How Perfectionism Sabotaged My Diabetes Management
Historically, when I haven’t been good at something, I’ve lost interest and soon quit. At 5, I realized I had a fear of performing on stage and (momentarily) quit dancing. At 11, I realized I was no Serena Williams and quit my local tennis league. I quit piano at the age of 12 and shortly after left a selective Catholic school that I’d only attended for 2 weeks. I could write an extensive list of the activities and (people) I prematurely gave up on, but I’ll spare myself the embarrassment and hurry to my point.
My quitter’s mindset permeated most aspects of my life— extracurricular activities, jobs, schools and even threatened my relationship. If things became too difficult and coping/overcoming seemed impossible, I simply moved on. This deserter attitude also stemmed from a perfectionist spirit. As a child and up until my teens, I considered myself relatively smart (Princeton killed my ego). Most things came easy, and when they didn’t, a little extra effort (i.e. additional hours of studying, hiring a tutor, more time spent on homework—my life revolved around academics), seemed sufficient. If the above couldn’t remedy it or if it yielded continual strings of disappointment and failure, it was nixed. Young me which viewed herself as capable and intelligent, could not stomach the notion of any task/activity challenging her concept of self (Note to parents: there should be at least one thing you encourage your child to do even if they suck at it.).
Enter diabetes. At diagnosis, I was abnormally calm. After years of observing my type-2 diabetic grandmother defy doctor’s orders, I naively assumed that discipline alone was the solution to living well with diabetes. In fact, after a bout of cockiness due to a successful self-diagnosis, I believed that if I took the right amount of insulin, at the right time, and followed a strict carb-counting diet, my diabetes would be managed and managed well. I had yet to understand the complexity of the honeymoon phase and it’s favorable impact on my blood sugars. I wasn’t yet aware that age, hormones and stress could induce insulin resistance.
Perfectionism dangerously affected my attitude towards diabetes management. As any diabetic knows, a vigilant spirit is not enough to combat an unexpected high or an ill-timed low. Moreover, diabetes burnout is real. And as a teen and ultimately fledgling young adult adjusting to independent living, life is far from perfect. I found it difficult to manage work, cook dinner, integrate self-care practices and efficiently make the most of my free time. As I ate out more frequently, forsook physical activity, post meal highs became the norm and frustration and guilt emerged. To be clear, I viewed these unwelcomed patterns as expected and conquerable byproducts of adulthood. Still, my initial passionate attempts at change could not withstand wavering motivation and an absence of discipline. I repeatedly started and stopped—spending more time in a state of inaction than in one of meaningful progress.
After a week of cooking, I retreated to Seamless orders and Caribbean takeout. I abandoned my health journal after 8 consistent days of logging blood sugars. And soon, hitting the snooze alarm derailed my newfound routine of morning runs. Fatigue, busyness, depleting motivation—explained why consistency evaded me. Though I never quit on diabetes, my inability to achieve my lofty management goals yielded complacency. When I struggled to sustain the lifestyle habits that would get me to my ideal A1C, the idea of forever being a 7-range kind of girl, seemed less and less off-putting. Again, like in much of my growing up, I forewent a meaningful goal, because I couldn’t rattle myself from unproductive habits nor could I overcome those obstacles that naturally surface with any new challenge.
Clearly, I was not perfect. Yet my desire to be sabotaged my progress and undercut my management goals. Perfectionist tendencies magnified my inconsistencies. And guilt over stopping, or taking an extended break deterred me from beginning again. Through therapy and reflection, I’ve realized the detrimental impact of this need to be perfect and how it’s robbed me of the satisfaction that comes with arduous gains. Rather than beat myself up over self-perceived failures, I’m learning to quickly release guilt and negative self-talk. Even more, I’m learning to pick up right where I left off and not wallow over time that’s been lost.
Thank you to my photographer and love, Alfred of Royal Light Photography.