levels and lead to a healthier and better quality of life.

Managing your emotional health

A diabetes diagnosis may be very isolating and can leave you with more questions than answers. Attending counselling sessions may help you deal with your emotions and help to redefine who you are. This may include the process of finding a new normal and striving for acceptance through meaning making: finding a reason for your pain or making it work for you.

As your entire life changes, it’s incredibly normal to show signs of depression, anxiety or heightened stress levels which, if untreated, may eventually negatively impact your overall health, well-being and functioning.

These symptoms may worsen blood glucose control, medication and diet compliance and lead to low self-care. Through counselling you will be able to identify your blind-spots and in turn get unstuck and change harmful behavioural patterns.

You may also need to learn how to have grace with yourself, learn to listen to your body and to be okay with the fact that you will not get everything right the first time. It takes time to find the right balance, team, diet, exercise routine, mind-set and medication. Therefore, do not get discouraged and rather focus on the small victories.

Accept, grieve and heal

Initially, you may cope well but at a later stage feel overwhelmed or discouraged because of a setback. It’s never too late to seek therapy.

Grieving your diagnosis forms the cornerstone of emotionally healing. Your loved ones may feel powerless and heartbroken too. Open communication and addressing the proverbial elephant in the room is the only way to start the healing process as you will need to find ways to express your emotions. Your therapist may help you to identify your triggers to combat already existing destructive behavioural patterns or potential ones.

Symptoms that may encourage you to seek help can include: insomnia, low mood, crying spells, concentration problems, irritability, anger outbursts, frustration, lashing out at loved ones, self-isolation, rebellion, feeling out of control, panic attacks, fear of dying, decrease in productivity at work or drop in marks at school, personality changes, or if you feel life is not worth living.

Anxiety or depression is not a decision, but a reaction to a real stressor or trauma and, in some cases, may need medication to help your body reach balance again. This doesn’t make you weak. The fact that you have enough courage and bravery to seek help already means you are strong. 

Find your tribe

This not only includes your medical team but also support groups or a support system. A holistic approach works best. It helps if your physician, general practitioner, dietitian/nutritional therapist, therapist/counsellor and even physiotherapist, or any other healthcare workers that form part of your treatment plan, are in contact with each other to make sure that you receive the best treatment altered to your specific needs.

A healthcare practitioner can only work with the information at hand. Therefore, having a multi-disciplinary team and transparent communication can add to the success of treatment.

As this is your journey, you can seek a second opinion or even see a different healthcare professional if you don’t feel comfortable with yours. You need to feel safe, heard, understood and supported.

Having the support of family and friends will also help you to adapt to your new reality and gain a sense of control. Your initial consultation might be very overwhelming and you may struggle to remember everything that was said. With that in mind, it might be a good idea to take someone with to follow-up consultations that can make notes on your behalf or ask additional questions.

Focus on the facts

The best weapon to have when fighting a new reality is knowledge as this can empower you and eliminate fears. However, with the vast amount of information available this task may actually prove overwhelming as inaccurate beliefs may have a significant impact on your self-care.

You may ask your healthcare practitioners for information or to advise scientifically founded books, blogs or websites. Understanding what is happening in your body and how the medication works, or which warning signs to look out for may not only possibly save your life, but also give your overthinking mind a rest. This will also help you to explore and investigate all treatment options and make informed decisions.

Have a game plan

The best approach to any life-changing situation may be to strive for prevention rather than cure or crisis management. This may include a little bit of organisation to ensure a healthy routine and schedule, which will also help manage possible anxiety or stress in the future.

Strategies to employ might include: setting reminders on your calendar for follow-up consultations, buying pill-holders to remind you of taking necessary medication, keeping track of your glucose levels, having a meal plan or meal prepping and ensuring that you have a ‘go-bag’. This bag may include necessary medication, treats to aid in fighting dropping glucose levels and your medical information. You can even have a few of these (in your car, at work, at school). This will help you to always be prepared. It also helps to educate those closest to you about what to do in a crisis and who to contact.

Create a health-oriented approach to life

This process may be more practical and can include adopting a healthy diet, exercise routine, sleep schedule, adhering to a medication regime, managing your emotions, and limiting or eliminating harmful behaviours, such as drinking, smoking, binge eating, addictions and a sedentary lifestyle.

Exercise, quality sleep and a healthy diet along with stress management have all been found to combat depression, anxiety, weight problems and additional health problems, such as cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, cholesterol, burnout, infectious diseases and unstable glucose levels.

In turn, it also boosts your immune system, memory, resilience and self-esteem. You don’t have to become a health guru, but rather focus on living a balanced and healthy life.

A diabetes diagnosis doesn’t mean you can’t still live a happy and healthy long life. As three-time Olympic Gold Medallist, Kristin Armstrong, argues, “Times of transition are strenuous, but I love them. They are an opportunity to purge, rethink priorities, and be intentional about new habits. We can make our new normal any way we want.”

Therefore, if all else fails, there is always hope.

Bernadine Rust is a registered counsellor, life coach and NLP practitioner with a special interest in the effect of physiological health on emotional and mental well-being. She advocates a holistic approach to overall health and believes in striving for a balanced and peaceful life. She has a private practice at Grace Medical Centre in Shelly Beach, KwaZulu-Natal and offers online counselling sessions.


Bernadine Rust is a registered counsellor, life coach and NLP practitioner. She has a special interest in the effect of physiological health on emotional and mental well-being, and advocates a holistic approach to overall health and believes in striving for a balanced and peaceful life. She has a private practice at Grace Medical Centre in Shelly Beach, KwaZulu-Natal and offers online counselling sessions.

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