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Perspective on Perception

02/09/2013 12:00

What does a healthy person look like to you?  There may be a picture of fitness that comes to mind or we may be including a more wholistic ideal.  Consider that there are situations in life where we perceive someone or something as healthy & it turns out that the opposite is actually true.  An example that comes to mind that appears to be healthy is food that is packaged with the words “low fat” or “low sugar” on the label.  We may be lead to believe that we are putting something health building into our bodies based upon the label.  Along the way, when we have diabetes we tend to learn more about the specifics of how to read a food label.  Often a food that is labeled as “low fat” is either high in sugar or salt or hydrogenated fats.  We can take the opportunity to learn more about health-building & health diminishing fats for instance.  The important part about foods that are pre-prepared is to do our homework to see if the food is health-building or not.  Thankfully, we have the opportunity to obtain guidance when we need it from our nutritionists if we are concerned about food labels or choices.  Life is full of choices.  To carte blanche believe that a food is healthy just because it says some form of marketing to that effect is definitely something that I want to avoid. 

Most people have differing pictures of how a healthy person looks.  There are intersections though.  When we tend to ask our family & friends questions about how a healthy person looks, we usually get the answer, “slender.”  Where did many folks come up with that answer from?  Many of us will answer, “marketing.”  There is after all a significant difference, I feel, between being slender & being fit.

 Here’s a wee story to share about perception of what a healthy person looks like.  In the weeks leading up to my diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, I had extremely blurry vision, absolutely no energy, was super thirsty and had foggy thinking. These are all understatements.  For the first time in my life, all I could think about when I heard the alarm clock in the morning was when I could return to sleep again.  That unbelievable exhausted feeling lasted all day, every day.  My family & I found ourselves turning down all invitations to social activities.  That was not like “energizer bunny” me.  The thought every day was how tired I was & when in the world would my usual energy return.  At first I thought that I had caught some form of illness that perhaps was going around. The trouble was that I was not getting better & that seemed strange.  A whole month went by & then almost another.  Finally, it dawned on me that I might have diabetes.  I had heard about the signs of diabetes yet it took almost 2 months to accept that this may be a possibility.  I had never felt so unwell in my life.  Here comes the perception part.  During those nearly 2 months I had compliment after compliment from people on my weight loss & how great I looked.  Many people asked me what my secret was.  When I would share how unwell I felt many folks maintained, “Well you just look so well.”  It felt like a strange time in my life to be honest.  It was very disconnecting having the perception of folks around me that I was looking healthy & yet feeling awful.  One of my first positions when I graduated was in counseling people that had sustained physical injuries.  It was a rewarding job & the other counselors that I worked with are friends that I do & always will admire.  Often, folks with physical injuries would voice frustration about “hidden injuries.”  They would describe how injuries that are not obvious to others tend to be perceived as not present.  My heart goes out to people with health challenges.  And my heart goes out to how folks feel when there is a perceptual gap.

In the past 5 years & a bit, there has only been one occasion thankfully that someone referred to my type 1 diabetes as a disability.  It personally shocked me to hear this reference.  I am being polite frankly in using these words.  Once I chose to propel myself past the disappointment with the individual for the label, I decided that I would share how I saw the type 1 diabetes that I live with daily.  The encounter was turned into an opportunity for sharing my perspective rather than simply accepting the label that the person had decided to give me.

Another perception that has been a reoccurring one is that a number of folks believe that insulin is a cure.  It is not.  It is a treatment & I am profoundly grateful for this literally life saving treatment.  And no, our insulin pumps don’t have “brains” & “fix” our diabetes.  And the get well soon wishes are a little strange when a person has a chronic illness.  Perhaps a better choice of words may be either “how are you feeling today?” or something encouraging like “what can I do to help?”   The best one yet is, “my heart goes out to you.”  If none of these can be said with genuine care & concern & compassion then my preference is that nothing is said. If you have type 1 diabetes too or have a family member with a “365” health challenge, you will probably share this next view.  It is absolutely awful when some folks feel the need to say something that they feel will either act as a form of being relatable or to simply fill the awkward feeling of finding something to say when they learn of someone’s health challenge. It is not helpful in the least to hear someone state that they knew someone that suffered blindness, amputation, kidney or any other complications.  As folks with type 1 diabetes, we are acutely aware of potential complications.  That is a huge reason why we do the 24-7 hard work managing diabetes in efforts to do what we can to avoid complications.  You may share this next pet peeve as well if you have type 1 diabetes.  There are times when even though we are “doing everything right”, our blood sugars go really high or really low.  It drives me up the wall & back again when folks say to me in reference to the roller coaster blood sugars, “you should take better care of yourself.”  Guess what, we already are!  Sometimes, we can do everything right with our attempts at blood sugar control & yet we get weird results.  That is the nature of type 1 diabetes.  It is a moving target with so many variants that can cause blood sugars to go berserk. Sometimes there simply is no correlation between effort & result some of the time I have found.  When I hear the myriad of misconceptions or even judgments regarding type 1 diabetes, I realize that as a community, we are not done yet with advocating & breaking free of these false labels.  There is still so much sharing of information to do to ensure that misconceptions are corrected. 

Incorrect perceptions may prove to be a problem when it comes to diabetes or 365 health challenges.  In a society that often uses the barometer of thinness as the indicator of health, we may need to challenge that guidepost.  When I think about my own physical health, I value the guidance of my health care team versus society.  If I am losing or gaining weight quickly, I know that there have to be logical reasons for this.  Are either of these extremes healthy for me?  No, I don’t think so.  You & your health team will know what is best for you health wise.  I know that I don’t want to leave my health in the hands of the societal definition of what a healthy person looks like. 

Have you heard that adage, “what you don’t know about cannot hurt you?”  It has always seemed like a bizarre statement in my mind.  Take type 1 for instance.   It is  essential that type 1 diabetes gets diagnosed when it is present.  No, like you, I did not want to receive bad news.  I needed however to know what I was dealing with so that I could do everything within my power to be as healthy as possible.  It was not about the perception of health.  It was about truth.  Looking well & feeling unwell for a prolonged & severe period of time do not make sense at least to me.  Although the perception was that I was looking healthy, I knew with all my might that was not the case.

When it comes to perception & perspective, I choose perspective every single time.  To me perspective leads me to the truth yet perception is “iffy” at best.

My heart’s hope for you is that your wise perspective guides you in living the life that is yours alone.

Smiles, Saundie  :)

May this week be filled with "the" truth & not "marketing" or "false perception" & next week's sharing is, "Rip the Lid Off!"  :)