Many of us have a guilty pleasure, whether it’s getting a massage or watching reality TV shows. But sometimes guilty feelings aren’t pleasurable at all. Many people who live with diabetes also live with guilt. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was seven years old, Jane K. Dickinson, RN, PhD, CDE* and author of “People with Diabetes Can Eat Anything: It’s All About Balance” is no stranger to guilt. But she’s learned some ways to cope with it that we’d like to share with you today.
When she was first diagnosed in 1975, Jane spent about 10 days in the hospital. “I have some vivid memories of being in the hospital,” she said. “For lunch one day they gave me ice cream. I remember one of the nurses came and took the ice cream off the tray and told me I couldn’t have it because I had diabetes. Messages like that may definitely contribute to guilt.”
But overall Jane’s stay at the hospital was a good experience for her. “I had a great nurse named Sue who I adored,” she said. “She let me follow her around and watch her take vital signs and work with the other patients. My experience with her eventually inspired me to become a nurse.”
As a child, Jane attended the Clara Barton Camp for girls who live with diabetes, and during college worked there as a camp counselor and student nurse. After earning her Masters Degree and becoming a Pediatric Clinical Nurse Specialist, Jane returned to the camp as its year-round Clinical Director. “That was my first career move in diabetes and it felt like I was home,” she said. She went on to become a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) in 1996.
After Jane earned her PhD, she began working for Yampa Valley Medical Center in Colorado, where she developed an outpatient Diabetes Education Program. While working on that program, Jane collaborated with a Registered Dietitian on a presentation titled, “People with Diabetes Can Eat Anything.” Jane later developed the concept into a book.
The book addresses positive attitude and balance, and provides encouragement for making healthy choices. She also recognizes it’s sometimes hard to make those healthy choices. “Guilt may play a role in a lot of different areas when you live with diabetes,” she said. “In my observations, people sometimes feel guilty about food choices, blood sugar numbers, exercise and weight.”
Those guilty feelings may impact diabetes management. “When someone focuses on just numbers, for example, and a number is higher than they want, they may end up feeling guilty,” she said. “That can affect diabetes management, because they may not want to face that number. I definitely went through a period of not wanting to see it. If you know it’s going to be high, then you may be less likely to check.”
Learning how to eliminate guilt has been a journey for Jane. “I’m 45 years old, I’ve lived with diabetes for 38 years and to this day I don’t like having other people watch me check my blood sugar,” she said. “I think it’s partly because I don’t always feel like explaining or justifying why it might be high. The comments sometimes bug me. But on my own, when I look at a blood glucose reading, I truly view it as a number that helps me make a decision. I do not ever think I’m a bad person, I did something wrong or feel ashamed. I never feel those emotions based on a number.”
Jane sees herself as a role model — initially as a healthcare professional, and now via her blog. “When I was Clinical Director at the camp, I wanted to be seen as a positive role model, as someone who took really good care of myself with a healthy attitude and a positive approach,” she said. “Now when I write on my blog, as long as I use my experience for good and keep a positive twist on it, then I’m good with that. One of the first things I say to people is ‘It’s not your fault.’ So many factors are out of our control. To me guilt doesn’t help anything. It’s really a waste of energy.”
One way Jane suggests to deal with guilt is to find a healthcare professional who is a good fit. “Make sure you can have open and honest communication in a trusting relationship where you feel like you can tell them anything,” she advised. “It shouldn’t be a judging atmosphere. You need to have somebody you can go to if your blood glucose numbers aren’t responding the way you want them to.”
Maintaining open communication with a support network, such as family and friends, may also help. “Surround yourself with people who don’t judge or question your choices,” she said. “If they do, then have a conversation around it. Tell them how you feel when they ask what you ate when your blood sugar is high. Let them know it makes you feel like you did something wrong. Just communicate.”
We appreciate Jane’s insights on how to convert guilt into opportunities to make healthy choices. To read more from Jane, check out her article, “Heading to the Hospital,” on The DX. Our thanks to her for sharing her story and observations.
Head of Patient Insights, Sanofi US Diabetes
Disclosure: Jane Dickinson received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.
*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.