Living with diabetes is stressful, frustrating and exhausting, and my general response to people who encourage me to find the bright side of diabetes is to want to slap them. Nonetheless, while I’d take a successful pancreas transplant in a heartbeat, there are certain benefits that diabetes can provide.
1. A medical reason to eat cheese
I will never be able to eat a cupcake without worrying about its consequences, and I get physically anxious at the sight of pasta. But while diabetes may have taken away my bagels, it has given me the gift of guilt-free cheese. So filling. So low-carb. So delicious.
2. An increased tolerance for needles
Being diagnosed with diabetes makes your tolerance for needles go way up. It’s nice to be able to watch someone draw blood or put an IV in your arm without worrying that you’re going to pass out. And if you’re consistent about where you test your blood sugar, you can also benefit from strategically placed calluses – I’m hoping that if I only test on the tips of my left fingers, I might be able to toughen up my skin to the point where I can play the guitar for more than two minutes at a time.
3. An escape hatch for social situations
Desperate to escape from a cocktail party? Caught in a tedious conversation with a stranger? Pull out your glucometer/pump/CGM and say that there’s something urgent you need to take care of.
4. Business ideas
Living with diabetes makes you an expert in living with diabetes, and that in turn can give you business ideas (or job opportunities) that someone without diabetes might not have. Plenty of people have used their personal experience to launch diabetes-inspired businesses, like the folks behind Glucolift tablets, Sugar Medical’s carrying cases, and PocketBra’s pump-friendly lingerie. Consider it a new definition of “blood money.”
5. An excuse to drink more coffee/wine
Before I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I barely drank coffee or alcohol at all. Now I use both to help me resist cravings for high-carb foods. Having wine for dessert might not objectively qualify as a healthy choice, but it’s certainly an enjoyable one.
6. A better diet
I mean this both in terms of health and taste. The more I read about the negative health consequences of high insulin levels–which are provoked by eating highly processed and refined carbohydrates–the more I believe that the low-carb diet that I use to help control my blood sugar is the healthiest diet for everyone. (For more information on the health effects of high carb diets, check out Gary Taubes’ excellent book, Why We Get Fat.) As for taste, I find that diabetes gives me an excuse to spend way more on delicious, low-carb foods than my budget might otherwise allow.
7. Instant bonding with strangers
There should be a word for the rush of connection you feel when you see someone else test his or her blood sugar, or you catch sight of pump tubing coming from someone’s pocket. It’s an immediate feeling of “we’re in this together,” and you know – without saying a word – that the person understands a part of your life that very few of your non-diabetic friends or family members are able to. That’s the whole beauty of sites like ASweetLife and the diabetes online community (DOC): strangers from around the world are able to cultivate relationships that would not exist were their pancreases to be functioning normally.
8. Proof that you’re a bad-ass
Life can be challenging even when all your organs are operating properly. Add diabetes into the mix, and otherwise normal activities – going to the gym, cooking dinner for your family, shuttling your kids around – take on an entirely new level of complexity. This complexity is often exhausting, but can also be a source of satisfaction and pride. Just think of all that you’re able to accomplish, in addition to acting as your own pancreas!
9. A reason to be nice to yourself
Ideally, we wouldn’t need an external reason to be nice to ourselves. But it can be hard to take a break or to say no to a request without feeling like you have an important reason for doing so. For me, diabetes serves that role. Stress hormones make you insulin resistant, and if you’re insulin resistant, it’s harder to control your blood sugar – and having high blood sugar is bad for your health. Therefore, while reducing stress is beneficial for everyone, it’s particularly important for people with diabetes. When I frame being nice to myself as an important health issue, I find it easier to carve out personal time and do things that I find nourishing.
10. Diabetes can make you healthier
Fine: having diabetes means, by definition, that you have a health problem. But with that said, the work that goes into managing diabetes can actually improve your wellbeing in other ways. Managing diabetes means going to your doctor for regular checkups and screenings. It means eating fewer refined and processed carbohydrates. It means not smoking, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight. While diabetes certainly has the potential to wreak havoc on your health, it also forces you to pay attention to it. Not only has having diabetes encouraged me to keep up healthier habits than many of my non-diabetic friends, but having regular lipid screenings ensures that I can keep eating a lot of cheese.
Her newest book, Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection, will be published in February 2015 by Penguin Press, with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s program for the public understanding of science. She is a frequent contributor to ASweetLife, where she also writes the blog Diabetes, Et Cetera.