Research shows that when you have diabetes, your risk of developing depression more than doubles. In fact, some studies show that people with diabetes could be up four times as likely to develop problems with their mental health.
I was diagnosed with Type 1 in the early spring of 2013 and was taken care of brilliantly by an amazing new doctor and team. But back then no one warned me about the impact this auto-immune illness might have on my life. No one told me that it would affect both my physical and emotional well-being. No one told me that it would change my perspective on life completely and that my diabetes diagnosis was the just start and most certainly wouldn’t be the end of my challenges.
180 Extra Decisions
A 2014 study by Stanford University in California, published by Diabetes Care, found that people living with Type 1 diabetes make an extra 180 decisions every day, on average. Type 1 isn’t just about counting carbs, checking blood glucose levels and managing insulin intake. We have to constantly keep our therapy in mind, connecting the dots to make the most informed decisions we can and always planning ahead. All just to take care of ourselves in ways that people without diabetes would never have to. So, no wonder it also impacts our emotional and mental well-being big time. It’s important then, I think, that we talk about this more! Because talking about it could help us to live our lives as happier, healthier people. Let me share my story…
In 2015, two years after I was diagnosed, I started to go through depressive episodes, something that had never happened to me before. I was 24 years old and about to finish my bachelor thesis. I was under a lot of pressure! I need to be hard-working, getting my big project done, all while taking good care of my diabetes (for every second of every day, of course). Instead I wasn’t feeling well at all, and I just didn’t understand what was happening to me.
Every day I painted on a mask very carefully. I still went to university, talked to my professors about my thesis, spent time with friends and pretended I was doing great. But very soon I couldn’t get out of bed anymore, and I couldn’t stop crying. I felt worthless, hopeless and frustrated. I had really low energy and lots of anxiety. Even though I’d always loved food, I rarely ate, and I didn’t drink anywhere near enough water. I couldn’t even get out of bed to take a shower anymore. I felt paralyzed.
And of course, naturally, I couldn’t keep up with my diabetes anymore. I rarely checked my BG levels, and if I injected insulin, most of the time I chose the amount completely at random, even though I knew that it could be super dangerous. I felt burnt out, overwhelmed and lonely. Worst of all, I didn’t know how to help myself. Still I thought that I could wait it out and everything would get better soon, but it turned out the feelings didn’t go away.
After months of living like this, I stumbled upon an article about diabetes and depression. Then I talked to someone with similar symptoms. Something clicked and I finally understood that I needed to talk about it. I also knew I needed professional support. I found myself a therapist and my healing process began.
Finally feeling better
Of course, healing rarely happens in a straight line. But during a recent session with my therapist we were able to look back and I saw how far I’ve come. Oh, how hard it is to pat yourself on the back sometimes! But I did, and I can be proud of myself. It took me three years to get to that point and today I can say that I’m actually feeling better. I still have those depressive episodes, but they happen less often and don’t last as long.
I don’t have a need for regular therapy sessions anymore, and I can assess everyday situations, prepare for them and make space for myself - protecting myself from things that cost too much energy, listening to my body and recognizing those red flags faster. I am ready to fight at all times! I always carry my sword with me: trying to be as aware as I can be, but always hoping for the best.
Dare to share!
Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to talk to lots of people with both diabetes and depression, and some of them have become my close friends. We all share similar stories and you know what? That really helps. Over the years I’ve written so many blog posts on depression and diabetes. I’ve been very vocal about it and received so many comments from people sharing their experiences as well. Talking about diabetes and depression helps. Knowing that I am not alone and that there are people who understand me and have been there before makes me feel stronger.
Our healthcare professionals also need to be more informed and aware of the symptoms that show we’re struggling. This topic has been discussed at conferences around the world already, but there is still so much to do and so many more healthcare professionals to reach. We need to teach people with diabetes how they can recognize their red flags faster, and how to reach out by themselves and be proactive about their mental health. We need to raise our voices, despite the stigma out there surrounding depression.
So, today, I’m asking you: If you can, please dare to share your story. Help others to speak up and get the help they need. We’re in this together!
Tine lives in Berlin, Germany and is working as a video producer and chef. On her blog icaneateverything.com she writes about life with Type 1 diabetes, spreading awareness about diabetes, menstrual and mental health and sharing her favorite recipes. Find her on Instagram @saytine.