Tuesday, August 4, 2009

“Fact of Life” #2: Anxiety

What’s the one thing that all of us who are partnered with someone with diabetes have in common? We are all anxious. It varies by degree, but it is a common strain that runs beneath many a calm, functional exterior. It can be related to fear of lows, anxiety around complications or co-existing medical problems, fear of the future, or the biggie, death of our loved one. Since my husband was diagnosed with type 1 in 1997, I have felt the omnipresent sense of worry that stays with me day-in and day-out. Sometimes the worry is very specific (“he’s driving home – is he low?”), sometimes more generalized (“I can’t reach him … what's happened?!”), but it is always there. After 12 years it doesn’t bother me as much anymore – and I have learned some important ways of dealing with this unique form of “diabetes-anxiety”... they include the following:

  • Try not to “anticipate” – just because something has happened in the past does not necessarily mean it will happen this time … I try hard to live in the present moment and judge situations for what they are.

  • Actively gather information from people who know what they are talking about – for me, knowledge is power, and it helps quell my anxiety (about my husband’s lows, or his risks for complications for example) if I know what I can expect to happen… asking people I trust (my husband’s physician or other people I know with diabetes) helps me to feel prepared “in the event of” - of course I recognize that things may always change, but at least I know what is likely to happen in most instances

  • Come up with tools or things to make sure you are prepared – I try to be active in my coping ...making sure we always have juice in the house for lows, or that I know exactly where the glucagon is (even though we’ve never had to use it!). In this way I know that if these things are needed, we’re covered, and I can relax just a bit.

  • Remember that you’re not alone in this – when things get too much sometimes, it helps me to remember that there are others out there who understand my situation, and who are facing the same things every day. All I have to do is seek these people out (by connecting with friends or finding groups online), and I’ll find people who really “get it”. Hearing other peoples’ stories about their loved ones with diabetes always put my own into perspective.

  • Try to be kind to yourself and have some understanding of any “knee-jerk” anxiety around your loved one’s diabetes – it is not easy to constantly feel “on guard” around my loved one’s health, especially when it is related to a past negative event (e.g., a near-miss while driving, a midnight call to 911). However, I take responsibility for my own anxiety and try to separate out the “rational” from the “irrational” worry about his diabetes that I may feel on any given day. It’s my responsibility not to bring baggage into our daily relationship. He doesn’t need one more thing to have to manage!

  • Try to work out better ways of responding – someone once told me if something wasn’t working, to try doing the opposite to see what would happen. For me it’s been the same with my reactions to my husband’s diabetes – sometimes when I feel the most anxious about a situation or his response to it (or lack thereof!), I try to be the most calm, the most objective… and it often works to stop my anxiety in its tracks! I feel more empowered, and it also seems to make the situation better… go figure!


  1. Hi Ashley,

    Thanks so much for starting this blog. Spouses of people who have diabetes is an area that I haven't seen covered online.

    My husband has had type 1 for over 25 years. I can completely relate to your comment about anxiety. I have to admit that when I can't get in touch with him, I panic. I always think the worst. Lows are my biggest fear.

    Melissa W.

  2. Hi Melissa,
    Thanks for your comment. Yes, I think that the lows thing is the most common worry for us ... it is just such an "immediate" thing, and I can absolutely relate. Funny thing though, is that my husband told me he worries more about the highs (and the potential for complications), which is why he controls his numbers so aggressively and hence has the lows... it seems to be a vicious circle. There must be some middle-ground somewhere?


  3. My husband was diagnosed with type one diabetes 7 years ago when our children were ages 2 and newborn. He is now on the insulin pump and unfortunately he still suffers from high and low levels frequently. I think my biggest anxiety is that he will die young because of the disease. It is really important to me that he be there for his sons' graduations and weddings and all those milestones. I am very supportive of him but I can't kick this underlying fear. Does anyone else worry about this?

    my email is anneandjake@hotmail.com if anyone would rather write me directly)

  4. Anne, thanks so much for your post. I think that many of us worry about our partner's (and family's) future, even if we don't articulate it. I don't know your husband's situation, but it does sound like he's on the right track (e.g., using the pump). I think one of the hardest things we have to combat are the negative messages that exist out there about diabetes in general...e.g., all those complications, that people with diabetes aren't normal, that it's a "death sentence" ... All of these messages are just borne out of misconceptions and a lot of ignorance, and it is our job to educate ourselves on the truth. One of my favorite "ah-ha" moments is when one of my colleagues in diabetes said to a group of patients, "how many of you believe diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, kidney damage, amputations (add scary complications here)?"... and most everyone in the group raised their hand. And then my friend said - "well, you're wrong, it's NOT"... and that got a great BUZZ from the audience! Then my colleague said that "in fact, WELL-managed diabetes is the leading cause of NOTHING!" ...no complications, no early death... and it is absolutely true. Diabetes that is well-managed - through daily effort and supportive relationships - is as a whole not going to alter anyone's life expectancy. A big ah-ha moment for me personally!

    I would encourage you to look at the website for the Behavioral Diabetes Institute here in San Diego that does incredible work in this area: www.behavioraldiabetes.org ... and I would also suggest you take a look at an incredible group that does conferences all over the country called "Taking Control of Your Diabetes" (TCOYD)... two groups that can really empower you AND your husband.

    I wish you all the best! Thank you for sharing.

  5. Hi Ashley,

    I just wanted to say thanks for starting this blog. My boyfriend is a type 1 diabetic since the age of 5 (hes 24 now) and a lot of these topics really hit home for me.

    We do pretty well with the day to day stuff. He checks in a lot and really makes an effort to keep me from worrying when I don't need to :) and I've learned how to help him though highs and lows. But every once in awhile I get really bad anxiety about the future.

    Will we be able to have a healthy family? Will we be able to live a long healthy life together? I think thats the worst for me. I wish that there were more blogs like this. It helps me to hear from others with the same thoughts and fears as me.

    thanks again.