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Why is Diabetes Worth Caring About?

By Adam Brown

Instead of “avoid long-term complications,” I focus on something more motivating and uplifting

The following is the opposite of what I was told at diagnosis. It’s from the Mindset chapter of Bright Spots & Landmines, and for me, it’s what I go to when diabetes is hard. Can you relate to this? It’s one of the biggest reasons I wrote my book!

Why does an in-range blood sugar benefit me TODAY: better mood, relationships, energy levels

Why is diabetes worth caring about? Why go through the trouble of eating differently, exercising, taking my medicine, needle pokes, and doctor’s visits?

“Avoid long-term diabetes complications:
blindness, amputation, kidney failure, and heart disease.”

This is a critical reason to take care of my diabetes, but it has a huge problem: it is often not a great motivator to work hard at taking care of myself today. Complications are a far-in-the-future, vague cloud of doom. It’s hard to envision how my small decisions today will lead to really bad outcomes in many years.

In fact, it’s far easier to say, “I’ll have dessert or skip my medication just this once. What’s the harm? I’ll get back on the path tomorrow.”

The solution to this motivation trap is one of the most important Bright Spots in this book, and it requires a time swap:

Why is managing my BG, eating healthier, or exercising important to me TODAY?

Why does it matter right now?

When my blood sugar is in range (70-140 mg/dl), I know that:

  • I’m a kinder, more patient person with the people around me (especially those I love the most).

  • I have more energy to do things that make me happy.

  • I smile more and am less stressed.

  • I sleep better.

  • I can think more clearly, and thus, help more people with diabetes through higher quality work at diaTribe.

In other words, keeping my blood sugar in range makes me a better human being today and maximizes my limited time on this planet. That is priceless.

Out-of-range blood sugars, by contrast, make everything in my life harder and less enjoyable – I’m tired, grumpy, lightheaded, a worse sleeper, an impaired thinker, and an all-around worse human being. I deserve better, and so do the people around me.

The word “unmotivated” is thrown around a lot in diabetes, particularly at those who are struggling to manage their blood sugars. I think this is lame and inaccurate.

Instead, I’d argue many people with diabetes are “wrongly motivated” – a fear-based, far-in-the-future reason to take care of an invisible disease simply isn’t compelling. Instead, I wish TODAY reasons to keep blood sugar in-range were more widely used – they are more inspiring, more immediate, and more motivating.

When I was diagnosed 15 years ago, someone should have said, “Hey Adam, keeping your BG in range will make you a better student, a better athlete, a better brother, and a better human being – today!” Had someone said that, maybe I would have taken my diabetes more seriously.

Pair how I feel and act with what my blood sugar actually is. How do I feel when my blood sugar is out of range? Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) is the most powerful tool for understanding this relationship, but a glucose meter works great too. (For those without access to CGM or more strips, try checking blood glucose more frequently for just one week.) I try to link each blood glucose reading to how I feel at that point in time. What is my mood, energy, and thinking like at 50 mg/dl versus 100 mg/dl versus 250 mg/dl?

When diabetes feels overwhelming and exhausting, ask: “How do in-range blood sugars benefit me NOW or TODAY?” The ideal answers are specific, short-term, and involve people I love. Review these reasons often: a Post-It in my blood glucose meter case, a weekly calendar reminder, the background on a computer screen, a page in a journal, etc. When I just want to blow off diabetes, coming back to my “why” is a great pick-me-up. Frequently rotating the reminder location and method helps keep it fresh and top of mind.

Get Bright Spots & Landmines here as a free/name-your-own-price download. You can also purchase it on Amazon in paperback ($6.29) and Kindle ($1.99). The print book is priced at cost to ensure widespread access. 100% of proceeds from digital downloads benefit The diaTribe Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit.