Be your own Valentine, you deserve to love yourself

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Last night I celebrated Valentine’s Day with 26 women and sent my husband away for two hours. I was the guest speaker, as the author of my new book,The ABCs Of Loving Yourself With Diabetes,at a Divabetic support group meeting. Max Szadek, showman extraordinare and founder ofDivabetics, the group that’s quickly growing from a grass roots movement to a national phenomena, chided me that the evening was my book launch. Looking around the somewhat disheveled room at the McBurney YMCA I chided back, “So where’s the champagne?” But it was my launch. I was launching my philosophy about viewing our diabetes differently, positively, to a real-live group of people with diabetes.

Divabetic, in its support group meetings, and now its national Divabetic “Makeover Your Diabetes”events sponsored by Novo Nordisk, brings diabetes education and empowerment to women, attracting them through things that make women feel good about themselves like make-up and hair styling, pedicures and tea tastings, with diabetes educators and coaches at the ready to answer their questions. You may think it crazy, but it gets women out, talking about their diabetes and smiling. Of course I took empowerment on a slightly different trajectory last night – we were going within.  

The ABCs Of Loving Yourself With Diabetes is about using your positive emotions to create a healthier and happier life. It’s pretty simple, really, if you focus on what you want and “rev up” your self-love, joy, courage and confidence, you’ll take the actions that will bring what you want into being, including greater health and happiness. Having greater health and happiness, you’ll perform your diabetes management tasks more easily, more regularly and more competently and confidently, with appreciation for how livable diabetes is, rather than being overwhelmed by anger and resentment.

Conversely, traditional diabetes strategies try to motivate better management through negative emotions – we are meant to fear complications and feel guilty when our management is not very responsible. Focusing on the negative, however, does not create sustainable positive actions. It doesn’t make you feel very good either. So I’m saying focus on what you love – about yourself, about your life, be grateful for the things you have and the people you care about, appreciate your courage and all you do living with diabetes, see yourself as a “warrior” not a “worrier” and be kind, patient and forgiving with yourself when you’re not on your game. Know you’ll do better tomorrow. Here’s something else, if you look, you can also find deeper meaning and purpose in your life through diabetes, and life can turn out to be even more rewarding, fuller, richer, healthier and happier than it was before you got diabetes. Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t say I’d ask to have diabetes, I’m just saying since we’ve got it, better to find something good about it and get on with life.

Sound crazy? I wondered before I presented this idea to my 26 Valentinas last night. In Divabetic tradition, we began by passing a pink boa around the circle and each person gets to glam a little while introducing herself. I asked everyone to say their name, how long they’ve had diabetes, something they love about themselves and one positive thing diabetes has given them.

Half the women said, “appreciation or humility.” One woman having trouble seeing, as her eyes are faltering now from her diabetes, said she has so much more compassion for people who have no sight or have a disability. Another said humility knowing she could have something much worse than diabetes. Women who got diabetes young said it helped them learn to be strong and responsible.  Many women said diabetes has helped them eat healthier or get regular exercise, and they were grateful for that. Some talked about the friendships they’d formed from the group. Many said they are helping family members with diabetes, which makes them feel worthy and valuable. Others said it just makes them more aware of life and not to take things for granted. It has heightened their senses.

I was surprised how easily most of the women reported something positive they’ve gained from diabetes. A few were stumped to come up with something, but no one was argumentative or thought I was full of sh_t – something I had wondered about before I began.

Then I read aloud the text from the letter A in my book, A is for Appreciating All the Special Things You Are and Have. The group was quiet for a moment after I finished reading and then they applauded and murmured heart-felt messages of solidarity. Then I read my personal message from the book, “To My Fellow Travelers” and several women, including me, were brimming with tears. A diabetes educator seated to my right and a health coach seated to my left both told me how wonderful, delightful and right-on the book is and how this message needs to get out there. A diabetes nurse came up to me at the end of the meeting asking if I will come and speak to her diabetes class about this.

For decades many pharmas have been selling their products through fear, entrenched in the belief that that’s the best way to get patients motivated to take care of themselves, and use their meters and meds. Much of the medical profession has also been under the delusion that fear and guilt is motivational. How long have we heard, “You have to take care of your diabetes or you’ll lose a leg, go blind, have a heart attack!” But this focus on doom and gloom many doctors and pharmas have used has not inspired better management, we know that statistically, but it has increased denial and depression among the diabetic population. 

Now instead, imagine the approach to diabetes management was to have you focus on a picture of the life you want to live and believe you could have it. Imagine hearing that you should treat yourself with kindness and forgiveness when you have an off day, and that you are strong and capable enough to do better as you learn and practice. Imagine that you are encouraged to live the biggest life you can dream, that you deserve it and that you can have it with proper care. Wouldn’t you move heaven and earth to stay healthy?! You bet you would! 

The belief that patients can live a happy and healthy life is far more motivating and would sell far more meters and meds than the fear of complications, because we’d do everything to bring our desired life into creation. Moving toward what you want has proven to yield more success and be more empowering than avoiding what you don’t want. Excited, hopeful patients would actually use their meters and meds. Hmmm..that means companies would be selling more meters and meds. Sounds like a win/win to me. You can see a modified version of this attitude is actually being adopted by Bayer and Novo Nordisk. Bayer’s latest round of TV commercials has a more upbeat tone. Novo Nordisk, the world leader in diabetes care, launched an initiative in 2005 called, “changing diabetes,” where they’re bringing together innovators in diabetes education, treatment, reimbursement and policy to shift attitudes and change the way patients and health care professionals think about diabetes. Hallelujah! A beginning.

It’s time to take that message to every medical professional’s office and every patient: focus on the best vision of your life, energize your positive emotions and you will create more health and happiness – and better diabetes management. Why? Simple, you will see better management as the foundation that supports that fantastic life. And here’s a second message: Sometimes diabetes is a pain in the neck, frustrating as heck and you wish you didn’t have it. I know. But here’s what’s also true, if you really look, you can likely find something positive you’ve gotten from diabetes. The two are not mutually exclusive. Both can co-exist. So doesn’t it make sense to find something positive about having diabetes since it’s not going away anytime soon?

I have also never forgotten what the actor Jim Carrey did when he first got to Hollywood. He drove up into the Hollywood Hills and looked out over the blazing lights of Hollywood and visualized a check made out to him for $20,000,000 for making a movie. Ten years later it happened. I believe last night was a mini demonstration of what’s to come. And it will start where diabetes lives, in us, not in the white coated offices or pristine HQ campuses. So business and healthcare think the way they think, but on the ground, those of us living with diabetes are ready for change. Hmm… sounds like my political stump speech.

Last night, on Valentine’s Day, I celebrated loving yourself with 26 women. It was one of the best Valentine’s Day presents I’ve ever been given. Thank you Max.

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