When I was 27, I got engaged. Seven weeks before I was due to marry, I called the wedding off. The shock and sadness that enveloped me leading up to and following my decision was suffocating. I have never felt such extreme guilt, or fear of the unknown. I cried my body weight in tears over what I saw as my own failure and stupidity. We all face times like this in life, proverbial bumps in the roads that send us spinning and crashing into lives we never expected to live. Bereavement, divorce, redundancy or illness can all create sinkholes that are a struggle to escape. I felt isolated by my own sadness even though friends and family were with me. What I learnt from that experience is that when the world feels like an exceptionally cruel place, your ultimate responsibility is to be kind to yourself.
Loss and Self Loathing
Tough times often make us tougher. While this is good with regards to endurance and strength, it can be negative when it comes to conceptions of self and the world. Suffering almost always involves the loss of something and that loss creates empty space. It’s no fun to be around. The desertion smells like fear, so we fill it with whatever we can find. Instead of love, which is what we urgently need, we might fill the void with self-loathing and self-blame. These false friends quickly establish a sense of control because we tell ourselves, ‘I did X so Y happened. Next time I won’t do X so Y can never happen again’. But human loss never follows such formulas, and self-blame does nothing to establish positive conceptions of who we are or the world in which we need to move forwards. Instead, we stay busy by punishing ourselves. We drink too much, don’t eat enough, push others away or even physically hurt ourselves in order to numb the emotional struggle. During periods of emotional trauma we should be our most tender, yet we have a tendency to be tough and impatient with ourselves.
Kindness in a Crisis is Crucial
If you’re suffering, be kind to yourself and be forgiving. It’s a simple message that is easily overlooked. When you are in the eye of an emotional storm, rational thought can be blocked by the clouds, but as soon as the tiniest ray of sunshine allows for a millisecond of clarity, recognise that your number one responsibility is to be good yourself. Feeling deeply saddened by loss is not a sign of weakness or stupidity. It is a sign of emotional intelligence and strength. It’s proof that you are engaged with life, you care and you live fully. Employ that intelligence and strength to be kind to yourself, so you can heal. Hearts and minds need emotional rest bite from the exhausting task of grieving. Remove yourself from the space in which you feel sad or from the temptation to condemn that sadness and allow yourself to feel something different somewhere new. By all means learn to horse ride or fly, but a walk ablong the beach or through the woods works as well. Acts of kindness like these have the healing power to calm the rage of loss and restore us to something of our former selves.
The Sun also Rises
Accurate crystal balls are hard to come by. We have to live – for a time at least – with the uncertainty that surrounds loss. Will I ever find another job? Will I ever meet the right partner? Will I ever feel happy again? The answer is almost certainly yes. Even if we had the benefit of future guarantees, the pain of loss would not evaporate. If an angel had whispered softly to my broken engagement self back in 2011 that everything would turn out better than I could possibly imagine, the process of healing would still have been necessary. It would not have stopped the flow of tears or the aching foreboding that my life from there on in would be disaster after disaster. And yet, I did stop crying. I did forgive myself, and I did meet someone new – pretty much in that order. Somewhere along the line, I decided to stop hating myself for failing and instead tried to thank myself for tiny accomplishments like cooking a meal or making it to a yoga class. Instead of being cruel, I decided to be kind and it was one of my best decisions.
The Diabetic Element….
Stress is bad news for anyone, but for type one diabetics it has the added complication of raising blood sugar levels. Periods of emotional stress are danger zones for letting slip the careful care necessary to keep glucose levels under control. Stress can make us want to over eat or not eat at all. As a diabetic, you have to be pragmatic when it comes to food and insulin even in times of emotional crisis. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your health care provider for extra guidance through difficult times. Eating and injecting is one area where you may need to be cruel to be kind. Force yourself to eat and inject correctly even if you are tempted otherwise. No matter what you are going through, you must never use your diabetes to make a bad situation worse. Use the crappy disease to your advantage. Injections are a reason to get up in the morning. Your diabetic diet requirements are a reason to leave the house.