Today’s illnesses have roots in the past

On this whole healing journey, I’ve tried to remain conscious of how current behaviours affect my physical/emotional health. Because, as you may know by now, I believe our bodies and minds are connected. If I’m unwell emotionally, it shows up in my body. It’s no coincidence that I suffer from anxiety/depression as well as type 1 diabetes — the two are intrinsically linked.

I was raised to internalize my “bad” feelings of anger, sadness, grief, frustration. Like many of her generation, my mother felt she was doing her children a service by sending us to our rooms when we were having an emotional meltdown. She did this because she didn’t have the skills to cope with raw emotions. She never cried or raged or hit things. Instead, she had migraines. Dad also disliked emotions, and found ways to cope through alcohol, the woodpile or depression. Our family navigated around sticky emotional situations by relying on “facts” or humour.

Scholars will say our emotional set-points are in place by age 3. Children learn that crying or tantrums aren’t acceptable if they want love. And of course they want love. The cost of childhood emotional neglect doesn’t become clear until much later in life. Vancouver psychiatrist and best-selling author Gabor Maté succinctly (and it’s a SHORT clip) describes emotional neglect here.

Even though I’ve read a lot on the subject, it still surprises me when I recognize current-day behaviours that have grown from that early childhood emotional abandonment. This week, I was faced for the umpteenth time that I have a strong reaction to feelings that I’m unsupported, disliked or abandoned. And by a strong reaction, I mean quite the opposite — I become like a submarine, still present and aware but emotionally submerged. I don’t make eye contact or connect with those who’ve angered me. I don’t feel anger, really. I just don’t want anything to do with them, so I ignore and avoid people who’ve hurt me. These are old, old coping skills. I feel they’ve served me well. But internalizing strong emotions takes a toll on our body systems. And while I didn’t see any glucose spikes because of my buried rage, it doesn’t mean I get off scot free. Everything eventually takes a toll.

I also this week had an appointment with my endocrinologist, by telephone. The basic gauge of health for diabetics is a test called an A1C. The target for me is 7%. Over the last six months, my results have dropped from 10% to 8%. During that time I’ve landed in hospital with a serious diabetic illness called ketoacidosis, and I was put on long-term insulin. (I’d resisted taking it due to weight gain.) This additional insulin is the main reason for the better numbers. I’m also taking Ozempic, is a diabetic medicine that’s supposed to lower glucose numbers and promote weight loss.

I’m not typical, I guess. Initially, my glucose doses did drop on Ozempic. But then I needed to return to my original insulin dosages. I also lost a few pounds and then they found their way back. I’m not sure why I don’t see benefits. I’d particularly like to lose the 20 pounds that came with additional insulin shots. I am getting no benefits from Ozempic so far, just frequent bouts of nausea and constant burping.

The doctor’s assistant asked if I’d had fewer food cravings because of Ozempic. I wanted to say, ‘But I’m not that kind of diabetic.’ I wanted to say, ‘I’m the kind with a burned-out pancreas due to too much survival stress. I’ve had years of glucose spikes due to old triggers, like that time someone mentioned that my brother had moved from the mainland to a nearby town — my Dexcom sounded a rapid-rise alarm over the next half hour. And exercise itself became a trigger, as though I had old memories of running from something sinister. Putting out all those emotional fires fell to my poor pancreas, which eventually succumbed to stress.’

That’s what I wanted to say, but knew better. Doctors don’t want to hear this stuff. They want to believe that emotions and body systems are separate and unrelated. Nothing I say can convince them otherwise. If I can avoid bringing these bad emotions on myself, I will. So I don’t say anything to doctors. I do, however, share my thoughts with you and I am thankful for you being here.


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