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A Patient’s Story: Contagious Confidence, Endless Possibilities

Posted Dec 06 2010 11:54am

In a recent post on Healthin30 I wrote why patients are the most important part of the medical team , and my colleagues, Elizabeth Cohen, Kevin Pho, MD, Donna Cryer, JD, and Carl R. Sullivan, MD, shared their insights as well.

Today, Ginger Vieira, a patient, living with Type 1 diabetes and Celiac disease for 12 years says,

“You, as the patient, are the most important part of the medical team because you are the one who makes the daily decisions, who balances your disease around dinners, soccer games, long hours at work without enough time to check your blood sugar and eat lunch. You are the one who takes the knowledge you learn from your doctor and fits it into your everyday life. That’s a huge role, and it’s never easy.”

Ginger Vieira shares her story about the challenges and how her positive attitude is allowing her to lead a life she thought was off limits.

By Ginger Vieira

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.” My twin brother, Pete, said this to me several months ago. I wrote it down on an index card and taped it to my bathroom mirror. Funny thing is, it’s never been other people telling me I can or cannot do something. The loudest voice I hear is my own.

When I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in the seventh grade over eleven years ago, the first list that ran through my head was the list of things I probably couldn’t do anymore. I couldn’t eat ice cream without first counting the grams of carbohydrates in the bowl and determining how much insulin I needed. I couldn’t play basketball anymore (at least, that’s what I thought). I couldn’t buy candy and popcorn with my friends when we go to the movies without feeling overwhelmingly guilty about eating such diabetic-off-limits food. The list of foods, activities, dreams and goals I thought were off-limits seemed endless.

With or without diabetes, we allow ourselves to fill our minds with everything we’re sure we cannot do, or cannot have, or cannot ever become. As I grew older, I realized how many things were still within my reach. I used to think I could never become much of an athlete, but today, I’m a health coach, personal trainer, yoga instructor and I’ve set 15 records in drug-tested powerlifting. Clearly, what I needed at my diagnosis, and simply as a young girl growing up in this society, was someone or something to help me learn that my dreams were all still possibilities.

In my work as a cognitive health coach and personal trainer, I am often overwhelmed by how easy it is for both my female clients and friends to express how certain they are of their own shortcomings. They will never be beautiful enough. Skinny enough. Smart enough. Good enough.

Her hair is too shiny. Butt too big. Butt too small. Hair too curly. Too straight. Too much boob. Too flat. Too short. Too tall. It’s endless. Their inadequacies, their lack of qualifications. The reasons they are never good enough. The reasons they’ll probably never succeed. Endless.

I had had enough of it. I wanted to believe that I can do anything. That I am beautiful. That I am smart and competent and capable.

I remember my grandfather never failed to exclaim with open arms, “Oh, Ginger, you gorgeous doll!” and it was not until three years ago after his death when I realized I never did quite believe him.

Gorgeous. Me? He thought I was gorgeous? It didn’t matter what he said, it mattered how I allowed it to translate through my own thoughts. “Of course he thinks I’m gorgeous, he has to! I’m his granddaughter!

And I had tried to tell myself several months after my diagnosis with diabetes that I wouldn’t allow any of this to hold me back, that I could do anything, but somewhere in my mind I know I was thinking, “Well, doing this or that is going to be much harder…close to impossible.”

Simply saying, “Oh, yeah, I know, I know. I’m beautiful,” isn’t enough.
Simply saying, “Diabetes won’t stop me! I can do anything!” isn’t enough.

I wanted to actively believe I could take on these challenges. Actively believe in myself. I realized I control the thoughts in my own mind about myself. I realized that the most important ideas I allow to settle in my mind are the ones I put there myself.

Before trying to encourage those around me to change the way they judge themselves, I went to work on myself. I knew I had to genuinely embody the kind of confidence and relentless perseverance I was hoping to inspire in other women and people with diabetes in order to be effective.

I started writing, “I am beautiful” on post-It notes, taping them to my bathroom mirror next to my brother’s index card. I created my own mantras, “I can. I can. I can,” as I drove to work in the morning. “Deep breath. Slow down. Deep breath. Slow down.” When my blood sugar was having one of those days where it’s up, then down, then up, then down, instead of telling myself, “You are not doing a very good job today!” I started telling myself, “You’re not supposed to be perfect. It’s okay. Let’s try again.”

Today, I believe these things. No, not all the time, but I know that when I put negative thoughts in, I can smother them with positive ones before they settle in too deeply. If there are ever days when diabetes makes me angry, I can remind myself, “Hold on, this isn’t about being angry. This is about being scared of complications, of not doing it well enough, of hoping you’re doing the best you can. And that’s okay. Take a deep freaking breath.”

Spreading this to other people was a different kind of challenge. At work, I started telling my clients about my new rule: they aren’t allowed to say negative things about themselves while they’re working out. Eventually, the ones who most often declared they were “too fat” that week began correcting themselves or covering their mouths with their hands after letting it slip. “Sorry, sorry. No negative things, I remember.”

I realized simply reminding some of my friends that they are indeed beautiful can go a long way. Somehow, the idea of a woman claiming how beautiful she knows she is has become incredibly taboo.

In living with diabetes, instead of questioning our appearance, we question our ability and strength to take on the everyday challenge of the disease.

In the end, it comes to down acceptance. I don’t want to waste any energy wishing I looked like someone I am not, or wishing I had a body that does everything I thought it was supposed to do. This is who I am and this is what I have. Blue eyes. Curly hair. Diabetes. Inappropriately loud cackle. Way more opinions than necessary. A curvy Italian body. Not too great with math. A big fan of chocolate. Always on the verge of a smile. Beautiful and totally qualified for anything, just the way I am.

About the author

Ginger Vieira has lived with Type 1 diabetes and Celiac disease for 12 years. She is a cognitive health coach, competitive powerlifter, and diabetes advocate at Living-in-Progress . Her book, “Your Diabetes Science Experiment” will be available in January 2011. Find Ginger on Facebook and Twitter, and YouTube .

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