I read somewhere the other day that 1 in 3 people with diabetes suffer with depression as a result of the condition, and that quite often the symptoms are misdiagnosed as just ‘being part of diabetes’.
My heart broke at the last part when I think of how many people this actually affects. There are estimated to be around 3.6 million people living with Type 2 diabetes and 400,000 with Type 1 in the UK alone. That means that there are over 1.3 million people suffering from mental health problems associated with diabetes and they may not be getting help for it.
Studies have actually shown that having diabetes puts you at a greater risk of developing depression, and vice versa. Damage resulting from diabetic neuropathy or blocked blood vessels and alterations in brain chemistry are thought to contribute to the development of mental health problems.
Aside from the biological reasons behind the link between depression and diabetes, there’s also the toll that having a condition such as this, takes on an individual - physically and mentally.
The reason this resonated so heavily with me is because I’ve been through my fair share of ‘low bouts’ in the 18 years since I’ve been diagnosed. I can think of at least twice in my life where I’ve felt trapped, isolated and helpless, but it was only when it happened a second time that I actually went and got help.
I’ve written about my experience with Diabulimia in a previous blog, and it’s only on reflection that I can say this was the first time I had diabetes related depression. I came back from a 3 month trip around South America, where I had the time of my life, and just hit reality with a bump. I had piled on weight when I’d been away and had been through some really tough times with my diabetes during the trip. I think it’s fair to say I was sick of it and just exhausted by the amount of care my sugars needed while I’d been away. I was so miserable and disgusted with myself but lacked any kind of motivation to do something about it resulting in a vicious circle of starving myself, then binging, starving then binging. You can only imagine the damage I was doing to my blood sugars (not that I was checking) and long term health.
I found my release and solution, if you can call it that because of the consequences, in the form of skipping my insulin – first and foremost because it helped me lose weight. Let me first say that this is incredibly dangerous and I almost died doing it, but it’s also incredibly sad that I was drawn to this extremity to make myself feel normal again. It gave me my control back though - control over my life when I had just felt that I was anything but in charge. It was about 9 months overall before I finally broke down and admitted I needed help. My state of mind had gotten so bad that all I could see my insulin as being was injections of pure fat into my body and I had no idea how to get out of that mindset. Luckily I had my family to help me and I got through it.
The second time I’ve been hit by a wave of depression wasn’t all that long ago. In fact, rewind just a few months ago to November time and I was in a rut of enormous size. It was 3 months since my hip had broken, I was eating out of boredom,not able to train, not able to do anything myself, not able to drive, not able to escape my head. I was going days without testing my sugars and knew what I was doing was wrong and putting me in an even worse situation when the time came to actually do something about it.
It’s such a strange state to be in - you don’t feel sad, you don’t feel angry, you don’t even feel frustrated with yourself, you just don’t feel anything. ‘Lost’ isn’t even the right way to describe my personal experience… I think the only word is ‘empty’. Trying to overcome this was incredibly difficult and when I eventually realised that I needed to talk to someone I went to my diabetes specialist who recommended I made an appointment with my GP.
To be put on antidepressants was something I was quite ashamed of at the time, and even now as I write this, it’s something I find difficult to admit. By nature I’m very headstrong and refuse to believe I can’t handle a situation on my own, let alone needing to take pills to help me. However, I can reflect now and only admire myself for acknowledging that I needed help in the first place - I stopped taking the medication last month.
You have got to want to help yourself though, taking pills won’t just magically make you better again. As soon as I made the decision to get out of the funk I was in I did everything I could my end to make it happen:
- focus on things in your life that aren’t the source of your pain
- focus on things that put a smile on your face
- focus on things that stir a feeling of any sort - even having a good cry is better than feeling nothing whatsoever
- TALK to anyone who you feel would be the best person
- keep a journal
These are the things I did to further my mental recovery. As for my diabetes? Back to basics!
- get back to a routine of testing my blood sugars - I didn’t just start testing again one day, I started doing a few a day, which eventually became testing before and after each meal, which eventually became testing every 2 - 3 hours again. As soon as I’m back monitoring my BG’s I tend to alter my habits to make sure the levels are the best they can be, i.e. proper nutrition, water intake, insulin
- write my blood sugars down in a diary, or phone/computer - whichever one works for you
- change my pump site every 3 days
- correct a high blood sugar
- carb count and bolus for meals
- speak to you specialist and tell them where you are with it - it doesn’t matter how bad the situation is, they’ve seen it and heard it all before
- reach out to other diabetics - the online community is incredible!
Once your blood sugars are back under control it’s amazing how much more energetic and healthier you feel.
This week (08.05.17 - 14.05.17) is Mental Health Awareness Week and both Vanessa and myself feel it is so important to highlight how interconnected diabetes is with a person’s mental health.
A study conducted in 2011 found that people who have T2 and experience symptoms of depression often have higher blood sugar levels and find it generally harder to manage their diabetes overall. The study also found that people who have both conditions are 82% more likely to experience a heart attack.
Gone are the days where talking about mental health is a taboo subject. If you need help then please admit it to yourself and then go and get some. We all know the danger of diabetes if it’s not looked after - when I was going through my Diabulimia I almost died, all because I couldn’t see a way out and felt that I had to deal with it on my own.
If you’re reading this and you’re going through a stint of depression/anxiety or diabetes burn out then please know that you will get through it and come out the other side with an appreciation for life that you’ve never had before - JUST ASK!
“Rule your diabetes, don’t let it rule you!”