Dark Side Of Diabetes—Pat Gallagher Interviews Dr. Polanski

Aug 1, 1993

Dr. Polanski is a world renowned clinical psycologist in the field of diabetes, who works at the Joslin Diabetes Clinic in Boston. In this interview with Pat Gallagher on national radio, he talks about the "dark" side of diabetes, and answers calls from listeners calling in response to the question: "what is most difficult for you about living with diabetes?"

Pat Gallagher: Dr. Polanski, you have a unique perspective on diabetes. I seem to recall talking to you once about a book you were writing called "Diabetes Sucks," is that right?

Dr. Bill Polanski: Well that's the idea. I think that would be the ultimate book to write, since it's the side of diabetes people don't usually get to hear very much about.

Pat: That's true. I know on this show we try to keep things in a positive light, but there are also a lot of tough things to deal with.

Tell me, what have you found about diabetes in your practice?

Dr. Polanski: Well, first let me say that I am really glad you invited me to come and respond to callers who want to talk about the more difficult aspects of living with diabetes, because I think that giving people a forum to air what is difficult for them is a great way to help them begin making positive changes.

Pat: Right. You have to deal with both the positive and negative aspects of diabetes. While it's important to keep a positive attitude, it's also important to look at the less positive aspects of it.

Dr. Polanski: There's no question that one has to eventually find a sense of positiveness about diabetes, but I would argue that the way to get there is to start with the truth. And if the truth is that diabetes is driving you nuts, then you need to start with that, and work from there.

Pat: But sometimes the truth is hard to take.

Dr. Polanski: I agree. Based on my experience working with people with diabetes, as well as research studies I have been involved in, there seem to be three major areas of difficulty. One is the emotional side of living with diabetes; feeling angry, feeling tired of having to watch your diet all the time, and so forth. A second area is dealing with the people in your life; getting tired of having other people say to you, "should you be eating that?," or, "you seem upset, maybe you should check your blood sugar..." The third area is dealing with the regimen of diabetes; getting tired of the daily grind of it.

Pat: I often think, wouldn't it be nice to have just one day of vacation...

Dr. Polanski: That's one of the things people like most about coming to the Joslin Clinic for a week. They get to let someone else worry about their blood sugars and insulin doses for a while.

Pat: What have you found in terms of difficulties regarding the initial diagnosis of diabetes?

Dr. Polanski: What I've learned from the groups of adults I work with at the Joslin Clinic is that the initial diagnosis is treated in one of two ways. People are either told: "don't worry, you can lead a perfectly normal life," or else the opposite: "you have a very serious disease which you need to focus on for the rest of your life." People receive responses from both extremes. The most typical response, however, is of disbelief.

Pat: Do you find that at the onset there is a lot of flat out denial ?

Dr. Polanski: A lot of people feel that way at first, and many feel that way for decades. Diabetes is a very difficult thing, and I think people need a lot of support from their friends and family.

Caller: I get so tired and overwhelmed, sometimes I just don't want to go on anymore.

Dr. Polanski: I think you are addressing one of the most common complications of diabetes that no one talks about, which is diabetes burn-out. The other thing is that when you start to feel depressed, it's important to check out whether there are any biological causes that might add to your feelings of depression. High blood sugars can make you lethargic and can make your depression worse. And on a psychological level, one of the most important things about burn-out is to make sure there are people in your life who can listen and support you when you just need to complain.

The "dark" side of living with diabetes is often the side we don't want to talk about. As Dr. Polanski suggests, airing and sharing complaints can be an important, helpful way to begin making difficulties less difficult. Sometimes it helps a lot just to know you are not alone. We hope that DIABETES HEALTH can also serve as a forum for our readers to share their experiences, and in doing so, hopefully reduce some of the isolation we often feel. We would like to encourage you to write in with your experiences, particularly those that are difficult to talk about. What is most difficult for you about living with diabetes?

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Aug 1, 1993

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