THE BLOG
03/22/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Diabetes, Denial, And Perseverance

My first response when the doctor told me I had diabetes was complete and utter denial. She had to be wrong. It had to be a lab error. I was convinced that when I got some rest my blood sugar levels would go back to normal. This was actually the third phase of my denial that something could possibly be wrong with me. Let me explain.

Denial phase one: recognizing I needed to pay attention to my symptoms. I didn't think they were important enough to get checked out. I had convinced myself my constant thirst, frequent urination, hunger, and dizziness were just not that big of a deal. It was the end of a three-month long performance season with the New York City Ballet and I figured my symptoms were due to exhaustion, that I was burnt out, and needing some rest. The only reason I made a doctor's appointment was because I developed sores that would not heal, even after two rounds of antibiotics. I went to the doctor because I wasn't dancing well (it was painful to lift my arms over my head which is a common move in ballet) and I had a fast approaching leading role in a new ballet by my director Peter Martins. It took a threat to my dancing to get me to pay attention and take action.

Denial phase two: ignoring my doctor's urgent messages. Rather than pay attention to the word urgent above the note, "Zippora, phone your doctor" at the back stage entrance, I felt annoyed and put out. I was rehearsing and performing everyday and evening, and felt it was enough I had taken the time to get some blood work on my only day off. Her messages and her news would have to wait a couple of weeks until the two-week break between winter and spring seasons.

Denial phase three: there in the doctor's office. As she threw (maybe placed) four different pamphlets about the complications of diabetes in my lap all I could think about was getting back to the theater in time to get my makeup on so I could perform that evening. I couldn't process the information of the different warnings of what might happen to me in the future, from heart disease and stroke, to kidney failure, blindness, and loss of limbs. In response to my question of what to do for this "diabetes," the doctor told me that it was okay to eat a piece of cake as long as I did not go over board and eat the whole thing. She didn't know me; I didn't trust her. I was a disciplined dancer who was not going to eat cake anyway, especially if I was not supposed to. I didn't have time for more talk, as I had to get back to the theater. She told me to make another appointment so we could discuss the treatment plan.

I never did.

It would take me years to find a doctor I could trust and work with, and years to learn the right way to treat my diabetes and not give up on my dancing dream.

I believe one of the main reasons people don't seek medical attention is that we don't want to "hear" that something is wrong with us. My mother went a year ignoring a pain in her back she thought was a muscle strain that turned out to be due to her fourth (the most advanced) stage of lung cancer. She was a strong woman, but when it came to paying attention to her own well being she could be cavalier and did not want to make a big deal out of her problem. And just as I had, she never thought anything could be really wrong.

Getting the proper diagnosis can be another hurdle that can be influenced by hesitancy and denial. I was misdiagnosed as a person with type two diabetes at two different times before learning the truth, that I had type one, insulin dependent diabetes. My mother also spent precious time waiting to learn what kind of cancer she had, months that should have been spent on education and treatment.

How do we move through denial and successfully do everything we can to take care of ourselves? Dealing with emotional issues, of which denial is a part, can make a big difference to long-term success. It is only after we acknowledge the reality of our situation that we can be open to the information that is crucial to healing.

I do believe that we can be healthy, and live a full and passionate life, even with a health condition. But we must not deny our symptoms, and we must learn to take care of what our bodies are telling us. If not for ourselves, then for those we love and who love us. I got help because I loved dancing so much and it was being threatened. My mother came out of denial because of how much she loved her family.

We live in stressful times, with great pressures and expectations of what we should be able to accomplish. According to the National Institutes of Health, one-third of adults with diabetes are unaware they have it. Countless others are walking around with undiagnosed illnesses. In most cases early detection of a health issue can make a radical difference in the quality of life.
If you are feeling symptoms of any kind, don't assume it's merely stress. Find out what is going on, educate yourself as best you can, and then take care of your body and your heart!