Why would diabetes and depression possibly be an issue worth bringing up at this point? My blood sugar has been stellar of late, my climbing has been improving and I’m doing exactly what I set out to do in places that inspire me. It might seem that these positive factors would cancel out the possibility of feeling depressed–which is why Stefanie asked me, when I told her how I was feeling, ‘Ok, so what is it that you’re upset about?’ That’s a pretty natural question and I’d wonder the same thing if someone came to me feeling down–but the connection between diabetes and depression is less obvious (and I’d argue more difficult to explain, although I will give it a shot here!)
This is not a clinical explanation of anything and I’m not a psychologist. In fact I absolutely hated psychology when I took some classes in college. Everyone is different and has different experiences of the world–a lesson repeatedly demonstrated in diabetes. Everyone feels emotions differently and all I can do is explain my observations about my experiences. My biggest hope in writing this is just to create a little platform to hear from you who may relate to some of what I’m about to write.
Depression is not strictly about something being wrong (with the implication that it can be fixed)
Depression is not strictly about feeling overtly sad or being in difficult circumstances
Depression is not commonly discussed in diabetes because no one (clinically) wants to wade into the murkiness of the mind.
Depression is not the end. It just feels like it is.
Have you ever realized that you needed to close the apps that were running in the background on your phone (or computer) only to realize that it had been weeks since you had last done so–and there were programs running unbeknownst to you for days or even weeks? These miscreants had been stealing memory and power without you even realizing it–until that one moment that you stopped to look.
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A lot of life happens without us stopping and looking. Most of it, I’m convinced, at least until it’s well behind us and we rely on hindsight. Diabetes is a program that is always running in my brain. Always. I don’t always talk about it, because even though it eats up a lot of the CPU, I can usually handle it without being overloaded. When my friends or my wife complain that ‘everything you do takes forever–you’re just slow’. My first thought isn’t to respond with “Well, f#$k off, because you don’t know what it’s like to have your brain involuntarily doing incessant computations for your endocrine system that no one can see or appreciate”. In fact, that realization only occurs hours after the exchange takes place.
- Stopping and realizing what is happening usually is the first step I take that seems to work. It doesn’t make the depression vanish–but it names it. Defines it. Makes it a finite thing which can be worked against. Just like rebooting a slow computer, it takes time to turn things around–and that requires patience. If I can accept that I’m in pain and know that it’s going to get better if I wait, it usually does. If I get hyperfocused on some external variable that I can control and try to “solve” that problem, hoping it will release the depression–it usually gets worse. That can create a cycle that is akin to the computer “crashing” when you try to reboot–it literally can’t get out of its own way.
- Looking at it like an illness that will pass is the second step I take. I don’t feel bad for experiencing it. I might warn people who are near me that I’m under the weather a bit, but I’m not embarrassed about it, any more than I might be if I blew my nose because I have a cold. I try not to focus on the “suck factor” because that only amplifies it and fuels the downside. I don’t feel obligated to explain it–I still don’t know why it shows up or leaves.
- I normalize it–that’s what’s happening right now as I’m typing. Talking about it keeps it from festering. It’s a reminder that it’s supposed to happen. Having a computer freeze when it’s being constantly overloaded–doesn’t mean the computer is bad, it’s just a normal consequence of an abnormal strain being placed on it.
- I take unrelated action–and this is where the adventure stuff ties in–you knew it had to at some point! Going climbing, going for a walk, taking out my camera and forcing myself to focus on something that involves action and externalizes my vision–that usually helps break up the logjam. Trying to help someone else who is struggling can be useful too. With Lilo being into literally everything, I don’t often have to look too far to find someone who needs assistance.
This is why I called the AdventureRx by its name. It’s not just a pie in the sky social media thing. It’s my ongoing coping mechanism for living with diabetes and depression. It has a tangible impact on my health–and I believe that encouraging this simple and low cost prescription can help anyone, even if they don’t feel particularly down or have diabetes. It took me years to figure out the steps for this process–a process no one told me I was going to be engaged in when I was diagnosed.
If you’ve made it this far in this blog and haven’t figured it out yet–I believe that depression (on some level) is normal and I’ll go as far as saying it’s a sidecar issue for anyone who has diabetes. It comes and goes in my life–usually without any tangible cause or warning. I have a great life that I am thankful for every day (due in large part to constant reminders from my diabetes that it’s not going to last forever). When depression comes around I try to weather the storm in the best way I know how. So far it’s been working pretty well.
That’s my story. Your turn.
Our first meetup will be March 4-6 in Joshua Tree National Park CA. No cost, no frills. Just action…maybe just a few tasteful hashtags though. RSVP via email: firstname.lastname@example.org