Last week, in one diabetes forum, a Type 1 diabetic (the OP) posted his reaction to the recent death of a Type 1 diabetic acquaintance, Lee. Lee, a 33-year old childhood friend of his fiancée, died after a three-year struggle with kidney failure as a complication of diabetes. The OP expressed his anger at the needlessness of Lee’s complication and death. He was angry at his country’s health system for not doing enough to help Lee. He was also angry at himself for not reaching out or inquiring about how Lee was doing. Finally, he was angry at Lee because Lee did not try to control his diabetes.
I understood the anger at the system. I’m sure many of you probably understand it as well. Regardless of where we are, the health system in our respective countries is likely to be seriously lacking in dealing with diabetes and many other medical conditions and issues.
I can certainly relate to the OP’s anger at himself because it has happened to me. Even if I didn’t know the person well, I’ve reproached myself for not reaching out or doing more while he or she was still alive.
But I didn’t completely understand the OP’s anger at Lee. He blamed Lee for not trying, for not doing anything, for not getting his diabetes under control. It sounded judgmental to me, which was unlike him (at least, based on most of what he’s posted over the years). When I asked him about it, he said that the anger was more out of frustration. Based on what he heard, Lee did not take care of his diabetes or himself (for instance, the OP pointed out twice that Lee was a regular smoker).
I still did not understand why the OP was frustrated and angry, when Lee was not related to him and was a distant acquaintance? For all intents and purposes, Lee was a stranger. Lee left behind a young grieving wife, family and friends, so I can understand if they are the ones angry and frustrated. But an acquaintance?
I asked why, not because I’m judging the OP, but because I’ve found myself in a similar situation more than once before. I have been annoyed with, irritated with, frustrated with and angry at someone I barely knew but who I thought was not taking care of himself or herself, who I believed did not give a damn, who I assumed was not trying at all. Why? Of course I could just be a judgmental, arrogant and self-righteous person. Yes, the possibility has crossed my mind, and I certainly hope I’m not.
This bothered me for days, and not even running cleared my mind. So, I decided to read the OP’s post and message to me again. This time, I saw the answer to my question in his message, as if I read it for the first time. (I really should learn to read more carefully.) The OP wrote in his message – It’s sort of a case of feeling a bit like I’ve looked into a damaged mirror that’s reflected someone who I could be.
We are angry because that someone else could be us, could have been us, is us, when we’re not taking care of ourselves and someone has to shake us from our stupor. We are angry because that someone else embodies our fears. We are afraid that we could so easily not care, that we could so easily slip into bad habits, like going overboard on pasta and sweetened iced tea, or choosing to watch reality TV instead of going out for a long walk, or forgetting to regularly inject insulin, take our meds or check our blood glucose, or somehow missing our doctor’s appointment, or that we could so naturally just throw in the towel. The knowledge that someone has experienced the complications we fear only drives that fear deeper into us. We see ourselves and our vulnerabilities in someone else, and it’s not a pretty sight. We are angry, yes, but not at someone else. We are angry at ourselves.
What do we do with this realization? We can choose between doing nothing and doing something. If we sit and do nothing, we will likely just fuel a continuing cycle of fear, frustration and anger, even helplessness in both ourselves and others. Or, we can transform this realization into something positive. The OP decided to do something positive about his anger by sharing Lee’s struggles and death and the OP’s thoughts in the hope that they will encourage others to get help and to be in control of their diabetes.
We can all channel our anger, frustration, and fear into something productive. We do not have to do something grand. We can tell our stories, volunteer, participate in a run, walk or a bike ride for diabetes research, attend a diabetes conference, or just show others what they can do just be taking care of ourselves. Sometimes all we need to do is to nudge others to ask questions, find answers and take action. Sometimes all it takes is a small gesture, a few words, or maybe a glance or nod towards another to show we care.
But whatever we do, we must do something because we are all part of the same team and that team is only as good as the efforts and contributions each of us makes. Who knows? That something may be all that is needed to save someone, perhaps our own selves.