For as long as she can remember, Robin Wright has struggled with low energy, depression and intense sugar cravings that make it hard to control her weight.
After she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes 12 years ago, Wright, 63, couldn’t help wondering “if there isn’t a chicken and egg issue there.” Did she wind up with diabetes because of her health issues? Or were they in fact symptoms of prediabetes?
In retrospect, says Wright, it isn’t surprising she developed diabetes. Both her parents had Type 2 diabetes, as did her maternal grandfather. Though she was less aware of the disease afflicting her father, who died of cancer when she was still in her 20s, she now suspects that it affected her mother’s quality of life more than she realized at the time.
“She lived a long life,” Wright said, noting that her mother made it to age 86 before dying of a heart attack. But her mother dealt with many health issues along the way: phlebitis, mini strokes, vascular disease and, eventually, dementia.
Complicating the situation was a genetic tendency toward weight problems in her family, along with growing up in a household environment that placed a high priority on sugary treats. Wright, a psychotherapist in private practice in Princeton, N.J., now believes that there may have been a sense of deprivation among older family members who’d lived through the Great Depression.
“I still remember the thrill of having chocolate in the house,” she said.
After her diagnosis, Wright was determined to tackle the problem rather than let it exacerbate her struggles with depression. She met with a nutritionist who walked her through the recommended dietary guidelines and activity goals. She began tracking her walking with a pedometer and now tries to swim daily in the summer.
Though her family’s been supportive, Wright believes the single biggest thing that’s made a difference in her management of the disease was starting a support group.
As you might expect, Princeton, N.J., home of the college with the same name, “is filled with very dynamic people,” Wright said. Through a healthy cooking group, she met someone who had Type 1 diabetes, and together they built up a core group of diabetes patients who began meeting regularly to vent their frustrations and share ideas.
Then three or four years ago they affiliated with DiabetesSisters, a national organization that provides networking opportunities and support materials. The group’s three co-leaders have also since trained at the Stanford Chronic Illness Program, which has also been helpful in providing guidance, she said.
Though Wright is encouraged by the difference her group is making in each other’s lives; she’s surprised how uninformed many people are when they arrive at their first meeting. She’d like to see more people take advantage of all the resources available online these days. The world wide web, she notes, is “like a revolution” regarding unprecedented, free access to information.
Their meetings always start out with introductions and personal updates before moving on to a structured topic. Wright thinks this is important, because “it’s not just people getting together to rant.” That has its place; she notes, but by the time they leave, they have an action plan. Members are motivated to do something specific to improve their situation.
Meeting with a like-minded group “really energizes you,” she said. “I think it has helped me. You don’t feel so alone.”