The 5 Stages of Grief Apply to Diabetes


You know how when someone dies, a loved one often goes through stages of grief which are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance?

I think that when someone gets a diabetes diagnosis, they go through those same phases.  No one has died in this case but something has-life as we know it.  Our lives matter a lot to us, there is no denying that.  So when a doctor informs us that we have a disease that will last the rest of our lifetime, requires constant monitoring and care, changes to habits and routines we may have in place, and causes all sorts potential health problems that bring about inconvenience and pain…well, it’s not unlike experiencing the death of a loved one.

I’m not saying it’s as painful as experiencing the death of a loved one.  I’m just saying the stages of grief are the same.  For example, when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 11, my first inclination was to be like…”noo……really?”  I quickly got angry and though I didn’t show it, I know it because my diary at the time has a page on it where I wrote, “Damn diabetes, I hate you!”  The letters are made out in straight lines and you can tell I pressed down really hard, accentuating each stroke with multiple slashes from my ball point pen.  Next came bargaining.  I grew up in a place where almost everyone is religious and so friends would take me to their churches in hopes that their pastor could “cure me”.  I went along because deep down I wished someone could.  I also didn’t even think a single cuss word between the ages of 12 and 14 in an effort to be “good” enough for God to cure.

Then came depression.  This stage lasted a long, long time.  Many years in fact.  There are catalysts that move us out from the first few stages of grief.  We can’t physically handle staying in shock and in denial for too long.  We only have so much adrenaline and reality is a very persistent nag.  Anger usually leads to self-destruction and it wears us out until we realize it doesn’t improve anything.  It doesn’t take long to figure out that bargaining isn’t going to cure us.  But depression is a disease.  It eats at our brains and takes away our strength every day.  Depression literally changes the chemicals in our brains.  So people often hang out at this stage for a long time.  I was no different.

Acceptance.  It’s so empowering, so forgiving.  When we reach this stage a sense of peace comes over us.  The thick cloud of our diagnosis lifts and we are able to hope, be inspired, and dream about our future.  Life isn’t a drag anymore and our diagnosis might actually do the unexpected-bear gifts.  We can move forward.  We see potential and possibilities.  We know we are going to be ok.

If you’re a diabetic and haven’t reached the final stage of acceptance, please know that you can.  You just have to give yourself time to heal and time to learn about what your diabetes management requires.  Nothing is wrong with you for grieving the loss of the life you once knew.  And you have permission to move ahead when you’re ready.  Get help for the tough days and look forward to the better ones.

They are coming.

4 thoughts on “The 5 Stages of Grief Apply to Diabetes

  1. Amy

    I feel that your right on track with the 5 stages. I am Diabetic I will be 36 found out when I was 32 almost 33. I hate all aspects of Diabetes. I want to accept it! I want to follow Doctors orders. The thing is as soon as I did I got sick and was in the Hospital. So I am still skeptical and feel very lost as to what is right and wrong. I have attended classes but you get so many contradictions from people. My dad swears on his diet. Me and him both have type 2 and they’re different. He has low BS where mine BS is high all the time. What works for him doesnt for me. So I think sometimes I am still in Denial. I could be that I am not done being angry at myself for not taking care of myself when I was warned at 22 that I was pre-diabetic. I do have deppression and take nothing for it. Not by choice just no insurance and the local HD claims they can’t issue those type of perscriptions. So I deal and my Son and my Fiance help alot when it gets bad. I thank God everyday for them.

  2. Joni Boone

    When my doctor came back into the examination room after checking my results and told me that yes, I was in fact diabetic, I had a total meltdown. She had to go to the waiting room and get my husband. When he came into the room I collapsed into his arms and cried a pitiful “I’m sick.” Then I sobbed some more. Once I managed to get control of myself we were shown to the Patient Care Coordinator’s office. I will never forget what Rocky (the PCC) said to me when I apologized for being such a mess. “It’s patients like you that I know I can work with and patients like you that I’m pretty sure will take control and manage their disease. The ones I have trouble with are the ones in denial.”
    I think I may have skipped a step or two. In fact, I KNOW I skipped denial. I did get angry though. At myself, for my poor choices in life that I’m pretty sure hastened the onset of diabetes. I’m proud to say that I am managing my diabetes very well. I’ve made radical changes to certain areas of my life and my BS readings usually stay around 90 to 110. I can live with that.

  3. lisa donakowski

    I have never thought about it in this context before. I’m quite sure I have been stuck in anger/depression for a long time. It is time for me to try to move past this to acceptance.

  4. Sysy Post author

    You’re not alone, Lisa. Many get stuck there and it’s understandable. Something from not too long ago that has helped me with acceptance of difficult situations is being cautious what I listen to, read, watch on tv, etc. Inundating oneself with ideal fantasies or stories of people that don’t reveal the struggle that is present for us all in some way, shape, or form, just allow us to kind of entertain this ideal and wallow in anger or sadness. Exposing ourselves instead, to stories (could be books, tv, movies, etc) that show virtuous characters in a real struggle–but who handle it gracefully and with a sense of honor are, I find, surprisingly helpful. It seems silly because none of us live in some crazy scenario and we feel we can’t relate to stories of extreme struggle BUT I’d say diabetes is an extreme struggle of some sort. I mean, it’s every minute of every day and affects everything in our lives. We have to have a mentality of rising above to heroic levels in order to thrive with this. I think it’s possible at least to some extent, particularly with all the right messages and none of the wrong, lazy, indulgent, or typical “hollywood” ones. Now, I have no idea what you read or watch and i’m only suggesting it because i’ve found it SO helpful it seems wrong not to share. Lord of Rings is one that comes to mind since i’m currently reading the first book to my children. I realize this may be the most oddball reply but there it is. :) I have a hard time accepting things as i’m very stubborn. I’ve shifted from not accepting that I have diabetes to not accepting that I have to be unhealthy due to it. I’m in some kind of warrior mode, feeling that every day I fight and be stubborn about taking good care of myself because damnit, I deserve it, i’m not going down without a fight, my kids are watching and learning from my example, and i’d rather die proud of myself for trying my best, even if it takes a lifetime to get it right. Take care :)

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