Hello! This week was my 2nd week working on my thesis project with Dr. Vicki Helgeson. Over the last two weeks, I have devoted hours upon hours to reading various books, research articles, and people’s personal stories regarding the difficulties that come with living with a type 1 diabetes (T1D) diagnosis in order to bolster my knowledge on the subject. Similar to most people, I went into this project with most of my knowledge of T1D management coming from TV commercials showing people cheerfully pricking their fingers with a cool looking gadget. I went into this project knowing I had a lot to learn; and over the course of 2 weeks, the things I have learned completely changed my perception of the illness and brought me immense respect for those who live with it. I hope to share a bit of that learning with you here today.
Starting with the essentials, Type 1 Diabetes is a chronic illness in which the body cannot produce insulin. T1D is often diagnosed in children, however, contrary to popular belief, it can actually develop and be diagnosed later on in life. The body’s inability to produce insulin leads to increases in blood glucose levels (blood sugar), which in turn can lead to heart disease, strokes, kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage, or limb amputation. Pretty intense list of complications that can follow, right? Rarely in the mainstream representation of T1D are any of these complications and health outcomes mentioned, but all of them are possible with inadequate self-care.
T1D is extremely tricky to live with because illness management is predominantly the responsibility of the patient, and is a continuous responsibility across their entire lifetime. In addition, management of T1D changes on a daily basis based on the patients physiological standing in that moment. Health management predominantly refers to adherence to strict diets, constant blood glucose monitoring and insulin administration (if necessary), and exercise. But even while attending to these management forms, difficulties can arise. For example, when exercising, diabetics need to be careful that their blood sugar levels do not drop too low due to their exercising.
One thing that I found very surprising as I furthered my literature search was the lack of psychological importance in T1D management. T1D is highly associated with other psychological disorders, such as depression and anxiety, which can make coping difficult; despite this, there is such little emphasis upon taking care of patients mental as well as their physical wellbeing. It brought to mind the overall lack of respect and recognition of the mind-body connection in the current biomedical model of health care that America upholds. In this model, the patient’s treatment is predominantly based on physiology, when in reality, self-care extends to their mental wellbeing as well. It’s rare to find someone in good mental health without good physical health, or good physical health without good mental health. The two go very hand in hand.
In sum, dipping my toe in the literature over these two weeks has brought me immense joy and I look forward to working hard to fill in the gaps of knowledge that exist. And to continue to promote the importance of altering our health care system to value not just patient’s physiological standing, but their psychological wellbeing as well.