I’ve written before about how I used to read women’s fashion magazines, but gave them up a number of years ago. I read Seventeen and the like as a young teenager. Once I was a little older, I’d pick up copies of Glamour and Cosmo while standing in line at the supermarket because the headlines about the latest spring fashions and how to make your boyfriend melt appealed to the impulse-buyer/young-woman-trying-to-find-her-way in me.
As I battled to make peace with my body though, I came to recognize how unhappy I’d feel about myself and my body every time I flipped through the pages and saw the models with their flawless complexions and lithe bodies. The mental messages about how I wasn’t as pretty or thin would snowball, sometimes with a hint of pathetic hope that if I just exercised a little more or ate a little less I could wear a dress or a swimsuit and look as good as they did. Sometimes the message was bleaker though, self-critiques morphed into the equivalent of emotional abuse, a painful barrage of thoughts targeting a flimsy sense of self-worth made unstable by a long-standing resentment against a body that had been uncooperative for almost as long as I could recall.
I didn’t give up the magazines cold turkey. I gave them up in waves. I’d stop reading them, but then decide they weren’t as sinister as I had thought them to be so I might pick them up again for a while. Quickly enough though, I’d recognize the negative feelings, acknowledge that I was right to stop buying them, and go for some period of time without them, until I’d pick up one again, thinking one occasional read wouldn’t matter. Like crack though, even the occasional hit proved to be far less innocuous than I wanted to believe.
Even now, I feel exposed admitting that I won’t buy them because they make me insecure about my body. Despite being fully recovered from an eating disorder, that magazine photos of anorexic models, likely Photoshopped at that, could affect my thoughts and perceptions about myself is an embarrassing disclosure. I try to put a positive spin on it, telling myself that at least I have the insight to understand how my thoughts are affected so I can take care of myself, but that feels like the self-consolation equivalent of being told, “at least you have a good personality.”
The fact of the matter though is that our thoughts have a very powerful influence over us, and our thoughts are influenced by the people and things around us. There’s a reason why people extol the power of positive thinking, or why we try to surround ourselves with people who make us feel good about ourselves. It’s hard to constantly be with people or in circumstances that make us feel badly about ourselves, make us doubt ourselves, or make us depressed.
I’ve spent many years coming to understand the sources of the beliefs I had that fueled my eating disorder, and part of coming to that understanding meant coming to some understanding about my beliefs about having diabetes and being a diabetic. Just as I eventually developed sensitivity to how the negative mental messages affected my eating disordered behaviors and my beliefs about myself, I am developing a greater sensitivity to the messages I tell myself about diabetes.
At this point, a big part of my increased awareness about that internal dialogue about diabetes is from having developed relationships with other diabetics in the DOC – bloggers, twitterers, facebookers, and diabetes community members. I’m deeply affected when I see my fellow ‘betics berating themselves for a litany of “crimes”. Forgetting to bolus, overindulging in carb-rich foods, having inaccurately guesstimated carbs, being away from home without appropriate supplies, over-treating lows, treating highs too aggressively, miscalculating the effects of being sick or drinking or exercising, mishandling people’s questions and comments, judging oneself for having been neglectful of diabetes care once upon a time, and whatever I’m omitting – the list of things for which I’ve seen you, my friends, come down on yourselves is painfully long.
I do it too though, I’m well-aware. The anger, frustration, disappointment, aggravation I feel with myself for my diabetes transgressions weighs on me at times. It’s not just the little day to day stuff that gets me, like having under-bolused for that Japanese food I had for dinner last night. There are times when I stew over how many years or possibly decades I’ve decapitated off my life by ignoring my diabetes for close to 20 years. There’s no one to blame but myself, and at this point in my life, I’m not shy about smothering myself in that blame. I imagine how angry Jason will be at me if I die prematurely because in the end, there really is no one else to blame but me. I did it. I’m responsible. I’m the one who fucked up.
The irony isn’t lost on me that if one of my friends were flagellating themselves as I do at times, I wouldn’t hesitate with words of encouragement, pleading that they be more self-forgiving, reminding them that we’re human, we’re just doing the best we can with a disease that seems to want to thwart us every step of the way. It sounds pretty good, almost convincing when I pass that advice on to someone who needs it, so why can’t I give myself the same pep talk? What makes my friend in need more deserving of consoling than me when I’m in the same state of mind? Why do we not question the almost constant negative dialogues that exist in our heads?
Someone, I think on twitter, linked to this post on DailyOM, Five Things: A Self-Esteem Exercise, about the messages we tell ourselves (unfortunately, it’s been at least a couple of weeks since they linked, so I don’t remember to whom I should give credit…). The post is more general, but if anyone needs to practice telling themselves something positive, it would be every last diabetic I know, all the ones I’ve yet to know, and those I’ll never meet. We are an awfully self-critical bunch! Just as I once took steps to stop the negative dialogue in my head about everything I disliked about my body and my distorted beliefs about food and eating, I think it’s high time all of us start to develop a greater awareness of the negative diabetes messages we tell ourselves. They don’t really benefit us. I know my criticisms don’t inspire me to do better, and I think they exist in my head as some sort of sub-consciously self-imposed punishment for having a disease with a mind of its own.
It’s my goal to change this because it’s not serving any positive purpose. I’ve been taking note when I start to come down on myself. I’ve been taking note when you do it too, trying to understand why I can so clearly see why you should be more forgiving, but when it comes to myself, the path to forgiveness is clouded. In the spirit of the aforementioned link to DailyOM’s Five Things: A Self-Esteem Exercise, here are my Five Positive Things about Diabetes:
1. Every day, I try to make the best decisions I can regarding my diabetes care given the circumstances of each moment
2. Last night, although my BG was headed up, I bolused and followed-up with another bolus, regularly checking to make sure my BG was coming down and stabilizing
3. After having run out of a couple of pills and not taking them over the weekend, I picked up my prescriptions last night, and got back on track with my meds
4. I got my daily serving of omega-3 yesterday by eating hot cereal for breakfast and wheat-flax bread for lunch
5. Despite the years I messed up, I pulled it together, and as a result, I’ve seen some impending complications stop, and some that have even reversed themselves – and if that’s not something to feel good about, I don’t know what is.
What about you? Do you find yourself freely handing out support to others, but in short supply for yourself? Is your mental diabetes dialogue heavy on criticism, and light on positive reinforcement? Can you come up with 5 positive statements, and tell yourself those things instead of listening (and believing) those negative messages? What are your Five Positive Things about Diabetes?