Shame and Illness

Copied from my blog
I think shame is a key factor in how we deal with illness.

I listened to 2 great TED talks from Brene Brown about shame and vulnerability. Her first talk on vulnerability went viral and she followed with shame. Shame asks 2 questions: what do you think you're doing? and if you get past that, the next question is: Who do you think you are?

It's taken me a long time to understand how shame affects my diabetes self-care–I'm still in the process of understanding. Though diabetes is often considered a "lifestyle" disease, burgeoning research points to environmental toxins and chemicals in processed foods that affect human metabolism as possible major triggers predisposing humans to diabetes and obesity–but even if that wasn't true, saying diabetes is a lifestyle disease immediately lays blame for having it on the patient. "Just eat right and exercise and you can get rid of it!"

I don't have weight issues (and have Type 1) but choosing to care for myself in public, like test a blood sugar, always brings up feelings of shame. I prefer to "deal with it" in private. But I've become more vocal and open over the years. Deciding For me, whether to be open or private is an important part of my healing.

Change, especially lasting behavioral change, has much to do with a willingness to live, as Brene Brown says, whole-heartedly and with vulnerability.

I have dealt with deep shame all of my life - dx'd in 1974, at age 21.
DB meant that there was something inherently wrong with my body, and therefore me. None of my friends at the time knew I had it, even men I was dating.
The more I concealed it, the more the shame suck its hooks into me.

I started blogging 5 years ago and it helped a lot. I slowly realized that I was a strong person, coping with a condition that needed attention 24/7, in addition to trying to live a regular life.

But there is also that other kind of shame - the kind that comes from your numbers not being on track. Once I had a doc that said "shame on you" when I had gained 4 pounds from the last visit. He asked why I had to "stuff everything I saw" into my mouth. Strange that he had no time to listen to my answer. That was my last appointment with him.

Thanks Kathy and Judith for commenting on this post-I'm still trying to articulate this subject of shame and how it affects diabetes self-care. I appreciate your feedback.

I love that quote! Yes, shame seems always ready to spring up-but it sounds like you have a lot of awareness about this issue. It's hard to wade through when it surfaces, but awareness of it makes it much more likely you will :). It certainly helps me-and if i do get caught I have supportive friends who help me get back on track. Thanks for your comments!

I don't seem to have issues w/ shame. I was dx'ed when I was in high school and felt so ghastly when I was falling apart that I liked getting it fixed. Then, I went to college and got into a fairly heavy party scene so I just went with "needle chic" and was never shy about whipping syringes out in bars or wild parties at 2:00 AM if I felt like I needed to bolus under the strobe lights.

I've gotten a bit healthier and am very proud that I stuck through a challenging Tae Kwon do classes and now 6x 1/2 marathons and one full, training for Chicago 2012 this summer. I've had lows on long runs and just treat (including sprinting to get "homegrown" boosts from adrenaline...) and keep going

I got a tattoo for the race last year:

I'm very proud of what I've accomplished w/ diabetes and try to represent "us" as tough and strong people since, after all, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger?

Love the tattoo! :) It seems like you had a great attitude from the beginning-I'm getting there. Thanks for sharing your story.

That quote seems to be a take off from a lot of quotes: “your mind is like an unsafe neighborhood; don't go there alone.” ― Augusten Burroughs Definately a great quote!

Shame has never been a part of my diabetes that I can recall. Vunerability definately is. I've always felt that I got the short end of the stick in that sense. I was diagnosed Type 1 at 7 years old. I'm now in my mid 40's. I guess that early on I found that I could be proud of my ability to handle life and still be a diabetic in good control (well, good for the most part...) I've never "hidden" my disease from my friends and co-workers. The more they know the better I think.

I always liked the line from "Northern Exposure", which was a sitcom TV show from a few years ago. I forget the exact line, but it went something like this: "If you have a problem, tell the bar owner here in town. He will tell everyone else, and eventually it's not a problem any more." Sharing your problems is a great thing, if done correctly. Griping (complaining, b*tching, etc etc.) is not a good thing, and it's a fine line between the two. But, if you can find the ways to understand your problems, they do seem to become smaller and smaller. Talking with others who are willing to listen and provide input can help a lot.