Letting go of friendships after diabetes diagnosis. Q&A with Psychological Associate Michelle Sorensen

Q&A Michelle Sorensen

How do I mentally let go of some of the friendships that did not survive my diagnoses?  Still mourning, nothing left to say or do….

First of all, when someone is grieving they always have the right to distance themselves from those who cannot support them in the way they need to be supported. 

Sometimes it is not MORE support that is needed, but a DIFFERENT kind of support.  You can be surrounded by people but feel totally unsupported.

If being around someone who cannot support you in the way you need to be supported (with empathy and compassion) is upsetting, create distance when it is possible.  If you feel a little guilty doing so, don’t worry.  It is far better for you and for others if you choose a little guilt over a pile of resentment.

When angry, we do not want to turn against others (aggression) or turn inwards (bottling it all up). Asserting yourself may mean disclosing that you are hurt, disappointed or confused about their reaction. However, do not create expectations that this will change their behaviour. If you assert yourself, do it for you.  Even if the friend cannot respond with anything positive, feel proud of yourself that you were brave enough to be vulnerable and open up.  And then move forward and focus on building other relationships.

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As someone who is a long ways out of young adulthood and firmly entering middle age (!) I would advise to be careful about writing anyone important off completely.  The twenties and even thirties are full of major life changes and growth.  People are not the same (hopefully) at 40 as they are at 20.  I have friends who were amazing when I was diagnosed.  I still remember my friend Deb coming to get me from the hospital and to pick up my mom from the airport.  I remember my friends Diana and Jenn telling me that when they heard I was admitted to hospital and diagnosed, they cried on the phone together. 

I still tear up when I remember the relief of knowing some of my friends understood the severity of my situation.  However, I had friends caught up in their own lives who made insensitive comments, minimized diabetes, or hurt me in some way.  Some of them have had tough life experiences of their own since then or simply matured and now are so supportive.  I am really glad I kept them in my life, but just adjusted expectations or took breaks as needed.

I also know looking back, that being in my twenties made it hard to incorporate chronic disease into my identity because I was still figuring myself out!  When my husband came into my life, he challenged me to be less of a people pleaser and to look out for myself more.  His support and insight really helped me to realize that my expectations of others were largely a reflection of how much I expected out of myself.  Now that I am more compassionate towards myself, the behaviour of others impacts me less.  I always encourage my type 1 patients to “create more space in their lives for diabetes”…. being less stressed and less rushed, juggling fewer balls…  this all helps us to have more patience for diabetes and for other people.  It may be extra important for people with diabetes, but it is actually true for everyone.

Diabetes has given me so many life lessons.  I sometimes joke that I would be quite happy if I was cured now and could hang on to the life lessons and give the diabetes back!  As much as trying to manage the diabetes drives me crazy at times, I seriously doubt I would be a happier person if I had never been diagnosed.  Having a perfect HgA1C does not make people happy if they never worried about it in the first place!  So I will take my imperfect pancreas and make the best of it.

Thank You Michelle Sorensen

This is the third and final installment of my Q&A series with Michelle. Thank you for all of your time Michelle. You have taught me so much and hopefully others reading.

If you missed the first two, here they are!

Mentally overcoming the diabetes stigma. Q&A with Psychological associate Michelle Sorensen

What are the challenges specific to adults diagnoses? Psychological associate Michelle Sorensen answers.

XO,

J

Mentally overcoming the diabetes stigma. Q&A with Psychological associate Michelle Sorensen

This answer (which I heard a part of when I saw Michelle speak) really changed things for me. Big time.

I can’t even begin to describe to you how freeing her response is. Here we go, the next Q&A with Michelle 🙂

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Michelle Sorensen, M.Ed., Clinical Psychological Associate Member of the College of Psychologist

How to deal with acceptance of the stigma and the fact some people will say things that are not true?

Michelle: There are many layers of difficulty in living with Type 1 diabetes and this is a tough one to address. I have learned a few things that have helped me with this issue since being diagnosed at age 24.  A lot of my learning comes from the privilege of counselling other people with Type 1.  My patients have taught me so much and I often see some of myself in their stories.

Having a disability or disease that is associated with stigma presents us with the challenge of focusing on what we know to be true, versus the thoughts of others.  Sometimes we are up against not just misconceptions or stereotypes from others, but what they WANT to be true. 

Why would they want to blame people with diabetes or believe people caused their own disease?  Well, because then they can tell themselves they are safe, that this kind of life changing diagnosis couldn’t happen to them. It’s the same reason many of us want to know if someone smokes when we hear they are diagnosed with cancer.  It’s scary to hear about a peer being diagnosed with something out of the blue, and especially if they seem to be doing the right things and living a healthy life.  It makes us feel vulnerable and we don’t like that. 

Brene Brown, in her wonderful book, “The Gifts of Imperfection” writes about how she became more comfortable in her own skin, which is key to being more resilient against judgment from others: “I learned how to worry more about how I felt and less about ‘what people might think’. I was setting new boundaries and began to let go of my need to please, perform, and perfect”.

I can really relate to what Brene writes about.  I think diabetes forced me, in my twenties, to realize how much time and anxiety went into pleasing others.  I remember feeling stressed when I was newly diagnosed and recovering from the ordeal … but about things like not returning a phone call to a friend, or saying no when someone wanted to make plans.  Those things caused me more stress than many of the priorities I needed to focus on, like my schoolwork and my diabetes care.  But no one other than me was responsible for that stress.  It was all pressure I put on myself. 

People with Type 1 can and do accomplish great things.  However, it should always be about what makes us happy and creates moments of joy, not what impresses or pleases others.  if we please ourselves we will be far more tolerant when we perceive judgment or stigma from others.  If we are trying to please or impress others, then we will be very disappointed when they appear unkind. 

Thank You Michelle Sorensen

We all have a lot on the go, so a big huge thank you to Michelle for taking the time to answer my questions and provide support 😀

Xo,

J

Check out my first Q&A with Michelle about being diagnosed with t1d as an adult here.

What are the challenges specific to adults diagnoses? Psychological associate Michelle Sorensen answers.

Photo provided by Michelle Sorensen

Photo provided by Michelle Sorensen

After I saw Michelle speak at the Animas Type 1 Update this year, I knew I had to connect with her.

She was able to articulate so much of what I couldn’t say about my emotional journey with type 1 diabetes. One of the best takeaways I had from that event was this short video she shared. If you haven’t watched it yet, please do.

Michelle has been kind enough to answer some of my most burning questions. Here is the first one!

What are the challenges specific to adults diagnosed with T1?

I think there are some very unique challenges.  It seems to me that with adult Type 1’s, there is an increased risk of misdiagnosis. That being said, there is no doubt that T1’s of all ages are at risk of a missed diagnosis.  I meet so many T1’s diagnosed as adults who were clearly more likely to have T1 than T2 based on age and risk factors, but are started on oral medications rather than insulin because they are labelled as T2.  The LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes in adults) cases are even more likely to receive this treatment and are often told their blood sugars are not high enough to be T1.  This is so frustrating because early intervention can really ease the physical and emotional suffering for people diagnosed with T1.

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I think for a few different reasons these traumatic and dangerous diagnosis stories occur more to adult Type 1’s.  For children diagnosed with diabetes, the alarms bells go off and they are usually treated with insulin right away once they are diagnosed.  For those fortunate enough to have a children’s hospital, treatment is especially prompt and appropriate.  Conversely, I have met young adults sent away from a physician with high blood sugars either on oral medication or simply given a referral to a diabetes clinic.  This lack of proper medical attention adds to the confusion, isolation, and psychological trauma.

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So many adult T1’s are starting their diabetes journey with a lot of grief and loss but without the right kind of support. They may be out of the family home but many have not yet established a family of their own. Young adults are trying to establish autonomy and independence and may see asking for family help as weak or childish.

They are expected from the beginning to manage their own diabetes but could often benefit from having supportive family or friends taught alongside them how to check their blood sugar or administer insulin.

Closing speaker Joe Solowiejczyk quoted this prayer during his talk.

Managing one’s diabetes is a huge burden to carry alone. When adults with T1 (who were diagnosed as children) describe their past experience in paediatric care, it is often with longing.  They remember the way staff knew them and their families, the encouragement and the smiles.  Adults could use all of this as well! We like smiles and bright colours and being seen as a whole person!

Look out for more Q&A with her in the future.

Thank you Michelle 🙂

Read more about her here.

Grief-stricken, heartbroken and lifted. The Animas type 1 update event.

I am going to make a plea to you now.

If you are reading this: feeling alone, overwhelmed, depressed and often angry about living with diabetes, I beg of you…

Find help.

Please find help in creating that circle of positive support, those to stand beside you through this journey.

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Event: Type 1 Update, Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto, Ontario. April 11, 2015

During Michelle Sorensen’s talk at the Type 1 Update, she shared a short video that verbalized exactly what I wanted from my own dream team. This video confirmed to me why I have chosen the people I have at this stage in my life, and why others are no longer here.

It was powerful and here it is.

What did you think of the video? Were you at the event?

For me, this video made me tear up. I saw clearly why some of the people that used to be in my life are now gone. They weren’t bad. They weren’t unaccepting. They just couldn’t provide for me what I needed and you know what? Maybe the people that are now out of my life are grieving the loss of the previous me, the person I was before diagnosis (of diabetes, my neuro disorder, the list goes on). And that’s okay.

There’s no blame to be had.

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Now as I sit here writing this, I am so incredibly grateful for being able to listen to Michelle speak at the podium and say so many things that I just needed to hear outside of my own head.

Over the next while I will be blogging more on the Type 1 Update event, focusing in on different topics each time.

If you would like more info now, here is a roundup of all the tweets that day.

Lots of love,

Jess

The Type 1 Update is an Animas event. Animas Canada has kindly chosen to support me with the Dexcom CGM as I continue to train for triathlons, cycling and running events. I believe in full transparency and appreciate that Animas Canada does not review or approve my blog posts. Please read the full disclosure here