Conquering a Fear of Insulin

Joanne Callahan had said she wouldn’t become insulin dependent. But then she realized she had to get past her fears. Once she did, it was amazing.

Health Monitor Staff
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When Joanne Callahan conquered her fear of insulin, she received a huge reward: stable blood sugar levels for the first time in years—and the freedom to focus her energy on living a full and active life.

But before that life-changing decision, Joanne was a tough nut to crack. She had decided she was not going to take insulin. Ever. It was 1995 and she was newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. “I believed once you started medication, it goes downhill from there,” says the 60-year-old Southern California native from the desert community of La Quinta. “My family has a high incidence of diabetes, and my grandmother died from it. I was determined not to become insulin dependent and end up the same way,” she recalls.

How diet and exercise a point
With the help of her longtime doctor, Joanne managed her diabetes by eating a mostly vegetarian diet and doing regular exercise, a strategy that worked until three years ago, when her blood sugar levels started the upward creep.

“I tried everything,” says Joanne, including a raw-food program. But when her A1c test climbed to nearly 9% (a healthy level is between 6% and 7%), “I knew I had to get past my fear of insulin,” says Joanne. “And once I did, it was amazing! My numbers dropped.”

How starting insulin resets your priorities
Today, Joanne checks her blood sugar levels every single morning. “It helps to check—especially if you are out of your routine and traveling—to know you are still keeping your numbers down.” If you take insulin, testing regularly will help you avoid low blood sugar. (Ask your doctor how often you should test yourself.) Joanne also makes it a priority to walk 40 minutes a day with her dog and she does rebounding exercises on a trampoline four days a week.

A new lease on life
Despite the early misgivings, Joanne has discovered a newfound peace with her routine. “Starting insulin took away some of the stress and constant juggling!”

Rethinking insulin myths
You won’t gain tons of weight: Joanne thought insulin meant she’d gain weight, a fear that caused her to put off the therapy by at least two years.

In fact, a 2009 study published in Diabetes Care found that patients with type 2 diabetes who took insulin were no more likely to gain weight than those on oral medications. “Now, I take an injection,” says Joanne. “It is much more preferable to the oral medications, and I haven’t gained weight.”

It doesn’t hurt: Learn how to give an injection by working with a diabetes educator; you may be surprised to learn it isn’t very painful. Some people say prefilled insulin pens hurt even less. Or, get creative: Joanne teaches a “thought field therapy” program that releases fear by “tapping” certain areas of the body.

April 2013