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How I Stopped Comparing My Diabetes Journey to Others

Living Well

June 13, 2024

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Photography by Iuliia Burmistrova/Stocksy United

Photography by Iuliia Burmistrova/Stocksy United

by Sarah Graves, PhD

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by Sarah Graves, PhD

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The stigma of diabetes can make it difficult to avoid comparing your diabetes journey to others. But learning to accept your uniqueness can help make it easier.

We all compare ourselves to others. It seems ingrained in our human DNA. But sometimes, comparison can be helpful, and other times, not so much.

My mom, who died at the relatively young age of 66 from complications of diabetes, didn’t take great care of herself. I felt angry about this for a long time, as though it meant something about her willingness to stick around for me.

So, I vowed to do better when I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Thus, in a way, the comparison of my diabetes journey to my mom’s pushed me to take more care of myself.

However, I also believed I had more control over the disease than I actually did. After years of doing everything “right,” I still had diabetes. So did my sister. But, unlike myself, my sister was able to get off her diabetes medication just by making lifestyle changes. That felt unfair.

After all, I was doing everything I was supposed to, plus some. Comparing myself to my sister made me feel down on myself. I felt as though something was uniquely wrong with me, and this caused me to feel hopeless.

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How to stop comparing yourself to others

Comparing ourselves to others may be natural, but just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it can’t cause misery. Comparison becomes harmful when it leads us to tear ourselves down by focusing on everything we think is wrong with ourselves. Thankfully, there are things we can do to help stop ourselves from comparing our diabetes journey with others.

1. Recognize that diabetes is not your fault

Believing others are doing better or have it better can be bad enough. But the issue is compounded when you have a condition like type 2 diabetes, which comes with a lot of stigma — including the myth that diabetes is the result of poor choices and, thus, your fault.

I bought into this myth when I felt angry about my mom not taking better care of herself. I also blamed myself after my diagnosis because I thought I’d somehow caused it, even though I was doing the exact things everyone says you should do to prevent it — eating “right” and exercising.

In the early days, I often compared myself to my brother, who — unlike my sister and I — has never been diagnosed with diabetes. That seemed like the ultimate unfairness, especially given that he has a similar body type, was raised in the same household, and didn’t share my and my sister’s focus on healthy eating and exercise. But, for whatever reason, he didn’t inherit it.

The truth is diabetes is a genetic condition. Not only do we not give it to ourselves, there’s a lot that’s out of our control. For example, although lifestyle changes can help us manage our blood glucose, sometimes it’s high no matter what we do and can often be high for reasons utterly unrelated to what we’ve eaten.

So, the first step is accepting that having type 2 diabetes is just the genetic card we’ve been dealt.

2. Realize that everyone’s body is unique

As a genetic condition, type 2 diabetes also manifests differently for everyone. Some people can manage it with lifestyle changes, and for others, like me, the disease progresses despite all our best efforts.

When I was stuck on comparing myself to my sister, I convinced myself I must not have been trying hard enough. It didn’t help that due to diabetes stigma, I received comments from family members who also expressed the belief that my sister must just be “more disciplined.”

Realizing that my body, and hence my experience, was just different from my sister’s, and none of it was because I wasn’t “trying hard enough,” helped me let go and accept what is. 

But after intense self-reflection, I realized that wasn’t true at all.

My sister was able to put her diabetes into remission simply by eating a low-carb diet. On the other hand, I was doing even more. I was eating a similar low carb diet and doing intermittent fasting and longer, full-day and multiday fasts. Even with all that, plus daily exercise, I still needed medication. But that had nothing to do with a “lack of discipline.” 

Realizing that my body, and hence my experience, was just different from my sister’s, and none of it was because I wasn’t “trying hard enough,” helped me let go and accept what is.

We can only do what we can do. So, realizing that diabetes is a disease that manifests differently for everyone can help us stop blaming or talking down to ourselves when we don’t get the same results as someone else with type 2 diabetes.

3. Keep a record of achievements

When comparing ourselves to others, we typically focus on their achievements and ignore our own. For example, when my sister put her diabetes in remission by following a low carb diet, I saw only her achievement and lost sight of everything I had accomplished.

Although I didn’t find the same success she did, I made many positive strides in my diabetes care. For example, I learned a lot about how my body responds to certain foods and eating patterns.

When we focus on our own accomplishments, our envy of others naturally lessens. So, try asking yourself what accomplishments you’ve made in your own journey and writing them out. Remember to focus on things you can control, like regular exercise, versus things that may be less in your control, such as your average blood glucose.

4. Practice self-compassion

When we negatively compare ourselves to others, it can damage our self-esteem. Self-compassion, which is the act of relating to yourself in an understanding or caring way, is the antidote. 

Imagine you’re your own best friend, and practice empathy. Chances are, you’re doing your best.

So, pay attention to your inner dialogue. Do you tend to criticize or judge yourself harshly, especially regarding your diabetes management? How would your self-talk be different if you were talking to a friend instead?

Imagine you’re your own best friend, and practice empathy. Chances are, you’re doing your best. And even if you feel you might not be, there are probably reasons for that, too. We don’t always have to do things perfectly to manage our condition.

5. Engage in self-care

Sometimes, self-care involves taking a spa day or relaxing in a hammock with a good book. Self-care can also involve honest self-reflection, the process of looking inward to uncover our deepest thoughts, feelings, and values.

Try keeping a journal and writing down your thoughts, especially when you’re in a downward spiral of comparing yourselves to others.

Once your thoughts are on the page, you’ll be in a better position to analyze them, which includes unpacking why you’re having these feelings. This can give you the power to move forward.

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Takeaway

Comparing your diabetes journey to others can lead to a host of negative emotions, which probably isn’t going to help your diabetes management.

So, try working with these tools as an ongoing practice. You may still feel moments of self-doubt or judgment. I still find myself in that space now and then. But the more regularly you practice letting go of comparison, the easier it gets and the better you’ll feel.

Fact checked on June 13, 2024

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About the author

Sarah Graves, PhD

Sarah Graves, Ph.D. is a Columbus-based writer, English instructor, baking enthusiast, and mom to a superhero in training. She was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2007 and is passionate about dispelling myths and sharing her experiences living with this condition. Her words have appeared all over the web in publications like USA Today, Healthline, and Tiny Beans, where she’s written on diverse topics such as education, parenting, personal finance, and health and wellness. Connect with her on Instagram or through her website.

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