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Making Meaning of a Life with Diabetes

September 22, 2021
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The expression “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade” may have merit when it comes to living with a chronic condition. This is an outlook with which my parents raised me—that diabetes was tough, but we should remain optimistic. And moreover, that we would help other people do the same, which we have been doing since CWD’s creation in 1995.

Many of my friends who live with type 1 diabetes work in diabetes care, research, or industry. And this study explains the how, and perhaps the why, some of us choose to devote our lives to working with others with diabetes. The researchers presented information on past psychological research on finding meaning in difficult circumstances and note that it has not been studied related to type 1 diabetes.

Studies have shown that a sense of meaning is associated with positive adjustment and plays an integral role to well-being and health.1,2 Psychologists in South Africa interviewed six young adult women with type 1 diabetes between the ages of 18 and 25 years old to see if they found any link between “meaning-making” and living with diabetes.1

The interview included questions about how diabetes impacts the person’s life, how they make meaning of living with diabetes, if the meaning has changed throughout their time living with diabetes, if there are any positives to having diabetes, and more that are not listed in the article. There were themes that emerged and many similarities between the responses from the study participants.

The three larger theme categories were:1

  1. Reappraising a life with diabetes
  2. Developing diabetes as a lifestyle
  3. Positive outcomes from living with diabetes

For the first theme, reappraising life with diabetes, it was common for the participants to recall the initial distress after diagnosis. Following the emotional distress, they recalled figuring out how to adapt to this new life with diabetes. The participants felt that diabetes became part of their identity, with one participant stating, “I cannot imagine myself without diabetes.” (S. Kruger, et al. p. 7) This comment was particularly relevant for me, since I was diagnosed at age two, and I don’t even remember life before diabetes.

With regards to developing diabetes as a lifestyle, the participants mentioned having enough support from family, health care providers and others with diabetes. They also felt that getting as much information as they could about diabetes was helpful in their journey to meaning making. The participants also felt a sense of ownership over their diabetes, which is also something I have always felt as a person with diabetes. One of the key pieces of advice I offer people with diabetes is to “own it, so it does not own you.”

The participants realized their strengths and viewed diabetes as an opportunity with positive impacts on their lives. The young adults felt that they had developed healthy habits due to diabetes, gained confidence, and had an increased appreciation for health. All of these may have helped the participants with their diabetes self-management and outlook on life.

Although this is a small study, and the authors suggest further research is needed, it does shed light on a unique perspective about diabetes self-management. Of course, not everyone is going to devote their lives to diabetes, but for those of us who have chosen this path, it may have helped us all along.

We at CWD hope you can find your community to help you maintain optimism throughout your diabetes journey. Check out our upcoming events to connect with other people living with diabetes and people who love someone with diabetes.

References:

  1. Young adult women’s meaning-making of living with type 1 diabetes: towards growth and optimism
  2. Meaning in life across the life span: Levels and correlations of meaning of life from emerging adulthood to older adulthood

Written and clinically reviewed by Marissa Town, RN, BSN, CDCES