by Beverly S. Adler, PhD, CDE
Clinical Psychologist and Certified Diabetes Educator
It was March 1975 and my parents told the doctor they were worried about me because I had "lost the sparkle" in my eyes! I was embarrassed and very surprised by what they said. Yet, I had to admit that I had no energy; every step on campus required effort. I noted to myself how the world was passing me by. Along the route to all my classes, I passed every water fountain on the way. I was so thirsty, I remember thinking to myself that even if I drank the ocean, it would not be enough to quench my thirst. Not to mention, I had to go to the bathroom all the time. Despite all those problems, I remember being happy about losing weight and thought that I had discovered a new diet for weight loss: eating Yodels®. Enjoying every bite of those chocolate covered devil's food snack cakes, I had no idea just how sick I really was. After enduring a five hour Oral Glucose Tolerance Test, my doctor diagnosed me with "Juvenile diabetes." I had no idea what that meant, but I did know that my life, as I knew it, would change forever.
The effect of that diagnosis not only affected me, but it also impacted my family. After the diagnosis my mother, especially, expressed tremendous feelings of guilt that she should have taken me to the doctor sooner for tests. The doctor tried to relieve her feelings of guilt by telling her that it would not have made any difference in my outcome had I been diagnosed earlier. My diabetes would not have been prevented. My sister was jealous of me because I was getting a lot of attention as the "sick child." Feelings of guilt felt by parents and feelings of jealousy experienced by siblings is very common. My brother's reaction was most uncommon. He congratulated me on my diagnosis! He explained his comment by stating that he knew I would always take care of myself from then on. My brother was both very wise and correct in his prediction.
Diabetes self-care in the 1970's was very different from today's management. There was not the technology advancement nor the outreach and support available today. I always felt like a spokesperson for diabetes; my job was to help educate the uninformed public. I never let my diabetes interfere with living my life. While diabetes did complicate my life, it was still "do-able" requiring a little extra attention. I completed graduate studies and earned my PhD in clinical psychology, I travelled to Europe, I married and had babies - all while balancing my chronic illness. Was I perfect? No! Nobody is perfect. But, with state-of-the-art treatment regimens and the addition of a blood glucose meter in the 1980's, I was better informed and could make better decisions how to stay within my blood sugar target range.
Fast forward in time to the 2000's. I was divorced and my "babies" weren't so little anymore. Returning to work after years of being a stay-at-home mom opened up new opportunities for me. I was unsure of which direction to go. Again, my wise brother asked me a simple question: "If you could choose to do anything in your life, what would you most like to do?" That was easy to answer. I really wanted to work with people with diabetes. And so, I did. I pursued having a specialty practice which focused on treating the emotional issues of patients with diabetes. Known to my patients as "Dr. Bev", I was able to combine my first-hand experience of living with diabetes with my training as a Cognitive Behaviour Therapist. In my private practice, I emphasize empowering the lives of my patients with diabetes. After I accumulated many clinical hours, I was able to officially become what I had always unofficially done. I became a Certified Diabetes Educator. As my reputation as a diabetes psychologist grew, I was writing articles and making presentations about the emotional issues which affect many people living with diabetes. I talked and wrote about the negative feelings and destructive reactions that can occur and how to overcome them to thrive with diabetes. I've published two books, "MY SWEET LIFE: Successful Women with Diabetes" and "MY SWEET LIFE: Successful Men with Diabetes". Both books are a collection of chapters written by authors who share the idea that diabetes is a blessing in disguise. We are grateful for our chronic illness as it's made us more determined to succeed and overcome the challenge of living with diabetes.
When I'm not working with patients, writing, or speaking to audiences (online or in person), I am volunteering. I have been a member of the Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) since 2002. Lions clubs provide help at all levels of need from local community support to global disaster relief. In 1925, Helen Keller attended the Lions Clubs International Convention and challenged Lions to become "knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness." The Lions accepted her challenge and our work has included sight programs aimed at preventable blindness. Since people with diabetes are at risk of losing sight due to diabetic retinopathy, Lions are involved with programs for diabetes awareness, education, prevention and research. Throughout my years of involvement with Lions, I was elected to serve on the Lions Diabetes Education Board (Nassau County) for two two-year terms, served as co-chair for our fundraising project Lions Strides Walk, which raised money for diabetes awareness and education, and currently serve as secretary for my local club. The Lions' motto "We serve" exemplifies the hard work of these dedicated men and women to provide humanitarian service to those in need. If you are interested in obtaining more information about this worthwhile organization, their website is www.LionsClubs.org.
Well, I've looked at the past and the present of living with type 1 diabetes. What about the future? I'm looking forward to receiving my 50 year medal, presented by the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, in another ten years. The medal is symbolic of one's commitment to surviving, and thriving, with diabetes. One side of the medal has the words: "Triumph Man and Medicine" and the other side has the words: "For 50 Courageous Years with Diabetes." The medal provides me with the inspiration to live a happy and healthy life. As I said in the conclusion for my chapter in my book: "Diabetes is an illness that I can live with, and control (to a certain extent). I haven't missed out on anything in life due to my diabetes. On the contrary - you could say that diabetes has been good to me. I take care of myself, and it's the basis for my career. In that way, I'm happy to have diabetes."
If you are interested to learn more about me and the work that I do, please visit my website at www.AskDrBev.com.
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Books by DrBev