It is all in the choice

The art of living with diabetes starts with making a choice. Rosemary Flynn explains why this choice forms the foundation of everything.

Your diabetes is here to stay until research doctors find a cure. The challenge of living with diabetes is in the mind. You have the power to live life purposefully and make your life fulfilling. You must make a choice – you can:

  • Make it a bad thing – an illness, a disease, or a burden, and you would not be wrong.
  • Make it a sad thing and get stuck in mourning your healthy past, feeling miserable about your future and that would be understandable.
  • Be mad at diabetes and resist it or rebel against it, and you will find many others who feel the same.

But ask yourself if that is how you want to live your life? It seems very negative and self-defeating.

You can say, ‘I will be a success in life together with my diabetes’.

Have the courage to work with your diabetes

Diabetes is a journey you have to take, and you can choose to make it a success or not. Vincent van Gogh said, What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?and he was a highly successful artist.

A good attitude affects your interest in staying alive, and living life actively influences your attitude for the better.

If you live under a cloud of depression and discouragement, you will lose interest in living. On the other hand, if you keep an active interest in life, you are open to receive messages of beauty, hope, satisfaction and courage. Research has shown that when you have a good attitude, your brain becomes more engaged, more creative, more motivated, more energetic, and more productive. Imagine how much a good attitude influences your diabetes care and promotes a good outcome.

Things that help promote a good outcome

  • Your thoughts

As you try to make sense of things that happen in your life, pay attention to the stories you are telling yourself and how you are interpreting them. You can frame them negatively or positively.

If you have failed at something you set out to do, frame it to say, ‘I can build on failure; I can use it as a stepping stone’. If you see yourself as a victim because you have diabetes, reframe it to say, ‘At least diabetes is a manageable condition and I can make a difference to how much it affects me.’

Don’t give those discouraging thoughts too much attention. Don’t let failure use up any of your energy, except to learn a better way to handle it next time. When your thoughts change, your negative emotions can fade, and you can see a way forward that can work for you rather than against you.

  • Your qualities

Take some time to really look at your good qualities and your weaknesses, or areas of your life you may be neglecting. Build on your good qualities. Identify your weaknesses and then you can work on improving them.

  • Your feelings

Work on the feelings you think are blocking you from being successful.

  • Your goals

Set realistic goals. For example, setting daily, weekly or monthly goals with your diabetes management until you get good control. When you are involved in trying to reach a possible goal, you can experience a state called ‘flow’. Success in doing something you love, such as playing an instrument, participating in sport, or achieving the HbA1c you set out to reach, can make you feel this ‘flow’. Flow will motivate you from the inside out. Keep your life flowing by reaching your goals.

Two words of caution: If you set goals that you simply cannot achieve, they will do more harm than good because they will make you feel more stressed each time you don’t reach them.

If you try to achieve a goal that others have set for you, you will probably forget the goal as soon as those others are not near to monitor you, and you won’t feel the satisfaction of achievement.

  • Your friends and fun

Build healthy relationships. Laugh a lot. Avoid people in your life who drain you. Make sure you have a good set of friends who you trust, who are motivated, who can support you when you need it. Good friends can help you to tackle the hard things, and celebrate the good things, and make life’s journey fun.

  • Believe

Believe in your capacity to succeed. If you don’t believe it’s possible for you to achieve what you want, you cannot succeed. Remove the mental blocks and you will be able to see ways you could reach out and grasp what you want. If you make your diabetes a bad thing, it will be exactly that. If you treat it as a challenge that you believe you can succeed at, you will do exactly that. Believing helps you to change reality.

  • Persevere

Your diabetes is a long-haul journey. It needs patience and perseverance. Patience and perseverance will enable you to be successful as you adjust to each challenge and manage it well.

  • Gratitude

Be grateful for your life and the fact that you can live a fruitful life with diabetes. Be grateful that there are researchers trying to make it easier to live with diabetes and to find a cure for diabetes every day of the year.

  • Make the effort

Work at keeping your diabetes in its place; a place where it does not overcome you, but it is not neglected. Good control will allow you to become all you are able to be. That is what every parent and family member, every diabetes team member and every friend wants for you.

Your choices, your attitude, and your efforts will give you what you need to be successful in the art of living with diabetes.

Rosemary Flynn


Rosemary Flynn is a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Diabetes in Johannesburg. She has worked with children, families and adults with diabetes for 24 years, enabling them to overcome their anxieties about their condition and to deal with the difficult events in their lives.