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Help! How can I handle my diabetes diagnosis?

When Laura Ott started feeling thirsty and 'rapidly' losing weight, she knew what was wrong. A new mom, she'd developed gestational diabetes with both of her pregnancies, and recognized the symptoms. "I went to a family practice doctor who diagnosed me with type 2, but I asked him to test me for type 1 since my family had no history of diabetes and I didn't fit ANY of the risk factors (except for having had Gestational). He told me not to waste my money on the test because I was clearly Type 2." Frustrated, Laura insisted on the test and eventually proved her doctor wrong.

A diabetes diagnosis can be terrifying

Initially devastated by her diagnosis Laura says, "I was concerned for my health and worried that diabetes would affect my ability to care for my two young children. I was also overwhelmed at the thought that I had increased the chance for my kids to develop diabetes; but mostly at the time I was concerned with our insurance. We'd just gotten a new plan and I was terrified that they'd dump me (or worse the family) by claiming that I had a pre-existing condition. Honestly, that fear was worse than anything else." Laura admits to being a bit of a control freak, and says learning everything she could about diabetes was empowering.

Rachael Garlinghouse agrees and says the more she learns about living with diabetes, the better she feels. Diagnosed in her twenties, Rachael experienced all the grieving stages, and then "I put on my big girl pants and took an active role in my health." Rachael brings a list of questions to all her doctor appointments and reads as much as she can about living with diabetes.

Jane Parker has worked as a CDE at the Medical University of South Carolina for more than thirty years and says Rachael and Laura are on the right path. "We teach the individual how to be in charge and that we are the support system." She works to make diabetes manageable within her patient's lives, not the other way around, empowering her patients with information and a few basic tools. The most important "tool" in Jane's mind is that monitoring is essential.

5 tips to deal with your diabetes diagnosis

1. Take time to grieve

Feelings of grief are common post diagnosis. The typical stages of grief include: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Some people may experience only two stages, while others may experience a roller-coaster effect of cycling back and forth before moving through. "Give yourself a day or two to freak out and then learn all you can. It is a life-changing diagnosis, but it is such a manageable disease if you are smart about it. One of the hardest things - especially for us moms with small kids - is that you have to put yourself first sometimes. That can be hard to do, but you have to in order to stay healthy enough to take care of your kids," says Laura Ott.

2. Get educated

Managing diabetes isn't easy, but the more you know, the better you'll feel. "I go into my medical appointments armed with a list of questions. I value the opinions and experience of my health care professionals. However, at the end of the day it's my body and my choice," says Rachael Garlinghouse. She adds, "Too much knowledge can be overwhelming and frustrating, but then one can just take a break, reflect, digest information, and learn more when ready."

3. Listen to your body

You are the authority on your body. You know when something doesn't feel right. Don't let a diabetes diagnosis weaken that trust. Now, more than ever, you'll need to listen to the cue's your body offers. Learn to be a spokesperson and communicate with your medical team. "Don't stay with a doctor who doesn't respect that you know what your body needs." Laura Ott.

4. Monitor your diabetes

Find the right tools for diabetes management, from glucose monitors to pumps, insulin pens, CGM's and diabetes apps. "I love my pump - I test at least 5 times a day, and other than a couple of rough months, I've been able to keep a good A1C. I recently wore a continuous glucose monitor for a week and my doctor was able to fine tune my basal rate, so my numbers are really good right now." Laura Ott

5. Develop a support System

One of the biggest challenges for people with diabetes is feeling isolated. Because diabetes never lets you take a day off, it's especially helpful to have a solid support group. Laura says three people have been particularly helpful in adjusting to her diagnosis. "My mom jumped on board and read everything she could. She's even cut down on carbs with me! My endocrinologist has a very matter-of-fact personality. She helped me be more in control of things, and never gave me an opportunity to feel sorry for myself. Instead she gave me studies to read and had me on a pump within a month of my first visit. And my kids' pediatrician also was helpful because he reassured me about their health." Laura is going to start meeting with two other women in her area who also have type 1 diabetes and is looking forward to that additional support.

A diabetes diagnosis is scary and overwhelming and it's important to remember that you are not alone. There will be days when you feel strong and everything is going smoothly, and there will also be days when you think, "Why Me?" Use these tips to help you spend more time feeling strong and smooth.

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About Amy Stockwell Mercer

Amy Stockwell Mercer is a freelance writer living in Charleston, SC with her husband and three sons. She has lived with diabetes for 26 years and still finds these tips helpful.

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